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Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace

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The inspiring and revelatory autobiography of the defense secretary and CIA director who led the intelligence war that killed Bin Laden, among many important roles in a legendary career It could be said that Leon Panetta has had two of the most consequential careers of any American public servant in the past fifty years. His first career, beginning as an army intelligence o The inspiring and revelatory autobiography of the defense secretary and CIA director who led the intelligence war that killed Bin Laden, among many important roles in a legendary career It could be said that Leon Panetta has had two of the most consequential careers of any American public servant in the past fifty years. His first career, beginning as an army intelligence officer and including a distinguished run as one of Congress’s most powerful and respected members, lasted thirty-five years and culminated in his transformational role as Clinton’s budget czar and White House chief of staff. He then “retired” to establish the Panetta Institute with his wife of fifty years, Sylvia; to serve on the Iraq Study Group; and to protect his beloved California coastline. But in 2009, he accepted what many said was a thankless task: returning to public office as the director of the CIA, taking it from a state of turmoil after the Bush-era torture debates and moving it back to the vital center of America’s war against Al Qaeda, including the campaign that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. And then, in the wake of bin Laden’s death, Panetta became the U.S. secretary of defense, inheriting two troubled wars in a time of austerity and painful choices. Like his career, Worthy Fights is a reflection of Panetta’s values. It is imbued with the frank, grounded, and often quite funny spirit of a man who never lost touch with where he came from: his family’s walnut farm in beautiful Carmel Valley, California. It is also a testament to a lost kind of political leadership, which favors progress and duty to country over partisanship. Panetta is a Democrat who pushed for balanced budgets while also expanding care for the elderly and sick; a devout Catholic who opposes the death penalty but had to weigh every drone strike from 2009 through 2011. Throughout his career, Panetta’s polestar has been his belief that a public servant’s real choice is between leadership or crisis. Troubles always come about through no fault of one’s own, but most can be prevented with courage and foresight. As always, Panetta calls them as he sees them in Worthy Fights. Suffused with its author’s decency and stubborn common sense, the book is an epic American success story, a great political memoir, and a revelatory view onto many of the great figures and events of our time.


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The inspiring and revelatory autobiography of the defense secretary and CIA director who led the intelligence war that killed Bin Laden, among many important roles in a legendary career It could be said that Leon Panetta has had two of the most consequential careers of any American public servant in the past fifty years. His first career, beginning as an army intelligence o The inspiring and revelatory autobiography of the defense secretary and CIA director who led the intelligence war that killed Bin Laden, among many important roles in a legendary career It could be said that Leon Panetta has had two of the most consequential careers of any American public servant in the past fifty years. His first career, beginning as an army intelligence officer and including a distinguished run as one of Congress’s most powerful and respected members, lasted thirty-five years and culminated in his transformational role as Clinton’s budget czar and White House chief of staff. He then “retired” to establish the Panetta Institute with his wife of fifty years, Sylvia; to serve on the Iraq Study Group; and to protect his beloved California coastline. But in 2009, he accepted what many said was a thankless task: returning to public office as the director of the CIA, taking it from a state of turmoil after the Bush-era torture debates and moving it back to the vital center of America’s war against Al Qaeda, including the campaign that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. And then, in the wake of bin Laden’s death, Panetta became the U.S. secretary of defense, inheriting two troubled wars in a time of austerity and painful choices. Like his career, Worthy Fights is a reflection of Panetta’s values. It is imbued with the frank, grounded, and often quite funny spirit of a man who never lost touch with where he came from: his family’s walnut farm in beautiful Carmel Valley, California. It is also a testament to a lost kind of political leadership, which favors progress and duty to country over partisanship. Panetta is a Democrat who pushed for balanced budgets while also expanding care for the elderly and sick; a devout Catholic who opposes the death penalty but had to weigh every drone strike from 2009 through 2011. Throughout his career, Panetta’s polestar has been his belief that a public servant’s real choice is between leadership or crisis. Troubles always come about through no fault of one’s own, but most can be prevented with courage and foresight. As always, Panetta calls them as he sees them in Worthy Fights. Suffused with its author’s decency and stubborn common sense, the book is an epic American success story, a great political memoir, and a revelatory view onto many of the great figures and events of our time.

