I would like to welcome Philip Shenon. His new book, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, is a superb book. You should absolutely read it. Among its many accomplishments is that it makes a narrative of bureaucratic process enormously compelling. It helps, of course, that the bureaucratic process Shenon is writing about is the production of the 9/11 Commission’s report on the first of the pair of disastrous events that seems destined to define the soon-to-be-over Bush era. But Shenon turns the bureaucratic narrative of the 9/11 Commission and its report into a compelling read also because he is an extraordinary journalistic writer. The Commission is one of the best-written books by a journalist I have ever read.
The book is a page-turning and impressively perceptive telling of the internal dynamics and research of the Commission, with its ten prominent commissioners headed up by Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, its exceptional and colorful staff and, in the middle of it all, the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who is the central character in the book. Even when the book recounts the already well-known, most dramatic public episodes in its production – most notably Richard Clarke’s public testimony and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s public response – they are told in new and genuinely gripping detail. In the process of recounting the story of the report’s production, from different pivotal choices for how to proceed to encountering witnesses who were less than truthful, a list that not surprisingly prominently includes George Tenet, Vice President Cheney, and President Bush, to the clashes of staff members with the notoriously difficult personality Zelikow (on whom more in a moment), (more…)