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In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect [Format Kindle]

Ronald Kessler
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EVEN BEFORE HE took the oath of office, Abraham Lincoln was the object of plots to kidnap or kill him. Throughout the Civil War, he received threatening letters. Yet, like most presidents before and after him, Lincoln had little use for personal protection. He resisted the efforts of his friends, the police, and the military to safeguard him. Finally, late in the war, he agreed to allow four Washington police officers to act as his bodyguards.

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a fanatical Confederate sympathizer, learned that Lincoln would be attending a play at Ford's Theatre that evening. The president's bodyguard on duty was Patrolman John F. Parker of the Washington police. Instead of remaining on guard outside the president's box, Parker wandered off to watch the play, then went to a nearby saloon for a drink. As a result of Parker's negligence, Lincoln was as unprotected as any private citizen.

Just after ten P.M., Booth made his way to Lincoln's box, snuck in, and shot him in the back of the head. The president died the next morning.

Despite that lesson, protection of the president remained spotty at best. For a short time after the Civil War, the War Department assigned soldiers to protect the White House and its grounds. On special occasions, Washington police officers helped maintain order and prevented crowds from assembling. But the permanent detail of four police officers that was assigned to guard the president during Lincoln's term was reduced to three. These officers protected only the White House and did not receive any special training.

Thus, President James A. Garfield was unguarded as he walked through a waiting room toward a train in the Baltimore and Potomac Railway station in Washington on the morning of July 2, 1881. Charles J. Guiteau emerged from the crowd and shot the president in the arm and then fatally in the back. Guiteau was said to be bitterly disappointed that Garfield had ignored his pleas to be appointed a consul in Europe.

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried to find the bullet in the president's back with an induction-balance electrical device he had invented. While the device worked in tests, it failed to find the bullet. All other efforts failed as well. On September 19, 1881, Garfield died of his wounds.

While the assassination shocked the nation, no steps were taken to protect the next president, Chester A. Arthur. The resistance came down to the perennial question of how to reconcile the need to protect the country's leaders with their need to mingle with citizens and remain connected to the people.

In fact, after Garfield's assassination, the New York Tribune warned against improving security. The paper said that the country did not want the president to become "the slave of his office, the prisoner of forms and restrictions."

The tension between openness and protection went back to the design of the White House itself. As originally proposed by Pierre L'Enfant and approved in principle by George Washington, the White House was to be a "presidential palace." As envisioned, it would have been five times larger than the structure actually built. But Republican opposition, led by Thomas Jefferson, discredited the Federalist plan as unbefitting a democracy. The critics decried what was known as "royalism"--surrounding the president with courtiers and guards, the trappings of the English monarchy.

To resolve the impasse, Jefferson proposed to President Washington that the executive residence be constructed according to the best plan submitted in a national competition. Washington endorsed the idea and eventually accepted a design by architect James Hoban. Workers laid the cornerstone for the White House on October 13, 1792. When the building received a coat of whitewash in 1797, people began referring to it as the White House.

Given the competing aims of openness and security, it's not surprising that the Secret Service stumbled into protecting the president as an afterthought. The agency began operating as a division of the Department of the Treasury on July 5, 1865, to track down and arrest counterfeiters. At the time, an estimated one third of the nation's currency was counterfeit. States issued their own currency printed by sixteen hundred state banks. Nobody knew what their money was supposed to look like.

Ironically, Abraham Lincoln's last official act was to sign into law the legislation creating the agency. Its first chief was William P. Wood, a veteran of the Mexican-American War, a friend of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and the superintendent of the Old Capitol Prison.

One of the Secret Service's first targets, William E. Brockway, was doing such a good job creating bogus thousand-dollar treasury bonds that the treasury itself redeemed seventy-five of them. Chief Wood personally tracked Brockway to New York, where he was living under a pseudonym. Known as the King of Counterfeiters, he was convicted and sent to jail.

By 1867, the Secret Service had brought counterfeiting largely under control and had won acclaim in the press.

"The professional criminal never willingly falls in the way of the Secret Service," the Philadelphia Telegram declared. "The chase is as relentless as death, and only death or capture ends it."

