While intensely informative and alarmingly eye-opening in its expose of intrigue, deceit and thuggery by the political right, this is not an easy read. Brock is brilliant but he wields his mastery of detail as a blunt instrument. He needed a stronger editor. If the book was to be an expose of the Republican smear campaign against the Clintons, the web of cronies, deceit and hijinks he illustrates is compelling. If the book is a dish on his enemies, the details of their hypocrisy are dishy. If it is a tale of a gay man’s collaboration and later fallout with the political establishment most at war with the LGBTQ population, he has that covered. If it is to be an act of repentance for his own (very effective) acts to smear both Anita Hill and the Clintons, he does recount in excruciating detail how he wandered into that thicket and slowly, excruciatingly found his way out. Along the way there is much grief, recrimination and a few healthy dashes of self-pity.
Bob Woodward is a legend, yet I had never read one of his books. His famous breakout, All the President’s Men, came out when I was too young to be reading political heavyweights (I was not yet in middle school). He’s written many books since then but I admit I was not paying more than cursory attention to politics until things got weird in the Tea Party era. Anyway, I did not know what to expect.
Woodward is very organized, cogent and always clear in his recounting, but he is in this case not a natural story teller: in Rage, he does not spin a strong narrative. He is sparing with conjecture and weaves little of his own experiences or opinions in his reporting. He leaves a lot to the reader, which is appropriate for a reporter. He does not resort to partisanship or gonzo self-involvement in order to deliver a gripping, integrated tale as Hunter Thompson* would.
This is certainly the most challenging review I’ve undertaken. Charlotte Shane’s book is not like any other I’ve read. This was a kickstarter project to publish the collection of her blog of the same name. She says of this effort: “I was lonely and isolated, so I wrote a lot.” But that is not what makes it difficult to review. There are two issues that make this a challenge for this reviewer (after the TL;DR).
In the first two thirds of the book, Shane presents her early and middle years doing sex work and it is a harrowing tale that would give any father nightmares. She depicts extreme sexual positions, pain, discomfort, and sexual torture with an air of sometimes wounded but defiant bravado. In the last third, she is in more control, yet still occasionally takes johns she shouldn’t – just to prove she can control them. Control is a big theme in this work; for example, she doesn’t like pain, but takes on as a sub in order to test herself.
Double-cross promises a long scorecard of unusual characters in a trying–and dangerous–game, spying for Britain in WW2. It delivers, both in the selection of outsized personalities and a build of the stories which is clear and engaging. Ben proceeds at a steady pace right to the end of the book, lingering on each personality and their adventures in turn. The individuals involved are shown in the context of an overall arc, the grand deception that led to D-Day. Although I had read much of that time, from diverse histories such as The Rommel Papers, I never knew what a part the British intelligence service played in that success of the Allied landing. Also, I found the denouement quite interesting and fulfilling, as MacIntyre presents the fates of his subjects in detail.
Although I appreciate MacIntyre’s focus, I would have liked more texture about the British minders. There is less about the spymasters than the spies; more detail of the MI5 crew’s day-to-day lives, and indeed some description of setting would have been welcomed. Did they all work in the same building? Share coffee? Did they have class differences or were they a homogenous group? But that would have made the book longer. We have to assume MacIntyre provided as much detail as he had.
I like history a lot – especially history which gets into the nitty-gritty of what people did and their motivations. That is often lost in histories, especially histories which are of large temporal scope, as this on (the entire 14th century). The tendency in many histories is to discuss events, as if they just happen, with insufficient setting as to understand why people pursued the amazing things they did.