30 review for Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rob1109

    was excited to read this book and was very much looking forward to it. In the end, I must admit, I have not been this disappointed in a book in a very long time. I'll break down my review of "Worthy Fights" to several areas. Although this book was co-authored I cant help but feel that Panetta simply gave dates and information to the co-author and let him write the entire novel. There was no "personal touch." Instead of reading a first-hand account of things, it was as if you were reading it from was excited to read this book and was very much looking forward to it. In the end, I must admit, I have not been this disappointed in a book in a very long time. I'll break down my review of "Worthy Fights" to several areas. Although this book was co-authored I cant help but feel that Panetta simply gave dates and information to the co-author and let him write the entire novel. There was no "personal touch." Instead of reading a first-hand account of things, it was as if you were reading it from the POV of an outsider, a third party far removed. It read like a textbook with facts, dates and details but no personal insights. I also felt like this book was Panetta shouting to the world, "I am Leon Panetta and I am awesome." It was an incredibly self-aggrandizing book. Everything he did was right and correct. And if he did something wrong? Well, it was quickly brushed aside. No harm, no foul. Months earlier I read "Duty" by Bob Gates. Gates, like Panetta, also served as Secretary of Defense. However, the Gates' book was much better, more moving and far more touching. When you read a book like this you want to feel something, you want to learn something. In Bob Gates' book, "Duty," he would sporadically throw in little anecdotes, humorous stories that remind the reader that he may be the Sec of Def, but he is still a regular person with quirks and pet peeves like the rest of us `regular folk.' There is no personal touch in this book. After reading "Duty," I felt as if I knew Bob Gates. After reading `Worthy Fights," I feel I know nothing more about Leon Panetta than I did 467 pages ago. Throughout "Duty" Gates vividly describes the pain and heartache he endured visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed. A few of the stories he wrote about had me a bit teary eyed. In "Worthy Fights," Panetta devoted all of one paragraph to visiting the wounded. And it was unmoving, unemotional and detached. In Duty, for example, Gates recounts throughout the book, the heart-wrenching decisions to send troops into harm's way. Sending 30000 troops instead of 20000 would affect 10000 more families, 10000 more spouses, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, etc..You felt a true sense of Gates weighing the decisions knowing that he was quite possibly sending people to their death. He wrestled with the decision. In Worthy Fights, Panetta makes no reference to dealing with such feelings. The Panetta novel opens with the story of his father sailing by the Statue of Liberty and passing through the gates of Ellis Island in 1921. He came to America with about $20 in his pocket and didn't speak the language. He made his way to California where he worked in a field, ultimately returned to Italy to find a wife, brought her to America, much to the chagrin of her parents and ultimately opened a successful restaurant in Monterey. Panetta spends a good section of the opener acquainting us with his father. We have a true sense of the man, a true feeling for hi. Later, when his father dies and Leon flies home for the funeral, it's glossed over. One paragraph, no emotion. It baffles me how he spent so much time talking about his father, getting us to a point where we felt a connection to the man. Yet, when he dies years later, it's written about in an unmoving way. He tells us that laying a wreath at the Pentagon on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 was emotional. Yet, when he talks about it, it's discussed matter-of-factly with NO emotion. Another glaring example of what I view as self-centeredness revolves around the attack on bin Laden's compound. I was sure this would be a highlight of the book. I was, once again, let down. I've read accounts of that in both Gates' book as well as `No Easy Day." Panetta's account of that great day in our history was yet again told with a detached voice while heaping praise upon himself. He made no mention of the bravery, courage or, let's be honest, the balls it took, for those Navy Seals to do what they did. It was almost secondary. Instead of praising those Navy Seals, he avoids that while heaping praise upon himself President Obama, Hillary Clinton and others for making the decision to "go." Yes, it was a gutsy call on Obama's part to give the OK. But how this can be written about while all the praise is directed at the politicians involved and not a single kind word is paid to the Navy Seals is repulsive. Gates in his book gave details, little habits of people he dealt with--Bill and Hillary Clinton, Karzai, David Petrarues, various world leaders, etc...When Panetta tells us about these people, there is nothing `personal.' Again it's like a reading third party's account, a text book. I couldn't help but feel this was Leon Panetta polishing his own halo, detailing his many supposed awesome accomplishments and achievements (though now that I finished the book nothing leaps out at me). For example: As I mentioned earlier, in one scene he tells the "emotional" story of visiting wounded troops at Walter Reed. This got all of ONE paragraph in a 467 page book. By contrast, later when he talks about being confirmed by the Senate for Sec Def, he gets approved 100-0. He spends 2 pages bragging about that, quoting the many positive things senators said about him. Visiting wounded troops: one paragraph. Talking about how much everyone loves me: 2 pages. We hear people complaining frequently about "career politicians." Those who spend their life working inside the Beltway. I cant help but walk away from this book feeling that is exactly what Leon Panetta is. He spent several years in DC as a Congressman from California, then returned home to work in his brother's law firm. However, he mentions in the book, that he just couldn't wait to get back to Washington (after considering a run for the governorship of California.) I feel that Mr Panetta will basically do ANYTHING in ANY CAPACITY--as long as it's in the Federal govt. He worked for 2 president in 4 completely unrelated and totally different roles: he worked on the federal budget, he was WH Chief of Staff, he was Director of the CIA and finally Sec of Def. Each position he accepted he had reservations about, unsure if he was "the right man for the job." But like any true "career politician" he took the job anyway. Also, like a true bureaucrat, he highly praised himself as Chief of Staff, CIA Director and Sec Def, not so much for what he accomplished, but how he streamlines processes and reduced paperwork. Hmmm... Finally, the politics. Panetta apparently was originally a Republican, then became a Democrat. However, it truly feels to me (and I'm not affiliated with either party), that he repeatedly came down on the side of the Democrats. Bill Clinton was great, Hillary Clinton is great. He did make one or two less than flattering remarks about Obama, claiming he needs to show more emotion and not seem to "aloof.: However, Panetta immediately walks that back in the very next paragraph by basically saying that he only appears aloof because he is brilliant. On one hand Panetta beats a dead horse, telling us he is not a believer in either party 100%. Yet, all the criticism comes down against Republicans. He blames George W. Bush for two wars. He accuses John McCain for being a hawk and playing partisan politics, he claims Republicans are to solely blame for sequestration, he dances around the fact the Republicans only are so anti-Obama because he is our first black president, he mocks the Tea Party. He even goes as far as to tell jokes--actual jokes--about Mitt Romney and Dick Cheney. Now, to me, that's extreme. On one hand he is claiming to be affiliated with neither party. Yet, he continually lambasts only those on the right. I also found it interesting that at the end of the book, Panetta argues that America is not a divided country. (Interesting, since both sides feel that we are a nation divided) but more ironic is this: In the closing of the book, Panetta argues that Washington must put an end to bi-partisan politics. That we cant move forward as a country if all we do is place blame and point fingers. All Americans would agree with this. I just find it almost laughable how he can spend 7 pages arguing it's time to stop placing blame and pointing fingers after he spent 460 pages placing blame and pointing fingers. Overall, this book was a huge disappointment and a waste of time. I learned nothing, gained no knowledge, felt no emotion. This is nothing more than 467 pages of Leon Panetta praising Leon Panetta. I really should rate this 1 star but I normally only do that to books I don't finish. Since I did manage to get through this, I'll give it 2 stars--a very low 2 stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ottavia

    Reading biographies or autobiographies is a good way to learn, at least for me. And since in the last few months I've been interested in the Iraq and Afghanistan's wars it seemed usefull to read Panetta's autobiography. Leon Panetta was Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff, then Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense during the first term of Obama's presidency. To put it simply: he has had an interesting life, at the center of many interesting events (among those, the killing of Bin Laden and the Reading biographies or autobiographies is a good way to learn, at least for me. And since in the last few months I've been interested in the Iraq and Afghanistan's wars it seemed usefull to read Panetta's autobiography. Leon Panetta was Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff, then Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense during the first term of Obama's presidency. To put it simply: he has had an interesting life, at the center of many interesting events (among those, the killing of Bin Laden and the assault at the Benghazi's consulate in 2012). Therefore, his autobiography is interesting, but not very good. At times, it's way too simplistic, with too little explanations, and some events or periods of time are condensed in few pages. For me tough, it was still an interesting read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Peterson

    I’m trying to remember, did they sell this book by the pound? It’s a 500-pager, a real doorstop. But good . . . if you know who Panetta is and you like him. However, if you’re a Trump person . . . I expect if the President has an opinion of Panetta, he despises him. Panetta is not only a Democrat who was Director of the Office of Management and Budget for President Clinton and President Clinton’s chief of staff, but he was the Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense for President Obama. If all I’m trying to remember, did they sell this book by the pound? It’s a 500-pager, a real doorstop. But good . . . if you know who Panetta is and you like him. However, if you’re a Trump person . . . I expect if the President has an opinion of Panetta, he despises him. Panetta is not only a Democrat who was Director of the Office of Management and Budget for President Clinton and President Clinton’s chief of staff, but he was the Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense for President Obama. If all of that is not bad enough in President Trump’s view of the Washington world, Panetta is the son of immigrant parents, and he’s from California, for goodness sake. Panetta views Trump as an embarrassment to the office of the presidency. But that’s not the subject of this memoir. This memoir takes the Panetta story from the arrival of Leon Panetta’s father and mother in this country from Italy, the building of the family and the family business—a restaurant—Panetta’s time in the Army, his service as a legislative assistant to California Republican Senator Tom Kuchel, the Senate Minority Whip at the time, then assistant to Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Secretary Robert Finch, and President Nixon’s Director of the Office for Civil Rights. From there, the book jumps to Panetta’s run for a seat in Congress where he served for 16 years, representing his home county of Monterey, neighboring San Benito county, and most of Santa Cruz county. It was in this job that Panetta made himself a master of the federal budget which stood him well when Clinton asked him to run the Office of Management and Budget, and then run the West Wing office as his chief of staff. President Obama saw Panetta as the perfect person to run the CIA because he had the ability to get along with everybody and could get things done. Obama followed that assignment by asking Panetta to run the Department of Defense. You’ll find the book, as I did, filled with fascinating stories. There are moments that will tear at your heart just as they did at Panetta’s. But you will come away glad that such a good man willingly served our country so well for such a great portion of his life.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This is one of the dullest books I've ever read. I don't even understand how that's possible. Panetta is one of the most interesting people and has had the most interesting jobs at the most interesting time. How could this book be so frightfully boring??? Well, it is. First of all, skip the entire first half. There are a few interesting bits about his childhood and his time as COS in the Clinton White House but they are not worth the slog. Not even the occasional appearance of Rahm Emanual can s This is one of the dullest books I've ever read. I don't even understand how that's possible. Panetta is one of the most interesting people and has had the most interesting jobs at the most interesting time. How could this book be so frightfully boring??? Well, it is. First of all, skip the entire first half. There are a few interesting bits about his childhood and his time as COS in the Clinton White House but they are not worth the slog. Not even the occasional appearance of Rahm Emanual can sufficiently spice things up. The parts that cover his time as CIA Director and SecDef are only slightly better, but still suffer from tediousness and a surprising lack of color for an account of the experiences of such a colorful person. I blame the writer, for failing to capture Panetta's personality, and Panetta, for purporting to write a frank and candid memoir while in reality playing it just about as safe as Hilary Clinton did in Hard Choices. Much has been made of his criticism of Obama. It's a tempest in a teapot. There are approximately two sentences of criticism and they say nothing everyone doesn't already know about the President. I also didn't really take away any real leadership lessons, which I was hoping to glean from someone I very much respect as a leader. It all remains ambiguously, frustratingly intangible. I think a big problem is that the book is just too tactical. Sort of methodically plodding through key events. It lacks the strategic perspective that Panetta undoubtedly possesses, but somehow failed to convey. Other than to bitch about how awful Congress and the sequester is. Again, nothing everyone doesn't already know. Disappointing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gordon