With the agency's success, Congress gave the Secret Service broader authority to investigate other crimes, including fraud against the government. In 1894, the Secret Service was investigating a plot to assassinate President Grover Cleveland by a group of "western gamblers, anarchists, or cranks" in Colorado. Exceeding its mandate, the agency detailed two men who had been conducting the investigation to protect Cleveland from the suspects. For a time, the two agents rode in a buggy behind his carriage. But after political opponents criticized him for it, Cleveland told the agents he did not want their help.

As the number of threatening letters addressed to the president increased, Cleveland's wife persuaded him to increase protection at the White House. The number of police assigned there rose from three to twenty-seven. In 1894, the Secret Service began to supplement that protection by providing agents on an informal basis, including when the president traveled.

It did not help the next president, William McKinley. Unlike Lincoln and Garfield, McKinley was being guarded when Leon F. Czolgosz shot him on September 6, 1901. McKinley was at a reception that day in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Long lines of citizens passed between two rows of policemen and soldiers to shake his hand. Two Secret Service agents were within three feet of him when the twenty-eight-year-old self-styled anarchist joined the line and shot the president twice with a pistol concealed in a handkerchief. Bullets slammed into McKinley's chest and stomach. Eight days later, he died of blood poisoning.

Still, it was not until the next year--1902--that the Secret Service officially assumed responsibility for protecting the president. Even then it lacked statutory authority to do so. While Congress began allocating funds expressly for the purpose in 1906, it did so only annually, as part of the Sundry Civil Expenses Act.

As protective measures increased, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge that he considered the Secret Service to be a "very small but very necessary thorn in the flesh. Of course," he wrote, "they would not be the least use in preventing any assault upon my life. I do not believe there is any danger of such an assault, and if there were, as Lincoln said, 'Though it would be safer for a president to live in a cage, it would interfere with his business.'"

Unsuccessful assassination attempts were made on President Andrew Jackson on January 30, 1835; President Theodore Roosevelt on October 14, 1912; and Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 15, 1933, before he had been sworn in. Even though Congress kept considering bills to make it a federal crime to assassinate the president, the legislative branch took no action. Members of the public continued to be free to roam the White House during daylight hours. In fact, back when the White House was first opened, a deranged man wandered in and threatened to kill President John Adams. Never calling for help, Adams invited the man into his office and calmed him down.

Finally, at the Secret Service's insistence, public access to the White House grounds was ended for the first time during World War II. To be let in, visitors had to report to gates around the perimeter. By then, Congress had formally established the White House Police in 1922 to guard the complex and secure the grounds. In 1930, the White House Police became part of the Secret Service. That unit within the Secret Service is now called the Secret Service's Uniformed Division. As its name implies, the division consists of officers in uniform.

In contrast to the Uniformed Division, Secret Service agents wear suits. They are responsible for the security of the first family and the vice president and his family, as opposed to the security of their surroundings. They also are responsible for protecting former presidents, presidential candidates, and visiting heads of state, and for security at special events of national significance such as presidential inaugurations, the Olympics, and presidential nominating conventions.

By the end of World War II, the number of Secret Service agents assigned to protect the president had been increased to thirty-seven. The stepped-up security paid off. At two-twenty P.M. on November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists tried to force their way into Blair House to kill President Harry S. Truman. The would-be assassins, Oscar Collazo, thirty-six, and Griselio Torresola, twenty-five, hoped to draw attention to the cause of separating the island from the United States.

The two men picked up a couple of German pistols and took a train from New York to Washington. According to American Gunfight by Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr., they took a cab to the White House. It turned out that the White House was being renovated, and their target was not staying there. The building was in such poor condition that Margaret Truman's piano had begun to break through the second floor. From the cab driver, Collazo and Torresola learned that during the renovation, Truman--code-named Supervise--was staying at Blair House across the street. They decided to shoot their way in.

