Disturbing but superbly insightful.

SPIES, LIES, AND ALGORITHMS

THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF AMERICAN INTELLIGENCE

Books on American intelligence rarely bring cheerful news. This expert account is no exception, but it’s particularly astute.

A contributing writer at the Atlantic, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and author of Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11, Zegart reports that the digital age has made intelligence gathering vastly more difficult. Agencies once concentrated on foreign governments and terrorists. “Today,” writes the author, “they also have to understand American tech giants—and how malign actors can use our own inventions against us.” The National Security Agency, the traditional big data behemoth, faces competition from Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, and Twitter and Facebook have become disinformation highways. Zegart warns that Americans get most of their ideas on intelligence agencies from the movies: Torture always works. Heroes break the law, ignore ethics, and act without mercy against America’s enemies. The author recounts triumphs and debacles but mostly delivers a splendid education in psychology and political science as she explains the role, operation, and limitations of intelligence. Intelligence organizations provide information, never policy, which is politicians’ responsibility, and bad things happen when they forget this. All services gather data, which becomes intelligence only when it is analyzed and used to make predictions. Unfortunately, intelligence predictions are too often wrong, for reasons the author explains in a brilliant section, “The Seven Deadly Biases,” which should be taught in schools along with multiplication tables. According to confirmation bias, humans (not excluding analysts) readily accept facts that confirm what they believe and reject those that contradict it. Readers who assume that catching spies and covert action are straightforward and that Congress keeps an eye on our intelligence services will learn the error of their ways. Zegart’s conclusion offers further unsettling news: In the wireless 21st-century world, espionage, sabotage, and brainwashing are no longer the province of government agencies; nearly anyone with an internet connection can do it.

Disturbing but superbly insightful.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-691-14713-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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