    A great book for senior government or military leaders. Hon. Leon Panetta tells his life story from humble beginnings as a first generation Italian-American growing up in California to his final government service as Director CIA and Secretary of Defense. It is a story of personal and profession values as well as leadership lessons learned at home, under the service of a successful Congressman who believed in integrity and fairness, then as a congressmen himself, to service as in the Nixon White A great book for senior government or military leaders. Hon. Leon Panetta tells his life story from humble beginnings as a first generation Italian-American growing up in California to his final government service as Director CIA and Secretary of Defense. It is a story of personal and profession values as well as leadership lessons learned at home, under the service of a successful Congressman who believed in integrity and fairness, then as a congressmen himself, to service as in the Nixon White House, later the Clinton White House and finally on Obama's Cabinet in two key National Security positions. It is also a story of America and the world events that he participated in or helped shape during his various jobs in government. He provides great insights to decision making and personalities of Leaders he served or served with. I certainly gained an appreciation for Panetta's straight talking, no nonsense approach, his strong sense of integrity, his management and leadership skills, and his personal human touch as a politician and government leader.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Irwin

    I enjoy reading political memoirs; it is always interesting to get an insider's view of events that I have witnessed only from afar. Panetta's book covers his 40+ years of public service in a remarkably varied career. that variation leads to a somewhat choppy narrative at times; however, how does one tell the story of such a multifaceted job as the secretary of defense? Buy attempting to tell his story chronologically, Secretary Panetta skips from country to country, challenge to challenge at ti I enjoy reading political memoirs; it is always interesting to get an insider's view of events that I have witnessed only from afar. Panetta's book covers his 40+ years of public service in a remarkably varied career. that variation leads to a somewhat choppy narrative at times; however, how does one tell the story of such a multifaceted job as the secretary of defense? Buy attempting to tell his story chronologically, Secretary Panetta skips from country to country, challenge to challenge at times. Still, it is a good read. Having met the Secretary recently, I was particularly struck by his commitment to service and his faith in good policy over politics. Those values are threaded prominently though out this book, along with his deep sense of empathy for those who served in the military and the CIA under his watch.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    Panetta memoir is the third cabinet member’s memoir and Obama is still in office. The memoir is a sub category of the autobiography. When I read a memoir I expect a narrow focus and want to feel I am looking at the situations as if I was that person. I am reading to get a better understanding of the events for a historical perspective. Panetta’s book gives a brief review of his earlier life so we can understand how he got to the point in the book that he is focusing on. He successfully puts me i Panetta memoir is the third cabinet member’s memoir and Obama is still in office. The memoir is a sub category of the autobiography. When I read a memoir I expect a narrow focus and want to feel I am looking at the situations as if I was that person. I am reading to get a better understanding of the events for a historical perspective. Panetta’s book gives a brief review of his earlier life so we can understand how he got to the point in the book that he is focusing on. He successfully puts me into the life of the director of CIA and Secretary of Defense. I felt as if I was in the meetings with him, understanding what he knew and thought and reactions to people and events as he covers his time as director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense. More than half of the book covers Panetta’s time as director of the CIA and his time as Secretary of Defense. Panetta’s book is well-written with frank descriptions of personalities and events. Panetta had been in government service for a long time and was the Congressman for the Monterey Bay area for many years. I enjoyed the story of his parents and grandparents immigration from Italy to the Monterey Bay area and Leon’s stories of childhood in Monterey. Panetta’s personality and his honesty came through in the book. The author covers in-depth the jobs he had in government including his being fired by Nixon when Panetta worked at Dept. of HEW enforcing the new laws about school segregation. I remember when the law was passed to create the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary to protect our beautiful coast (I live here). Therefore I found Panetta’s discussion about how he went about trying to protect the coast from off shore drilling and all the methods he tried and failed at until coming up on the creation of a marine sanctuary very interesting. Panetta tells of his time in the Clinton White House as first budget director and later chief of staff. He is frank about the problems he had trying to bring order and discipline to the White House when Clinton had no self discipline. He describes Clinton as brilliant but disorganized. He resigned in 1997 and thought his career was over. Panetta created the Panetta Institute that is on the campus of the Monterey Bay State University. He was running this until 2009 when Obama asked him to be director of the CIA. Panetta is a master of the budget and the CIA was in dire need of his services and organization skills. Panetta discusses his problems with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and retired Admiral Dennis Blair who was Director of National Intelligence. He also tells the fascinating story of finding Osama bin Laden and sending in the seal team. Panetta’s disagreements with the Obama White House when he was director of CIA and Secretary of Defense is well documented in his testimony before Congress therefore his frank to almost blistering comments in this book should not be surprising. Panetta opposed the prisoner exchange for Bowe Bergdahl. He disagreed with the removal of all troops from Iraq. He agreed with Hillary Clinton and David Petreius about intervening in Syria. Most of all he said Obama’s failure to act when Syria crossed the red line Obama laid down about the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian people destroyed American credibility. The author provides us with his opinion about Obama’s ability as a president and he is careful to provide both positive and negative points of his abilities. Most of all Panetta minced no words about the dysfunction of Congress. He says there will be lots of problems coming up to blame on Congress because of their failure to agree on a budget and forcing the 10% across the board cuts that is going to destroy the ability of the military to do their job. Panetta had no good words for our dysfunctional Congress. I feel this memoir has provided an inside look into the workings of the CIA, department of defense and the white house. Panetta is plain spoken and impassioned in the book. I found it to be most informative and easy to read. I read this as an audio book downloaded from Audible. Leon Panetta narrated his own book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    When reading the memoir of someone involved in some of the most secretive agencies and operations within the US government, necessarily there is going to be a large amount of information and examination that is left unsaid. Thus it's always difficult to critique these works in any meaningful way because more so than other political memoirs you are always left wanting more. Most will be aware of Leon Panetta from his time as Director of the CIA and then Secretary of Defense, both during President When reading the memoir of someone involved in some of the most secretive agencies and operations within the US government, necessarily there is going to be a large amount of information and examination that is left unsaid. Thus it's always difficult to critique these works in any meaningful way because more so than other political memoirs you are always left wanting more. Most will be aware of Leon Panetta from his time as Director of the CIA and then Secretary of Defense, both during President Obama's first term. His time there drew great scrutiny and praise and has been well-documented in the press and elsewhere. As such, at least for me, the more interesting moments of this memoir surround his time as Chair of the House Budget Committee, and then his two appointments as Director of the Office of Management and Budget and White House Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton. His insight into the workings of that administration are some of the most detailed glimpses yet provided as to the day to day operations in the Clinton White House. However, even here, you can strongly sense just how much is being held back in the way of criticism or regret over inaction. Panetta's early history was all new information to me and I was surprised by his struggle with political identity early on. Though his most famous work is as a Democrat, for sure, there was always an independent streak about him and his formative years as assistant to several figures such as Tom Kuchel and Robert Finch reveal this in great detail. All in all this was quite informative however lacking in anything particularly riveting or revolutionary. A more sober assessment of the White House's understanding and response to the Arab Spring would have been welcomed but the background to the CIA's work to find OBL provided great clarity on a mission that is to conspiracy theories as statues are to bird shit. Enjoyable reading though I wouldn't recommend if you only have a passing interest in Panetta himself.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    This is an excellent book and it will certainly be a very useful reference for those who come later to assess both the Clinton and Obama presidencies which Panetta served well. It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both. Additionally, Panetta recounts the major events of his service from the Clinton Budget successes and standing up to the Gingrich faction to sexual assault in the military. It also, despite some of the reviews which suggest the contrary, has enough personal anecdotes to s This is an excellent book and it will certainly be a very useful reference for those who come later to assess both the Clinton and Obama presidencies which Panetta served well. It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both. Additionally, Panetta recounts the major events of his service from the Clinton Budget successes and standing up to the Gingrich faction to sexual assault in the military. It also, despite some of the reviews which suggest the contrary, has enough personal anecdotes to show Panetta's deeply human side. While Panetta finds enough to be critical of -- and how could you not in Washington -- he remains an optimist and a deeply dedicated public servant in the best sense of the word. Will include one summation from near the end which presents Panetta's view of the Washington he left: "Washington is divided because it locks up on the small stuff— whether the president or Congress gets credit for a bill; whether a majority or a supermajority should be needed to approve a nominee; whether the party’s base or a special interest will be offended by a vote. The country thinks differently. Americans care about the big stuff and get frustrated that Washington can’t set aside the small things for long enough to address the big ones."