Getting out on Pennsylvania Avenue, Torresola walked toward the west side of Blair House, while Collazo approached from the east. They planned to arrive at the mansion simultaneously with guns blazing, take down the security, and then find the president. As marksmen, Torresola was by far the better shot; Collazo was engaged in on-the-job training. But for the two men, fate would have its own plans.

Secret Service Agent Floyd Boring and White House Police Officer Joseph Davidson were manning the east security booth. In the west security booth was White House Police Officer Leslie Coffelt. White House Police Officer Donald Birdzell was standing on the front steps under the mansion's canopy, his back to the street, when Collazo came up behind him.

Unfamiliar with the automatic pistol he carried, Collazo tried to fire. The gun clicked, but nothing happened. Birdzell turned at the sound, to see the gunman struggling. Then the pistol cracked. A round tore into Birdzell's right knee.

Leaving the east security booth, Agent Boring and Officer Davidson drew their pistols and opened fire on Collazo. Hearing the shots, Secret Service Agent Stewart Stout, who was inside Blair House, retrieved a Thompson submachine gun from a gun cabinet. He had been standing post in a hallway, guarding the stairs and elevator leading to the second floor, where Truman was napping in his underwear. Bess Truman--code-named Sunnyside--as usual was out of town. She hated Washington.

Standing in front of the west security booth, Torresola whipped out his Luger and pumped rounds into Officer Coffelt's abdomen. Coffelt slumped to the floor. Torresola came around from the guardhouse and encountered another target--White House Police Officer Joseph Downs, who was in civilian clothes. Torresola hit him three times--in the hip, the shoulder, and the left side of his neck.

Then Torresola jumped a hedge and headed toward the entrance where wounded officer Birdzell was aiming his third or fourth shot at Collazo. Spotting Torresola, Birdzell squeezed off a round at him and missed. Torresola fired back, and the shot tore into the officer's other knee.

In a last heroic act, Coffelt leaped to his feet and propped himself against his security booth. He pointed his revolver at Torresola's head and fired. The bullet ripped through Torresola's ear. The would-be assassin pitched forward, dead on the street.

The other officers and agents blasted away at Collazo. He finally crumpled up as a shot slammed into his chest. Meanwhile, Secret Service Agent Vincent Mroz fired at him from a second-floor window.

The biggest gunfight in Secret Service history was over in forty seconds. A total of twenty-seven shots had been fired.

Having killed Torresola, officer Coffelt died in surgery less than four hours later. He earned a place on the Secret Service's honor roll of personnel killed in the line of duty. Collazo and two White House policemen recovered from their wounds. Truman was unharmed. If the assassins had made it inside, Stout and other agents would have mowed them down.

Looking back, agent Floyd Boring recalled, "It was a beautiful day, about eighty degrees outside." He remembered teasing Coffelt. "I was kidding him about getting a new set of glasses. I wanted to find out if he had gotten the glasses to look at the girls."

When the shooting stopped, Boring went up to see Truman. As Boring recalled it, Truman said, "What the hell is going on down there?"

The next morning, "Truman wanted to go for a walk," says Charles "Chuck" Taylor, an agent on his detail. "We said we thought it was not a good idea. The group might still be in the area."

The following year, Congress finally passed legislation to permanently authorize the Secret Service to protect the president, his immediate family, the president-elect, and the vice president if he requested it.

"Well, it is wonderful to know that the work of protecting me has at last become legal," Truman joked as he signed the bill on July 16, 1951.

But it would remain up to the president how much protection he would receive. By their very nature, presidents want more exposure, while Secret Service agents want more security. As President Kennedy's aide Kenneth O'Donnell said, "The president's views of his responsibilities as president of the United States were that he meet the people, that he go out to their homes and see them, and allow them to see him, and discuss, if possible, the views of the world as he sees it, the problems of the country as he sees them."

Yet there was a fine line between those worthwhile goals and recklessness.

Revue de presse

From USA TODAY, Reviewed By Don Oldenburg, Special for USA TODAY

The recent news report that corner-cutting at the U.S. Secret Service has put President Obama's life at greater risk may be the most attention-grabbing disclosure emerging from Ron Kessler's latest book. But there's a lot more in this fascinating exposé, which penetrates that federal agency's longstanding mission and tradition of sworn secrecy.

