Gates has written an informative, comprehensive book that is enjoyable to read. I particularly liked the way he assessed characters, not just events. He has some great stories about Casey and Bush Sr. It was a little long and dry, but nevertheless entertaining. Gates himself comes across as quite the character. Buy it.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
View from the inside30 Sep 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
The CIA is probably the one institution that the US President controls the most; or so this book argues. Robert M. Gates spent over two decades working at the CIA, and is one of the few career officials who came in near the bottom and rose all the way to the top. This book is his memoir, and recollection of how the CIA served 5 consecutive presidents in the Cold War. Starting with Richard Nixon, and ending with the first George Bush, Gates shows how each president used, and sometimes abused, the CIA to further their policies with regard to the USSR and communist parties around the world.
The major points one gets from this book are as follows. First, Carter was no wimp with regard to the USSR. Second, the most dangerous years of the Cold War did not end with Vietnam; they included some years in the 1980's. Third, the CIA consistently disregards the laws of the US. Fourth, the CIA often gets suckered into doing thing at the whim of the president that it later regrets. Last, the first George Bush was probably one of the best diplomats the US has seen in recent times. Over all, this was a very good book and I am glad I read it.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Informative but dry23 July 2002
- Published on Amazon.com
Gates had access to some of the most fascinating characters in the history of the Cold War. His observations are incisive and revealing about many of these personalities; however, his book often reads like one might imagine a CIA memo reads, rather dry. The book provides feedback on several important historical instances but it does not go into much depth on any. I do not recommend it as a book used to learn the history of that era. Instead I would read it to gain a further understanding of what went on behind the scenes. In general, I find Gates to be an interesting character himself. He has some hilarious anecdotes about life in the CIA. Such as when he is walking up the steps of Air Force One and turns to flip off several of the top officials (I think it was) in Romania after they botch his passport. In addition to a often dry sense of humor he also seems to have a great deal of character and integrity.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
A rare look inside, if a bit buttoned-down27 Feb 2002
- Published on Amazon.com
Mr Gates' background in writing intelligence analysis is very apparent in his book, which covers the role of intelligence on policy and the figures that carried out the policy, from President Nixon to Bush Sr. Stylistically, ideas are introduced, expanded upon, and brought back together in sum and reflection in efficient essay form, yet in, one senses, what epitomizes intelligence directorate reporting at Langley. As such the recounting can be understandably dry (albeit with ready humor), but these ARE renderings of historical events; when I was patient, I found that his clarity and humility make the work readable and insightful. The DC cocktail crowd no doubt received ample fuel from Mr Gates' (decidedly fair) renderings of George Schultz and William Casey, both of whom Mr Gates spent much time with during the Reagan years. Other character sketches elucidate and emphasize Mr Gates' opinions about other high-ranking individuals in the various administrations, but his everyman-ish voice is an able mediator among the personalities. The retelling of some events where Mr Gates plays up his role or access get a bit tedious; for example, when he and Larry Eagleburger hit the European circuit to sell arms reductions (somewhat to the effect of "we went to London, then Rome, then Bonn, then Amsterdam")-likewise, when Mr Gates would accompany other advisers and President Bush to Kennebunkport, and almost any private meetings Mr Gates would have with President Bush. Mr Gates' own conservative bent comes through in several places, but most succinctly in his concluding remarks about the Soviet Union's demise. Here Mr Gates writes of a Soviet role in terrorist activity, yet a US role in aiding freedom fighters, which only extends a pervasive double standard in US government foreign policy. Of course Mr Gates' worked on a day-to-day basis to limit the Soviets' opportunities, and of course US hegemony is all the greater for it, but zeal can sometimes be confused for rationale: certainly the US has carried out its own "terrorist" activities, many through the CIA itself, and recent uncoverings of Kissinger's strong hand in Latin America are evidence of more glib and (many believe) illegal workings by the US executive branch. Mr Gates has personally intrigued me since I read an article on him around the time of his confirmation as DCI in 1991. The article told of his early job as a bus driver, teaching Russian phrases to community riders, and his reference to many of the Easterners among the DC establishment ranks as "guys with last names as first names." Such an endearing portrait of himself is difficult to find in his narrative and made me a bit disappointed he didn't talk more about graduate school and Russian studies years, especially as the Sovietology schools were evolving in the 1960s, yet such topics would admittedly digress from the book's theme. Aside from its occasional name-dropping and some opportune flag waving, Mr Gates' memoir is evenly told and offers a straightforward, insider view of executive policy during pivotal moments between 1970 and 1992. It is also well written, with helpful and sufficient background for the events recounted. I would look forward to reading anything he further publishes, especially concerning the direction or affairs of Russia and its former Soviet neighbors.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Insider's look at the cold war and washington politics13 April 2000
- Published on Amazon.com
Gates has made a solid contribution to the literature on the cold war. Arguing that US foreign policy had far more continuity and coherence than the political positioning of candidates would seem to make it appear, Gates proves that presidents come and go but the bureaucracy remains forever! The fact that he was a major part of 4 administrations makes it somewhat self-serving for him to make this argument, but nonetheless, it is probably true. Gates provides the reader with major insight into many of the fronts of the cold war, including Latin America, Europe, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, highlighting how intelligence failures in the late 60's resulted in the detente policies of Nixon, but the military buildup by the Reagan administration ultimately bankrupted the Soviet Union. In between Nixon and Reagan, he gives President Carter a great deal of credit for being the first president to challenge the moral auhority of the COmmunist Party to rule. This made him a dangerous enemy i nthe eyes of the Soviets. According to the author, the year 1983 was the most dangerous year; we nearly came to blows with the Soviet Union over missle placement, Star wars and a host of other issues. The book is a bit long and the rough chronological format results in the author repeating many themes too often, but it contains enough facts and insights about so many seminal events in the cold war that its ultimately worth the long hours to finish. What Gates does not do is assess the price America paid for victory in the cold war, and ask if it was all worth it. Is the world any safer now than it was then? Im not sure, but Gates provides us with many fascinating stories about a time when the world was a two superpower place. He also gives excellent portraits of each of the presidents he served under. For those of you unaware of his status, he was the first person to rise from entry level analyst to CIA Director under George Bush. Overall, an interesting book if a bit long and perhaps a bit too detailed and insiderish for some, he drops names as if it was a Hollywood party!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Valley of Dry Bones...19 Feb 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Robert M. Gates's recent duty as Secretary of Defense for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama has justified renewed interest in his memoir of his earlier service in the US intelligence community. Originally published in 1996 and reissued in 2007, "From the Shadows" details Gates's unusually successful tenure with the CIA, from entry level analyst to Director for Central Intelligence, with interspersed tours at the White House. His career, from the late 1960's to the early 1990's, happened to span the closing years of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union.
"From the Shadows" is less about Gates himself and more about the end game of the Cold War as told from his vantage point at the elbow of various important officials. For many readers, this may be a valley of dry bones. However, Gates provides considerable insight into the capabilities and the limitations of the intelligence community, along with several cautionary tales. At nearly 600 pages, readers are forewarned that "From the Shadows" is a long and often dry read.
Gates was a controversial choice as Director; insiders variously accused him of being a better bureaucrat than intelligence officer and of being more oriented on his customers needs than on the search for the truth about US opponents. In fairness, few persons rise in an organization without mastering its culture, and customer service is now a commonplace driver of the intelligence business.
"From the Shadows" is highly recommended to the intelligence professional and the student of the Cold War, who should find much of interest in Gates' narrative.