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ian Fleischmann

    It's difficult to me to grasp why some people place this book in the same ballpark as Gates' memoir as a 'Washington Insider Tell-all.' Yes, Panetta takes subtle jabs at Congress, Adm Blair, Rahm Emanuel, and yes, President Obama, but they are all written with the care of a career politician offering a differing perspective and not a harsh critique. The only people Panetta really seems to take to task are Nixon and Gingrich, and it's hard to fault him for that. The writing itself isn't terribly It's difficult to me to grasp why some people place this book in the same ballpark as Gates' memoir as a 'Washington Insider Tell-all.' Yes, Panetta takes subtle jabs at Congress, Adm Blair, Rahm Emanuel, and yes, President Obama, but they are all written with the care of a career politician offering a differing perspective and not a harsh critique. The only people Panetta really seems to take to task are Nixon and Gingrich, and it's hard to fault him for that. The writing itself isn't terribly engaging. Panetta varies between longer chapters meant to retell a popular event from his perspective and chapters comprised of short stories, each with a paragraph detailing his actual thoughts somewhere near the end of each subsection. It's easy enough to glance through and get his point but carries about as much interest as reading through a pile of redacted self-congratulatory after action reports. I actually had to stand up for the last few chapters to keep from falling asleep (and considering those were his SecDef chapters that's saying something).

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris Warack

    One of the best memoirs I've read. I strongly recommend reading this to anyone interested in insights into US national security decision-making and leadership. I respect Panetta's history, love of country, and leadership abilities. I also strongly suggest reading this in tandem with Bob Gates's book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. As contemporaneous leaders I found the different perspectives from two men I respect to provide unique reinforcement and contrasts with my own observation of cur One of the best memoirs I've read. I strongly recommend reading this to anyone interested in insights into US national security decision-making and leadership. I respect Panetta's history, love of country, and leadership abilities. I also strongly suggest reading this in tandem with Bob Gates's book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War. As contemporaneous leaders I found the different perspectives from two men I respect to provide unique reinforcement and contrasts with my own observation of current events during that time period.

