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In The President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler

In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect by Ronald Kessler pretty much says it all in its title. One of the things that I liked best about this book was the short chapters. Especially recently I've found that if a book has rather long chapters, it is a big turn off for me. That was what drove me up the wall when I read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway in high school: it's a novella that was basically one long chapter. I hated it, and I hated the story. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness was basically three really long chapters. Hated it. And I had to read it twice in college and write a paper on it both times. The first paper, for my introduction to literary criticism class, was about how I got nothing out of it and why I got nothing out of it. To be honest, the story itself is not one that I would choose to read on my own, so that didn't help it at all. But I digress. Back to the book at hand.

In alternating chapters Kessler relates the history and training of the U.S. Secret Service and the experiences agents have had while protecting the president and other protectees. Candid quotes reveal disturbing details of past presidents' behavior and personalities behind closed doors. These range from philandering, adultery, hypocrisy, and drunken spouses to more positive tales relating the consideration and warmth with which other presidents have treated their protective detail. Kessler also relates agents' encounters with various classes of threats to the president, such as individuals who have mailed, emailed, or telephoned a threat on the president's life, and how these threats are investigated and neutralized.

Kessler also relates how agents are receiving less training, how the management culture drives out promising and talented agents, and how agents are pressured to cut corners when it comes to their protection details. The disturbing consensus is that due to these factors, it is only a matter of time before an assassination attempt on a protectee is successful. The author also portrays earlier presidents in a negative light regarding their behavior away from the public's eyes, while more recent presidents seem to be portrayed in a more positive light.

The stories related about the presidents' and other protectees' behavior and attitude toward the agents on their detail were interesting. However, the discrepancy between the portrayal of certain presidents as compared with others made me slightly skeptical regarding their veracity. Most of the presidents portrayed in a negative light along with most of their families are dead and no one remains to confirm or refute what is related in the book. Why does Kessler relate this kind of 'dirt' on dead presidents but not on those still alive? By far the most interesting (and sometimes most disturbing and outrageous) parts of the book were the chapters that related the history, training, and practices of the Secret Service.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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