The story is a spy story with a twist. Jim Wormold is a struggling vacuum cleaner salesman in Cuba. The light of his life is his daughter, Milly. Recruited into the Secret Service, Jim is an unlikely spy. He knows nothing about spycraft, but, in an attempt to prove his worth, he concocts imaginary memos to send forward, and goes so far as to recruit imaginary sources. Ultimately the story unravels—but he survives and goes on to find success within the Secret Service. Can't wait to go on to the next one.
There was a time when journalists were rather better respected then they are today. Hersh's memoir is a useful measure of how far the news media has fallen, both in journalistic quality and public trust. Hersh has seen it all: Watergate, Vietnam, CIA ops, and the abuse and/or manipulation of power. The result is skepticism rather than cynicism; a commitment to facts not conjecture; and a reliance on his own instincts to follow a story. It is clear that Hersh has little respect for much of what passes for journalism today. But this is not just the angry musings of a curmudgeonly reporter. It is, rather, a description of what the craft ought to be, about the integrity of the press. Hersh is acutely aware that belief in a free and unfettered press is critical in a democracy. Once that respect is lost, support for the fourth estate wanes rapidly. Woven together into the narrative are stories that track the major currents of 20th and 21st century American politics, stories that tell us much about who we are and who we might yet be.
The sheer number of books on the future of our democracy confirms that we are in a period of uncertainty and reexamination. The ultimate impact of the numerous incremental changes in our democracy along with the growing nationalism in Europe and Russia is, as yet, unknown. Warning signs play on our fears almost daily. Historian Timothy Snyder looks at the post-Cold War West and asks why and how the seeming triumph of democracy over communism has failed to sustain itself. The answer, he believes, lies in a shift from what he calls the politics of inevitability: a sense that the future is just more of the present. Now we have the new politics of eternity: where time is no longer a line into the future but a circle that endlessly returns to the same threats from the past. Snyder's thesis is fascinating. His clear journalistic style makes difficult concepts readily understandable. The result is a thought-provoking book that resists the "Chicken Little/Sky is Falling" tone that colors much of the debate about the fate of democracy
The words "Know Thyself" were inscribed at the shrine of Apollo in Delphi. Since classical times, the concept of the individual has evolved from definition by one’s place in society to a unique catalogue of attributes. This evolution has been driven by both introspection and social norms. In turn, the differing definitions of the self have lead to values and ideals that defined societies. Rossellini traces this process from classical Greece through the Renaissance. But this is not to imply that understanding of who we are is complete by the end of the 16th century. Indeed, the process continues in the present. Rossellinni notes that the book is a "sort of psychological guide to a more rewarding and fulfilling relation with our true selves...but definitely not in a conventional way."