  12. 5 out of 5

    thewanderingjew

    Leon Panetta reads his own audio book and his sincerity and devotion to the country shine through. However, so does a bit of arrogance that seems to be hiding under a cloak of humility. He never seems to believe he is quite up to the task offered, but always accepts it. Born to Italian immigrants, in a family of modest means, he grew up helping in the family’s Italian Cafe and than on the family farm in California. He became a lawyer, enlisted in the army and then began a career as a public serv Leon Panetta reads his own audio book and his sincerity and devotion to the country shine through. However, so does a bit of arrogance that seems to be hiding under a cloak of humility. He never seems to believe he is quite up to the task offered, but always accepts it. Born to Italian immigrants, in a family of modest means, he grew up helping in the family’s Italian Cafe and than on the family farm in California. He became a lawyer, enlisted in the army and then began a career as a public servant. He began his career as a Republican, working for a Senator and then assistant to Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He then moved on to become the Civil Rights Director in President Nixon’s administration, a position he was eventually forced from when he had a conflict of interest regarding Nixon’s policy. He then worked for Mayor John Lindsay, after which he switched parties and ran for and won a Congressional seat in California, as a Democrat. He morphed over the years into a Liberal Democrat and he became much more involved in politics in the Clinton and Obama administration at the highest levels of the government. It is hard to know if his change of political parties was caused by a change in his beliefs (possibly due to being spurned by the Republican Party), or a change in the career opportunities he was offered, or a combination of both. However, he was always interested in the health and welfare of others and worked tirelessly to advance the cause of civil rights wherever he perceived a need, in education, in health services, in the armed forces, in the work place and in the military. As years passed, he morphed into the Director of the OMB and the Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton. Then in President Obama’s administration, he was the head of the CIA and the Secretary of Defense. He has held many highly respected positions throughout his career. He has been intricately involved in many avenues of the government from finances to security and has sat in on the highest level of briefings. He was involved in sorting out many of the scandals in both the Clinton and the Obama Presidency and in solving many of its security problems in the Middle East. He is well versed in the way our country operates and was a highly qualified and dedicated public servant for his entire career. He has been loyal to those he served, working in government in some capacity for almost his entire career, except for a brief stint when he worked with his brother in a law practice. The book is really his memoir, a worthy read for those who know him and those who want to learn more about this dedicated member of the group of elite men and women who serve us all. It is not a tell-all, there are no major “aha” moments. He does reveal the aspects of government with which he disagreed in the various administrations in which he worked, but for the most part, I found the book highly supportive of President Obama and President Clinton. If it is a “cheerleading” attempt to prop up Hilary Clinton for her Presidential run, as some say, it is not over the top. However, he fails to explain many of the governmental gaffes that were under her purview, and he does not fully explain many of Obama’s. I did not find it to be a very negative judgment of his governing style and decisions, as implied by his critics. I found the book a bit disingenuous. He brushed off Nancy Pelosi’s attempt to justify her lie about not knowing that there were enhanced interrogations during the Iraq war and allowed her to get away with it. He blows off the supporters of the soldiers who felt that they could have done more in Benghazi to save Ambassador Stevens, and he implies that anyone disagreeing with the government’s assessment is lying and making false statements about the circumstances. In actuality, it was the government that lied, insisting that “the uprising” was caused by a video rather than what it was, a planned terrorist attack on our embassy. It was not a casual riot and the President doubled down on that lie and supported it. News media actually twisted some of his statements to say that he supported the idea of terrorists in his Rose Garden speech, when that speech referred to 9/11/01, not the Benghazi 9/11 attack. Panetta basically brushed off the criticisms of Obama and Clinton’s decisions at that time, as well as the false statements made by National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, for which she has never apologized. I, for one, tend to believe the boots on the ground more than the words coming from the administration, since by now, there have been many more instances of announcements that have proven to be false. Although Panetta disagrees with some of Obama’s policies in the Middle East, he explains away his culpability with the Arab Spring, the decline of all the gains in Iraq and the uprising in Syria. He does not mention his lack of support for our allies and greater support for our enemies, with more than a brief stroke of his own pen. He does hold Obama’s feet to the fire, however, regarding the rise of Isis and the fall of Iraq. The book is already obsolete in terms of its politics with the outbreak of Ebola in our own country because of a flawed CDC policy, and the enormous success of Isis in the Middle East, which in retrospect is highly suspect because of the flawed decisions and policy of Obama’s administration. Obama was warned about the anticipated problems but he would not listen. He describes a President who takes credit for getting Bin Laden, but he does not talk about the fact that his loose lips might have caused the downing of the plane with 22 Navy Seals on board, six of whom were involved in the operation, and he dismisses it as an almost accidental effort by the enemy. Perhaps he does not wish to elaborate because this President may take too much credit for his accomplishments and too little responsibility for his failures. Obama is great at giving speeches from a teleprompter, wonderful at inspiring and rallying those around him, but he prefers his own counsel to that of others, most often disregarding the advice of his advisors. I found that Leon Panetta was often a bit hypocritical, working to protect the environment and the coast of Monterey but not concerned about putting windmills on Cape Cod. As an environmentalist, he wanted to protect his “own” environment in terms of view and optics, preventing oil drilling anywhere near there, but didn’t mind wind energy which would blight the Hyannis harbor with monstrous windmills and a constant underlying hum. He often sounded like an idealist, rather than a realist and I found him to be more of a politician in the end, showing his Democratic operatives far more leeway and treating them with far more respect in his comments than he did the Republicans, especially when it came to remarks about the Tea Party and the leaders of the Republican Party. He used words that were unflattering, bordering on insulting, unnecessarily showing his bias. In essence, the book is just more politics, treating the hypocrisy of the Democrats as acceptable and worthwhile, while calling the hypocrisy of the GOP destructive. At the same time, he is all the while propping up his own worthy reputation. The book is a detailed presentation of the history of events during the almost five decades he was in the government’s employ and will be an enjoyable read for his family members and those that are his close friends. For the average reader, the information presented already exists on Wikipedia.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Greg Holman

    This was long, but not full of unimportant things. I didn't realize how many critical roles he held in our government. He obviously did a good job to be thrown into so many positions that were vastly different than what his forte was in budget issues. He was in a so many administrations which witnessed the highs and lows. I appreciated that he pointed out issues he didn't agree with. Also, his wife should get a lot of praise to allow him to reside in DC while she stayed in California. Overall, t This was long, but not full of unimportant things. I didn't realize how many critical roles he held in our government. He obviously did a good job to be thrown into so many positions that were vastly different than what his forte was in budget issues. He was in a so many administrations which witnessed the highs and lows. I appreciated that he pointed out issues he didn't agree with. Also, his wife should get a lot of praise to allow him to reside in DC while she stayed in California. Overall, this was a good memoir.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vicky Hunt

    The man you want to like, if only you had earplugs. Wow! I'm not sure how much Panetta wrote himself, but he sounds so likeable. I mean, what's not to like about his family work ethics. But, somewhere in there he begins to use his family work ethics to vouch for his liberal ideas and the connection gets lost. Take his food stamp ideas for example: He simply believes the idea of Obama increasing food stamp distribution many-fold times is the 'right thing to do.' No real explanation is given. No d The man you want to like, if only you had earplugs. Wow! I'm not sure how much Panetta wrote himself, but he sounds so likeable. I mean, what's not to like about his family work ethics. But, somewhere in there he begins to use his family work ethics to vouch for his liberal ideas and the connection gets lost. Take his food stamp ideas for example: He simply believes the idea of Obama increasing food stamp distribution many-fold times is the 'right thing to do.' No real explanation is given. No data. no graphs. Nothing. He simply believes the government is our parent and has the responsibility to run our lives for us. Hence, we have Big Daddy 'Uncle Sam' paying the farmers not to grow crops to artificially inflate the cost of our groceries, and then giving grocery money to those who the government deems can't afford to buy groceries. It would make more sense for the government to keep their hands out of the pot and let free enterprise feed the masses with cheap groceries. But, then where would Big Daddy get his cut, and his votes? The time constructs are a bit choppy as well, and at times it's hard to follow the time sequence. But, through the reminiscing you get to hear about cities burning in the aftermath of race riots following Dr. King's death and some of the horrible government crimes of the Nixon administration. It leaves you wondering if Obama used the Watergate era as a primer for his own administration ideas. Putting the two together, it almost sounds like today's newspaper headlines... just not quite as bad... yet. It is definitely worth reading for the inside look on politics, as Panetta is a consummate politician, and probably one of the more honest among those in Washington. Just expect occasional swells of nausea while reading the 'bleeding heart' liberal sections. As with all politics, they have to be taken with a grain of salt. But, Panetta definitely believes in what he's doing and doing what he believes, which is more than can be said for many today on both sides of the aisle.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    I decided to read Worthy Fights after I finished Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices. I thought it would make a good follow-up and give me a different perspective on similar issues/events. Worthy Fights is Leon Panetta's chronological memoir about his time in public service. We get Leon's insight during his time under Nixon and what lead to his changing parties. Next he discusses his time as Senator and then his move to the Clinton Administration and his tackling of the budget. And finally he discuss I decided to read Worthy Fights after I finished Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices. I thought it would make a good follow-up and give me a different perspective on similar issues/events. Worthy Fights is Leon Panetta's chronological memoir about his time in public service. We get Leon's insight during his time under Nixon and what lead to his changing parties. Next he discusses his time as Senator and then his move to the Clinton Administration and his tackling of the budget. And finally he discusses his time as the Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense under Obama. The best sections were during the Clinton Administration and his time as Director of the CIA. I felt like the DoD section was a little dry and he bounced around a lot. Of course he only was SoD for a short time, and its a huge undertaking. It also seems to be the position that turns over the most... especially in Obama's terms. Overall, the book is interesting, and I certainly appreciate his candor and his fearless ability to tell it like it is. He is clearly not going back into politics, so he doesn't hold back on his opinion about certain leaders in both the US and abroad. I saw an Op-Ed on CNN that said "Panetta's Worthy Fights criticizes Obama's handling of Iraq and Syria". Decide for yourself, but I think Panetta praises Obama much more than he criticizes him in this book. The biggest turn-off for me was his arrogance and I felt like he took credit for all the good things that happened, and blamed other for the negative. He can't take all of the credit for capturing Bin Laden... analysts and operators were tracking him for YEARS! I just felt he was a little too supreme at times. Entertaining and insightful.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    In this memoir (with the bland title usual for this type of genre), Panetta recounts his Langley and Pentagon tenures. He is mostly positive on Obama (although his portraits of the president aren't terribly insightful), less so about the President’s team. He is critical of Obama’s centralized management style and notes that he is far from combative when it comes to proposing or defending policies. Much of Panetta's Pentagon tenure dealt with budget and administrative issues, and can’t exactly be In this memoir (with the bland title usual for this type of genre), Panetta recounts his Langley and Pentagon tenures. He is mostly positive on Obama (although his portraits of the president aren't terribly insightful), less so about the President’s team. He is critical of Obama’s centralized management style and notes that he is far from combative when it comes to proposing or defending policies. Much of Panetta's Pentagon tenure dealt with budget and administrative issues, and can’t exactly be described as gripping. The memoir is engaging, and Panetta's personality seems to be evident. Some parts were rather humorous, like Panetta’s time as Bill Clinton’s chief of staff. Clinton, notorious for his undisciplined management style, tapped Panetta for the job, who asked his predecessor for an organizational chart and was told there was none. “Man, I thought to myself,” Panetta writes, “I really am in deep shit now.” Panetta's account of the bin Laden raid is particularly interesting. At times, the book is quite evasive when it comes to controversies, such as the veterans’ hospitals scandal, military overstretch, and the torture and drone debates. The book is readable and interesting enough, but not terribly remarkable. The American government memoir genre is well-known for dry writing, glowing portraits of colleagues that may or may not be genuine, and lack of tough discussions, and Worthy Fights is no exception. In the end, one learns more about Panetta’s colleagues than Panetta himself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joseph J.

