Quick reactions to a couple of books I had a chance to read over the Christmas break.
I can recommend Company Man by John Rizzo. Rizzo was one of the first lawyers at the CIA, and he recounts a thirty year career there with grace and a remarkable absence of rancor, even though he was denied the ultimate promotion — to General Counsel — after a highly politicized confirmation hearing. (His offense was asking the Justice Department whether certain harsh interrogation techniques were legal, and not selling out the CIA officers who relied on Justice’s advice by disavowing it when he got to the hearing.)
Rizzo had a ringside seat at all the most dramatic political events involving the CIA from the 1970s to the Obama Administration. He brings self-deprecating wit and a lot of human insight to his portrayal of these events and the CIA directors he helped guide through them. It’s available on January 5, 2014. (Disclosure: I got an early copy because John and I have been friends and colleagues for a long time. But in the interest of full disclosure, I have no incentive to overpraise his book, since I’m afraid it’s actually better than mine.)
In contrast, The Frackers by Gregory Zuckerman was a disappointment. The book is getting praise from the right blogosphere because it tells the story of fracking straight, with only occasional flaming faucets and with considerable attention to the remarkable contribution that the frackers have made to the nation’s energy independence. I tend to agree that that’s the right take on the industry, but as a read, the book is benefiting from conservative affirmative action. It’s long, dense, and full of characters whose stories are admirable but pretty much indistinguishable. Wait, which founder nearly went bankrupt and which one was fired after hitting a slump? Which one bet big on shale in Texas? North Dakota? Pennsylvania? Who ended up making his wife a very rich divorcee and whose son developed a drug problem? And why do I care? The book would have been better with fewer stories and a bit more differentiation among them.