Never mind that the book's title is stiffer than the Secret Service's public persona — dour-faced agents wearing pressed suits, dark sunglasses and earphones, scouring crowds for potential threats. Inside the covers, Kessler's lively narrative is loaded with details of how the federal agents, authorized to protect the president and other national leaders, get the job done — and sometimes don't.

But what fuels this high-energy read isn't Kessler's investigation of the Secret Service's training, procedures and strategies — from guaranteeing the safety of the president's food to analyzing daily threats. Instead what turns these pages are the amusing, saucy, often disturbing anecdotes about the VIPs the Secret Service has protected and still protects. The secrets, in other words.

Some of it would border on tabloid sensationalism if it hadn't come directly from current and retired agents (most identified by name, to Kessler's credit). Of course, you'd expect the salacious stories of John Kennedy's libido, but the less-told tales of an often-drunken and philandering Lyndon Johnson caught with his pants down are shocking. Family-values champion Spiro Agnew had his hotel-room peccadilloes, it seems, and nice Jimmy Carter his animosities. Richard Nixon's peculiarities? Beyond excess.

Anecdotes of hard-to-handle members of the first families abound here as well, including Jenna and Barbara Bush's bar-hopping, Hillary Clinton's angry clashes with low-level White House employees, and Nancy Reagan's cold, controlling habits.
Balancing the sordid tales are the kinder stories of presidential humanity — like George H.W. Bush and an agent searching for hidden cookies in the middle of the night, Miss Lillian Carter delivering a six-pack to the Secret Service boys (dutifully refused), and Ronald Reagan mailing checks for thousands of dollars to needy strangers.

So why the all the blabbing from zip-lipped agents? A respected journalist and former Washington Post reporter, Kessler somehow instills trust even in wary civil servants and federal bureaucrats.

He did when researching such government-insider books as The Terrorist Watch and The CIA at War. He has done it again by persuading the Secret Service to cooperate, making this an insightful and entertaining story.

Copyright 2009, USA TODAY. All Rights Reserved.

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2.0 étoiles sur 5 Une collection d'anecdotes... 4 janvier 2010
Format:Relié
...qui finit un peu par lasser. L'auteur recense avec une certaine candeur les épisodes marquants de puis l'assassinat de Lincoln jusqu'à aujourd'hui. Enchaînement des événements, conduite des enquêtes, détails croustillants sur la vie privée de l'hôte de la Maison Blanche (Kennedy, Johnson...) et sur les prétendants au trône, agrémentés de quelques commentaires moraux qui renvoient à l'idée selon laquelle un dirigeant politique qui trahit les serments maritaux n'en sera que plus prompt à avoir une conduite délétère en tant que président installé. Mais il manque une réflexion un peu plus approfondie sur tous ces sujets. L'avantage est que le niveau de langue est accessible pour un lecteur ayant un niveau correct en Anglais.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 étoiles sur 5  1.050 commentaires
453 internautes sur 512 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 RICK "SHAQ" GOLDSTEIN SAYS: "AGENTS WERE TOLD TO TAKE A BULLET FOR THE PRESIDENT & KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT ABOUT HIS PERSONAL LIFE" 5 août 2009
Par Rick Shaq Goldstein - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Today the Secret Service is in charge of protecting the President... the Vice-President... former President's... world leaders... big events... and even the Pope. Things have come a long way since April 14, 1865 when President Lincoln's bodyguard on duty outside the president's box at Ford's Theatre "was Patrolman John F. Parker of the Washington police. Instead of remaining on guard outside the President's box, Parker wandered off to watch the play, then went to a nearby saloon for a drink". And of course John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln that night. Author Ronald Kessler then leads the reader not only through the growth... both in size... and responsibility... of the United States Secret Service... but he also brings to light... almost limitless Presidential peccadilloes... character traits... and faults... that are almost beyond an average citizens imagination. The revelations in this book go way... way... past the JFK-Marilyn Monroe sexual liaisons... which is almost accepted common knowledge by multiple generations. We're talking about JFK bedding multiple women at the same time... with the security of a Secret Service team with Jackie... giving alerts to JFK if she was on the way back... while he was in the pool with two buxom women wearing nothing but wet T-shirts. We're talking about Lyndon Johnson having multiple sex partners... and even being caught in the act on the couch by Lady Bird Johnson... thus leading an irate LBJ to request a red warning light in his office and other areas that could be activated by agents to alert him when Lady Bird was on the way. LBJ would even have women on his ranch while Lady Bird was home... and simply get up at night and go into a different room for sex.