    Okay. Up front. Not exactly a page turner, but I didn't expect it to be. Leon Panetta is a son of immigrants (opening pages are great) and a true American success story, and he turned that success to public service and not greed or the accumulation of wealth at the harm of others. From Nixon Administration Republican to born again Democrat, Panetta served as Congressman and budget guru and Clinton Chief of Staff, but before the sleazy stuff. He was chief during the fateful 1995 government shutdo Okay. Up front. Not exactly a page turner, but I didn't expect it to be. Leon Panetta is a son of immigrants (opening pages are great) and a true American success story, and he turned that success to public service and not greed or the accumulation of wealth at the harm of others. From Nixon Administration Republican to born again Democrat, Panetta served as Congressman and budget guru and Clinton Chief of Staff, but before the sleazy stuff. He was chief during the fateful 1995 government shutdown, and his observations on Newt Gingrich are valuable. Panetta returns as CIA director and Defense Secretary for President Obama, in a heated period of the war on terror and escalating issues with Iran. Sadly, the penchant for detail often dulls a great story, though his pages on the raid and killing of Osama bin Laden are gripping. As the book closes Panetta-while professing sincere admiration for his boss Obama, laments Obama's at times reluctance to seize the moment, face down the opposition and LEAD. As a two time Obama voter-no regrets-I shared Panetta's frustration with the at times too cool Obama. This is and will remain a valuable read on history in its time. And the image of his Golden Retriever Bravo being stroked by military leaders during bin Laden raid planning meetings is a mental keeper, as Bravo kept the secrets.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dalton

    What an interesting and intriguing history this must have been. It's a shame though the book could have been lively, engaging, and even controversial when it fact it simply skimmed the surface of a fascinating life. What an interesting and intriguing history this must have been. It's a shame though the book could have been lively, engaging, and even controversial when it fact it simply skimmed the surface of a fascinating life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Yong Lee

    The best parts are his years as a Congressman and as the head of Office of Management and Budget. With so much already accomplished in government service, his CIA and Pentagon days are anticlimactic.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Justin Tapp

