A damning portrait of a chaotic, inept administration that posed countless dangers to the nation and the world.



Donald Trump’s secretary of defense dishes on his dimwitted boss and an army of enablers.

“Can’t you just shoot them? Just shoot them in the legs or something?” As Esper, a West Point graduate and combat veteran, recounts at the opening of this overlong memoir, those were Trump’s words when protestors surrounded the White House in June 2020. It wouldn’t be the only absurd question from Trump, who also asked Esper why they couldn’t launch missiles into Mexico to destroy cartel drug labs. Much of Esper’s work as secretary of the Army and then secretary of defense, to judge by his account, was devoted to trying to explain to Trump and his cronies why they couldn’t do such things thanks to inconvenient obstacles such as the Constitution and international law. Indeed, Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Mark Milley developed what they called the “Four Nos”: “no unnecessary wars; no strategic retreats; no politicization of the DoD; and no misuse of the military.” The White House seemed bent on breaking each of those rules, as when it demanded politicizing the military by means of a North Korea–worthy triumphant parade and misusing it with plans for martial law and seizing voting machines. Esper’s account could have used some trimming, but he’s rigorously methodical and a capable writer. His explanation of the Alexander Vindman scandal, when Trump pressured Esper to illegally expel a whistleblower from the ranks, is the most thorough in the literature (outside of Vindman’s own memoir). The author takes special pains to show how, over the course of Trump’s four years, competent civil and military servants were forced out and replaced by loyalists; in Trump’s desperate last year, it was nothing short of a purge. Esper ventures that Trump’s instincts were not always wrong, but, as he explains, “the ends he often sought rarely survived the ways and means he typically pursued to accomplish them.”

A damning portrait of a chaotic, inept administration that posed countless dangers to the nation and the world.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-314431-6

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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