The New York Times has published the first review of Power Wars. They commissioned James Mann, a non-NYT staffer and the author of Rise of the Vulcans and The Obamians, to write it to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Mann’s review is generally very positive, and he engages thoughtfully with some of the major themes of the book. Among other things, he writes, Power Wars “will almost certainly stand as the most comprehensive account of the Obama administration’s policies, views, theories and bureaucratic battles over national security laws and the legacy of the 2001 attacks. His account is thoughtful and consistently fair-minded.”
On the other hand, Mann notes that the book is over 700 pages and “catalogs virtually all the legal disputes over counterterrorism in the Obama era, all the justifications, procedural steps and bureaucratic battles,” which he says hurts it as a user-friendly narrative from the perspective of an ordinary reader. Much of this material, he writes, “will be of more interest to national-security professionals and law students than to a broader audience.”
This criticism is generally fair. It’s a long book with a wide aperture for its subject matter, and I really try to drill down on what was going on with each fight. I think lots of readers will be interested in this material – I’m fascinated by it, obviously – not just specialists, but I am sure some may in places choose to scan certain chapter subsections, depending on their relative interest in surveillance vs drones vs Gitmo vs leak investigations, etc. But the thing is, I envisioned this book as a definitive investigative and explanatory history, one that explored clashes of ideas in the post-9/11 era. So my only quarrel with Mr. Mann’s critique is his characterization of its heftiness as a “failing.” From my vantage point, this is not a bug but a feature! This is the book I wanted to write.