    I checked out this book to get more insight into the conflicts of the Middle East and the inner workings of the Obama Administration. This is the fourth Obama cabinet memoir I've read (Clinton, Gates, Geithner) but it had the least to say about the Obama Administration, which was a disappointment. I was hoping to learn why Panetta left as Secretary of Defense so quickly (served about 18 months) but got no such insights. It was partly to due with his desire to spend time with family, he had alway I checked out this book to get more insight into the conflicts of the Middle East and the inner workings of the Obama Administration. This is the fourth Obama cabinet memoir I've read (Clinton, Gates, Geithner) but it had the least to say about the Obama Administration, which was a disappointment. I was hoping to learn why Panetta left as Secretary of Defense so quickly (served about 18 months) but got no such insights. It was partly to due with his desire to spend time with family, he had always made weekend trips home to California no matter his position in government. Panetta returns to his strong feelings about public service throughout the book, and I suspect he avoided any criticisms of Obama, Joe Biden, or the Clintons because he knows he'll be asked to serve again soon. So, the book contained few real heartfelt disclosures, unlike Bob Gates' memoir, but an occasional gem falls out. The subtitle of the book is "Leadership in War and Peace," but there is very little leadership-related material. I didn't glean many insights into how Panetta led his staff, his approach to conflict resolution or negotiation, or how he managed much of his office. Throughout the book, Panetta highlights certain details of events or speeches, and sometimes individuals, that he feels have gone underappreciated in history. The first 40 percent of the book is about Panetta's early career. Panetta's dad immigrated from Italy in 1921, and he was born in 1938. His parents opened a bar in Monterey, CA. Before the U.S. entered World War II, his grandfather came to visit from Italy and was forced to stay after Pearl Harbor. Worse, his grandfather was one of thousands of Italian Americans living along the coast who were rounded up into detention camps under FDR, giving Panetta a unique perspective on civil liberties during wartime that would assist his thinking as later CIA director and Secretary of Defense. Panetta never quite defines what an "Eisenhower Republican" is to him, but he was one-- and also an Earl Warren Republican in the 1950s. Panetta responded to JFK's call to service in the 1960s and became an aid to Senator Kuchel. As the Republican Party moved rightward (Kuchel did not support Barry Goldwater and other conservatives), his boss was attached by Birchers on the right and lost in the 1968 primary. Panetta then worked in the Office of Civil Rights under former CA governor Bob Finch in the Cabinet for Health, Education, and Welfare. Panetta claims that both himself and Finch were appalled by the Nixon Administration's heavy-handed politics. Panetta was fired by Nixon for being too liberal on desegregation in housing and education policy, which he learned from a newspaper article that said he was resigning. Nixon had courted influential Southerners during the election and it became clear that politics came first. He writes that he was "one of the least surprised" by the revelations of Watergate. He purportedly brought up that history when President Obama tapped him to be CIA chief, and Obama claimed he was aware of the history and included it in his reasons for wanting him. Panetta went to work for the mayor of New York City, but missed California and returned to Monterey to practice law. Panetta is a practicing Catholic and it's clear throughout the book that time with family and California are the most important things to him. He became a Democrat in 1971 and unseated the Republican congressional incumbent in 1976. He sees one crowning achievement as protecting the Monterey coastline from off-shore drilling. The other was his work on budget committees in Congress, which he says is the "most important work I would do in Congress." He was also on the House Budget Committee from 1979 to 1989, working with Reagan and Bush 41, both of whom he admired and writes well of. He praises Bush for his willingness to increase taxes and Panetta chaired the Budget Committee working out the balanced budget deal of 1990. He appreciated that Reagan would make "thank you" phone calls after passing a budget, and admired Reagan's ability to lead publicly. He worked on the commission on base closings from 1988-1992, fighting to keep the base in his district open but being forthright about the need to "move on" and attract commerce to the area when it was time to close it. He writes that he was a deficit hawk for two reasons: he was raised to be personally frugal and he hates the cost of servicing the debt, particularly for future generations. He praises Reagan as being a better leader and politician than Carter, and Bush '41 for putting "country first," and doing the right thing to balance the budget and raise taxes. (Panetta is noted for being one of the few to vote against the 1991 Gulf War.) Panetta felt that the GOP's conservative wing's reach for Pat Buchanan in '91 was "desperate," and he repeatedly bemoans the right-wing takeover from the 60's to today. Since I work in a government budget office, I found Panetta's discussion of budget negotiations and procedures to be interesting. He was tapped by Bill Clinton to be OMB Director for his expertise. Panetta "admired" the "perseverance" of Clinton, and praises Clinton for being the first President he ever saw to read "every line" of the federal budget and for diving into its details. When Clinton wanted Panetta to be Chief of Staff, he called James Baker for advice. Panetta almost fired George Stephanopoulous and Rahm Emmanuel for being too strong in the personalities, Sephanopoulous had an ego and would butt into the room when not needed or wanted. Panetta offers many insights into negotiations with Congress. One notable story involved negotiating for a difficult "yes" vote from Congresswoman Barbara-Rose Collins from Detroit on an assault weapons ban. "she informed me that Jesus had spoken to her in a dream the night before. 'Really?' I asked calmly...'What did Jesus say?' 'He told me I should consider supporting the president,' she answered, then added, 'I think God will allow me to support this bill if I get a casino for my district.' 'I'm glad to hear that Jesus is flexible,' I responded." If one character gets blasted in the book, it's Newt Gingrich. Gingrich made public accusations that White House staffers were known drug users. Panetta "lost it," and publicly fought Gingrich. Panetta relishes in the aftermath of the famous 1996 shutdown debacle, when Gingrich overplayed his hand and was made to look like a brat. Panetta points out that the shutdown furlough of White House staffers was what allowed Monica Lewinsky greater access to Bill Clinton. By that time, Panetta was Chief of Staff and makes no mention whatsoever of his possible responsibility in keeping women away from the President (as was their duty per orders from Mrs. Clinton as others have alleged). He writes he was later "baffled" to learn of the affair (which came out after Panetta had already left the White House). His biggest frustration with Clinton was his secretly consulting for advice with Dick Morris. Panetta was supposed to be the "filter of ideas" and all advice or meetings for the president. Morris was an egotistical maniac hated by many Clinton staffers. Eventually, they brought Morris on in an official capacity rather than keep dealing with the secret relationship. Panetta has an "enormous respect" for Bill Clinton and leaves it at that. Panetta left to start the Panetta Institute for Public Policy at CSU, Monterey Bay. He served as an Iraq Study Group member under President Bush, which he enjoyed but was disappointed with the Bush Administration's handling. He was surprised to be tapped as CIA director and the first hints of his frustration with the Obama Administration come when his friend and former colleague Diane Feinstein, who chaired the committee which would have to approve Panetta's appointment, was not notified and found out via the media. Panetta inherited John Brennan as Deputy Director, who was fluent in Arabic and good at his job. Panetta was technically subservient to the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, who he did not get along with. He writes that Admiral Blair had "looney" notions and was glad when he was replaced by Jim Clapper. Panetta explains his daily routine at the CIA, which was one of the few "how I do work" insights of the book. His main battle with the Obama Administration came over the release of formerly classified memos about enhanced interrogation. Obama released them but "listened respectfully" to CIA officers' concerns and later visited the CIA for a morale-boosting visit. Panetta defends the CIA and notes that life-saving intelligence was gathered by enhanced interrogation techniques, but the benefits did not outweigh the costs and it should never happen again. Panetta writes repeatedly of Obama's "disdain" for Congress. Besides the Feinstein incident, Obama would sic Rahm Emanuel on anyone who negotiated with Congress or divulged information to Congress without authorization. He does not write much about his interactions with Bob Gates in the book, which I find odd. He does write that he saw generals like Stan McChrystal as "boxing in" Obama but does not write of the White House's ignorance and disdain for military culture as Bob Gates describes so sharply in his memoir. Panetta found David Petraeus to have an outsized ego, writing that his office "was a shrine" to himself. Panetta opposed his nomination to replace him at CIA when he moved to Defense. Panetta doesn't write much about operations (like Libya and Yemen) where the CIA would have obvious presence. You get little insight into CIA operations at all. On Libya and other issues, Hillary Clinton was the war hawk while Biden was the dove. Panetta defends the killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011 but does not revel in it. He recounts how an Al Qaeda operative named Humam al-Balawi duped agents in Afghanistan and Pakistan into believing he was going to be a double agent, detonating himself at Camp Chapman and killing several CIA officers. This loss deeply affected Panetta and he names every killed officer and recounts meetings with their families. Oddly, he says that Isaiah's calling in Isaiah 6 "perfectly" sums up the call the CIA officers were responding to. Panetta recounts meetings with his Russian counterpart and dealing with other Cold War-related issues like North Korea. Revisiting the Cold War seems out of place both in the book and to Panetta. He clearly had no background in those particular issues. He details how Bin Laden was killed and his role in those decisions. Congress was briefed along the way and much to the Obama Administration's surprise there were no leaks. There was nothing, oddly, about leaking that it was Seals who performed the raid. For a budget guru, there was notably nothing in the book about the CIA's budget. As Defense Secretary, Panetta inherited all the budget battles that Bob Gates had fought. He was chastised for reaching out to agency heads during the Obama administration's battle with Congress that eventually led to sequestration and a $487 billion cut to the Pentagon's budget over 10 years. There is some in the book about how that is pragmatically handled. Nothing in how much the little wars like Libya cost. Panetta utilized Gates' previous strategic review to figure out what missions they could and could not do under the new budget. He also was tasked with redesigning the Defense Department with a pivot toward Asia. Panetta writes of his difficulties in handling the widespread sex abuse in the military, an ongoing problem. As SecDef, the cost to taxpayers were higher although he reimbursed what he was supposed to personally under law. One criticism of the White House was its lack of effort in negotiations with Iraq about leaving a residual force. The White House, Panetta writes, "managed but did not lead," and Panetta writes that ISIS' rise and capture of Iraqi territory could have been avoided had the Administration done a better job. He reveals that Israel really was thinking very hard about hitting Iraq in 2012. He defends the Administration against critics over Benghazi, pouring evidence on conspiracy theorists who claim that security and defense agents were told to stand down. Panetta writes in the end that Obama is "pragmatic and realistic" but sometimes does not lead with passion and complains too much. Obama "vacillated" on Syria, and Panetta had a problem with that. Panetta concludes by looking at the budget battles of the '80s and 90s versus the sequestration debacle of today. In the old days during budget fights no one got everything they wanted, but the deal got done. Sequestration, however, was a failure of congressional leadership. Republican leadership, who knew better, "sat, as if powerless, and let it happen." Politics is trumping governance and that irks an old Eisenhower Republican like Panetta. In all, I give this book 3 stars out of 5. It's useful for recounting the budget fights of the 80's-today but not a whole lot of insight into the CIA or Defense Department or the Obama Administration today. There is criticism of Obama, for certain, but it is tempered with much respect. There is little-to-no criticism for anyone named Clinton.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

