Monday, November 23, 2015

Life as a secret service agent...

I just finished reading Ronald Kessler's 2014 book
The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.  Although I'm not usually one to follow politics, I do think celebrities are interesting.  Let's face it.  A lot of high level US politicians are really celebrities more than anything else.  

Ronald Kessler is an investigative journalist who has written for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.  Many of his books are about politicians and government agencies.  The First Family Detail is Kessler's book about what it takes for Secret Service agents to protect presidents and vice presidents and their families.  Kessler interviewed Secret Service agents who worked with all of the most recent presidents, throwing in some anecdotes about US history and what it was like for earlier presidents who didn't have Secret Service protection.

According to Kessler, the Secret Service is underfunded and agents have no home lives.  They work long shifts and don't get much time to sleep, let alone spend time with their families.  Many of the people who work as Secret Service agents are the type who are instinctively protective.  It's their job to take a bullet for those they are tasked with protecting.  However, sometimes protectees don't make it easy for them.  In fact, sometimes those being protected by the Secret Service deliberately sabotage their efforts to safeguard them from those who might do them harm.

Kessler includes stories about Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush and the hellraising they did, particularly when they were in college.  He writes of Joe Biden and his frequent expensive trips to Delaware, requiring agents to stay well out of sight.  Hillary Clinton gets a lot of mentions as well.  She is supposedly very difficult, something that one of Bill's co-workers, who once had some dealings with Mrs. Clinton, verifies.  Nancy Reagan is likewise reputed to be very hard to work for.  By contrast, Laura Bush and Barbara Bush are supposedly much loved and respected by Secret Service agents.

There are some times when Kessler repeats himself.  For example, he writes several times about Mrs. Clinton and her famously nasty disposition.  He writes more than once about how Secret Service agents work all the time and are underfunded.  He repeatedly writes about Bill Clinton's trysts with mistresses.  On the other hand, I did learn a lot about presidents as I read this book, including a few I forgot ever existed because they didn't last very long.  

I also felt that sometimes Kessler was too political.  To me, he came off as being pro Republican.  Everybody knows that George W. Bush was a very polarizing president.  A lot of people dislike him intensely.  Kessler makes him out to be this great guy who isn't how he seems in public.  By contrast, Bill Clinton was a very popular president, but Kessler depicts him as a complete scumbag.  While these characterizations may have truth to them, they also make Kessler seem a little biased.  It seems to me that this book should have been more objective.  Kessler should have made the observations more obviously those of the agents working with the presidents and less like they are his personal opinions.

A number of reviewers on Amazon.com have noted that The First Family Detail is much like an earlier book Kessler published.  One reviewer went as far as to comment that this book is more like an updated version of Kessler's In The President's Secret Service, which was published in 2009.  I haven't read the earlier book, but enough people have mentioned the similarities between the two that I probably won't bother with it.

Overall, I thought this was a good read, though it would have been better with a thorough editing to remove the redundancies.  It held my attention and informed me, though I will admit that some of the revelations are a bit gossipy.  I would recommend it to those who haven't already read the other book and those who find presidents interesting.  This book puts a human face on people the vast majority of the public will never meet in person.  At the same time, the look Kessler gives to presidents and their families confirms to me that anyone who runs for president must pretty much be a narcissist.  And, if I am to believe Kessler, Hillary Clinton is likely the antichrist.  He as much as flat out says he hopes she won't be president... or, at least many folks working for the Secret Service hope she won't.  




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