What makes this book so astounding is that ninety-per-cent of the quotes regarding these transgressions... are attributed directly to *NAMED-AGENTS*! With the "secrecy" of the Secret Service... the reader would think... the agents would have been sworn to a life of "OMERTA"... the code of silence. But I guess times have changed both for the Mafia... and the Secret Service. The agents... through the author... pull no punches in any area you could think of. They openly state that LBJ "was uncouth, nasty, and often drunk." They say President Ford was the cheapest guy they ever saw... they say Nixon was the "strangest modern president, Jimmy Carter was known as the least likeable. IF THE TRUE MEASURE OF A MAN IS HOW HE TREATS THE LITTLE PEOPLE, CARTER FLUNKED THE TEST." One agent said "the Carters were the biggest liars in the world"... especially when it came to booze. Agents "considered Nixon's son-in-law David Eisenhower, grandson of former President Dwight Eisenhower the most clueless person they had ever protected." What I've listed here is a miniscule tip of the iceberg of presidential depravity that engulfs the reader's senses like a flash flood annihilating an ant hill.

Interspersed with the White House decadence is a myriad of examples of assassination planning and attempts. Some thwarted in advance by the Secret Service... and some simply failing by pure luck. This book will have two extremely powerful... uncontrollable effects on potential readers. One... you literally will not be able to stop reading it... and two... you will have to talk to someone... to share this overflowing amount of formerly secret... deliriously... salacious... historical... scuttlebutt.
126 internautes sur 146 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Honoring the agents and also a great gossipy read 5 août 2009
Par Todd Bartholomew - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
"In the President's Secret Service" is something of a guilty pleasure for those interested in learning more about our nation's presidents and first families and those agents who protect them. Yet it also pays tribute to those agents who put their lives on the line every day for their charges, and also seeks to highlight deficiencies in the agency that desperately need to be addressed. Kessler interviewed a number of active and retired agents in order to describe the dangers the agents and their charges face from a myriad of threats and seeks to personalize the history of this agency that often serves in the shadows and in silence for very obvious reasons. In an age when citizens are critical of the government and it's agencies it is refreshing to read about these genuinely selfless individuals who are literally willing to take a bullet in their line of duty.

Secret Service agents are a favorite topic for fiction and for Hollywood, but their portrayal there is often stilted and two dimensional rather than the nuanced portrait Kessler reveals. Agents endure considerable abuse and difficulty with supreme diffidence and their demonstration of duty, honor, and valor that emerges is very much what you would find in the Armed Forces. Along the way Kessler gives readers a healthy amount of anecdotes about Presidents and their families and how they interacted with the agents assigned to protect them. These stories are by turns funny, interesting, and sometimes downright disturbing. Rather than being a distraction from the more serious messages of the book they help to provide levity when needed. Many of these stories give readers greater insight into the agents and their charges, particular how those protected react to having someone shadow their every move. "In the President's Secret Service" is also rather topical as it focuses primarily on the more recent history of the service and recent presidents, primarily from George H. W. Bush to President Obama, but it also does occasionally touch on earlier Administrations.