    I liked it. It was 472 pages and took me a little over a month to get through because it's not "quick reading." But it was enlightening and informative and well written. I knew relatively little about Leon Panetta, the former Defense Secretary and CIA Director serving under both Clinton and Obama, before reading this book. His life truly has been full of service, adventure and amazing experiences, so it was fun to have this insight and view into his life and experiences. I don't necessarily agre I liked it. It was 472 pages and took me a little over a month to get through because it's not "quick reading." But it was enlightening and informative and well written. I knew relatively little about Leon Panetta, the former Defense Secretary and CIA Director serving under both Clinton and Obama, before reading this book. His life truly has been full of service, adventure and amazing experiences, so it was fun to have this insight and view into his life and experiences. I don't necessarily agree with everything he said or did, but he seems to be one who truly cares about the United States of America and seems fiercely loyal - to his country, to his family, to his responsibilities. And I respect that. One thing he said, which I absolutely agree with was this (in reference to the Syrian President Assad murdering his own people and the United States/Obama not acting when we said we would): "The result, I felt was a blow to American credibility. When the president as commander in chief draws a red line, it is critical that he act if the line is crossed. The power of the United States rests on its word, and clear signals are important both to deter adventurism and to reassure allies that we can be counted on. Assad's action clearly defied President Obama's warning: by failing to respond, it sent the wrong message to the world." (pg 450)

  22. 4 out of 5

    David Szatkowski

    When I read the reviews, people seemed to love or hate the book. Those who gave it a low review, tended to like Gates' memoir "Duty." I read it as well, it was worth reading. As is this one. One criticism (rightly made I think) is that Panetta presents only a glowing picture of himself - he never owns any error, mistake, or something he did wrong that he learned from. I suspect some will not like this memoir due to Panetta's politics. However, while he certainly has a point of view, I do not fin When I read the reviews, people seemed to love or hate the book. Those who gave it a low review, tended to like Gates' memoir "Duty." I read it as well, it was worth reading. As is this one. One criticism (rightly made I think) is that Panetta presents only a glowing picture of himself - he never owns any error, mistake, or something he did wrong that he learned from. I suspect some will not like this memoir due to Panetta's politics. However, while he certainly has a point of view, I do not find his criticisms of either side of the aisle unjustified. He also helps to illuminate how Congress has become so dysfunctional in recent years. I would have wished he had written a bit more about his time in Congress, but he chose to make the larger focus on being director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense. Overall, worth reading (or listening to on CD which is what I did, and it is read by the author).

  23. 4 out of 5

    sumo

    ok, I’m super impressed with him. I knew very little about him - seems pretty controversy free and was confirmed 100 to 0 in the senate. Best advice from this book is to be straightforward - no surprises with your bosses, subordinates or colleagues. It’s an integrity thing. I don’t think he has had any major “controversies”, but it seems like he had a good, very long, career dedicated to America. I felt like he really gets it, service to the nation and the associated sacrifices. That he took it ok, I’m super impressed with him. I knew very little about him - seems pretty controversy free and was confirmed 100 to 0 in the senate. Best advice from this book is to be straightforward - no surprises with your bosses, subordinates or colleagues. It’s an integrity thing. I don’t think he has had any major “controversies”, but it seems like he had a good, very long, career dedicated to America. I felt like he really gets it, service to the nation and the associated sacrifices. That he took it seriously and personally and with great respect for those involved. It had my eyes welling up at points... he talked about leadership, vision, patience compromise and resolve, and the great things the federal government can do when those things are in action. The purpose of governing is to benefit the public, not secure political advantage. Even if you don’t read the book, 100% recommend reading the epilogue about leadership.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    This was more of a 4.5. I really enjoyed this book, much more than I thought I would. And that isn't because I don't like Leon Panetta or Democrats, but because it was a well written book about a life of service to this nation. I also liked that Panetta was a man who fought for equality for all in every job that he held and that he was able to admit to mistakes. As a woman veteran, I especially appreciate the work that he did to open up combat jobs to women and his work with after "Don't ask, do This was more of a 4.5. I really enjoyed this book, much more than I thought I would. And that isn't because I don't like Leon Panetta or Democrats, but because it was a well written book about a life of service to this nation. I also liked that Panetta was a man who fought for equality for all in every job that he held and that he was able to admit to mistakes. As a woman veteran, I especially appreciate the work that he did to open up combat jobs to women and his work with after "Don't ask, don't tell" was abolished. His story just shows you what an amazing country the United States is. The son of immigrants became a congressman, head of the CIA and secretary of defense. Only in America!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nonya

    Great book on the life of Leon Panetta up until just after he leaves as director of CIA. I enjoyed him discussing his heritage as an Italian American and events in his young life which shaped his thinking on key issues. Such as a family member being taken to a camp during WW 2 due to the family member being an Italian citizen and wasn't naturalized. Leon discusses what lead to him switching parties to democrat after the Nixon administration and steps in his political life during congress and bot Great book on the life of Leon Panetta up until just after he leaves as director of CIA. I enjoyed him discussing his heritage as an Italian American and events in his young life which shaped his thinking on key issues. Such as a family member being taken to a camp during WW 2 due to the family member being an Italian citizen and wasn't naturalized. Leon discusses what lead to him switching parties to democrat after the Nixon administration and steps in his political life during congress and both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Leon took over the CIA after the famous scandal over black sites and enhanced interrogation techniques to later when one of the worst attacks against the CIA overseas when a suicide bomber in Khost. His memoir was clear and full of lessons learned.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Juan Sanchez

    A heck of a read about an American patriot by American statesman. The former secretary of defense takes the reader or listener into the American privy council while deliberating on some of the most contentious issues of the last 30 years. His candor in retelling the behind the scenes of the Nixon, Clinton, and Obama’s administrations is priceless. Leon Panetta is a workhorse and proud American son of first-generation immigrants.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Karina

    This was an incredible accounting of a lifetime of political achievement. So refreshing, to know that some politicians are patriotic, principaled and non partisan. In this crazy chaotic political era, it is reassuring to know that some politicians really are looking out for their constituents, and our country. That they can bring order and agreement to move our country forward. The only downside, was that the writing was painfully dry, and he even made exciting events sound so boring.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sassan

    Very good read about the life of an astute intellectual/organizer/practical mastermind that was able to adapt to his surroundings whether doing the budget or leading the CIA or Defense Department. He is a true public servant; and I hope to have the chance to meet him and thank him for his service to our country and environment.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jesse D

    I like Leon Panetta’s views and think he’s an honorable man and patriot, but there was too much of the Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama’s apologetics to give the book a five-star rating. The best part of the book was the Panetta’s account of his time as director of the CIA, especially the operation to kill UBL and all the details surrounding the operation that have been left out of other accounts.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David Schroeder

    A thorough memoir from Leon Panetta. I love Secretary Panetta because he is a patriot and servant of our country. He was in the middle of some of the most important events of our country in the past 50 years. I love that he appreciates hard work and a desire to find middle ground to "get things done." That is nobility. A thorough memoir from Leon Panetta. I love Secretary Panetta because he is a patriot and servant of our country. He was in the middle of some of the most important events of our country in the past 50 years. I love that he appreciates hard work and a desire to find middle ground to "get things done." That is nobility.

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