"In the President's Secret Service" is a lively page turner that will certainly inspire confidence in the agents, but Kessler also points out alarming deficiencies in how the agency presently operates and how cutbacks have potentially weakened the effectiveness of their protections. Kessler exposes these weaknesses in the hope of shaming the agency and the branches of government to rectify them. Considering the stakes involved and our ongoing "War on Terror" lets hope that this book is reaching the right people!
110 internautes sur 129 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A UNIQUE LOOK AT THE SECRET SERVICE THRU HISTORY 5 août 2009
Par RBSProds - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
IN THE PRESIDENT'S SECRET SERVICE
Four and a half INFORMATIVE Stars!! Loaded with historical data and trivia that is very informative and in some cases very personal, Ronald Kessler's book ultimately delivers an overview of the history of the Secret Service from early presidential administrations right up to the 21st Century status of the Secret Service that is somewhat troubling. Beyond that we get tidbits of confirming gossip on people such as JFK, LBJ, Spiro Agnew, and others that are extremely unflattering. There is more on recent and current presidents, families, and staff that will titillate those who want inside stories, however brief. There are some stories that are also 'laugh-out-loud' funny.

The author says early 'pre-Secret Service' attitudes toward presidential protection probably got 3 presidents shot before the era of heavy protection arrived. Heavy presidential protection was added almost as an "after thought" to crime-busting duties of the Secret Service following those 3 incidents. Then came the advent of expansions and refinements such as the White House Police. We even get a look into their secretive headquarters. The author covers a number of revelations such as: the "biggest gunfight in Secret Service history"; Nixon's unusual private life; more disturbing information on what happened before, during, and after the JFK assassination; the "Fiddle & Faddle" threesome mistresses; the midnight peacock; secret amphibious vehicles; LBJ's unbelievable antics; Carter's quirks, and so on, right up to the Obama administration which the author says is more of a challenge than the others for one particular somber reason. This is a rather brief, eye-opening, and unforgettable look at the Secret Service that, while not definitive, certainly extends the Secret Service body of literature. Highly Recommended. Four and a half RIVETING Stars!! (This review is based on a Kindle download ("text-to-speech" is disabled). Also available as an MP3 CD, Audio CD, and in Hardcover.)
122 internautes sur 145 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 More "Gossipy" Than Scholarly, but Enjoyable 9 août 2009
Par Shannon T. Nutt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
I was hoping for a more scholarly examination of the Secret Service by Kessler, but this turns out to be more of a tabloid-kind of read. That's not to say it isn't fun to hear about some of the antics of former Presidents. A lot of the stories here have already been documented elsewhere, but there's stuff I haven't read before, either (particularly about Jimmy Carter - which I still find hard to believe).

The book is suprisingly short in length (I wonder if Kessler whipped this one together in a few months time), but if you can look past its shortcomings, I think most buyers will enjoy this title.
19 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Highly entertaining, but a few caveats... 28 février 2011
Par Joe - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Format Kindle|Achat vérifié
I downloaded this on my Kindle after thumbing through a hard copy in a bookstore because I was very intrigued by the subject matter. It turned out to be a fun, highly interesting read that I really enjoyed. It covers the history, training methods, and business of the Secret Service (SS). Much of the book also contains inside info about past presidents and the first ladies incuding the Obamas. In addition, the author criticizes in great detail the SS management which he says in inefficient.

A few caveats: First, much of the book has a gossipy feel to it. Past and present agents claim that certain presidents and first ladies (they name which ones) were very courteous to the SS, while others were rude and ungrateful. I actually found this quite interesting, though others, based on their negative reviews, felt this aspect of the book made it tabloidish. Second, his research seems somewhat "light" - mostly casual interviews with SS agents. Furthermore, many negative reviewers were upset because they expected the book to deal extensively, and perhaps exclusively, with the tactics and methods used by the SS to protect the president. The book DOES contain that type of info, but not in exhaustive detail. After all, SS agents can only reveal so much. I think a lot of the negative reviews of this book are based on what people expected rather than on the book itself intrinsically, a problem with many of the book reviews at Amazon. I've read books where I disagreed with the author or I felt the book should have gone in a different direction, yet I still liked them because intrinsically they were good, well-written works. It would be like giving a negative review to a book by a Republican just because you're a Democrat. That lowers the integrity of the reviews. A book should be judged as its own entity.

In short, this is a fun, People magazine-like read about the SS, rather than an intense sophisticated scholarly work. This lighter approach was enjoyable and makes for a nice change of pace from other books.
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