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The Situation Room

by George Stephanopoulos with Lisa Dickey

Book list This book opens with a new perspective on the events of January 6, 2021: that of Mike Stiegler, a White House Situation Room officer, who stepped out of his car at 4:20 a.m. that day and thought, “This doesn’t feel right.” The Situation Room, or Sit Room, is a 5,000-square-foot operations center on the ground floor of the West Wing. Created in 1961 to be a communications hub amid national crises, it epitomizes the expression “if these walls could talk.” And if anyone can coax confessions out of them, it is political commentator and former White House communications director Stephanopoulos. Putting himself, gonzo-style, at the center of the action, he takes the reader on a thrilling tour of this little known but crucial facet of the United States government. Stephanopoulos is known for making Republican interviewees squirm, but this book shows he can go after Democrats too, as when he asks President Biden, regarding his prediction that the Taliban would not take over Afghanistan, “Was [your] intelligence wrong, or did you downplay it?” A must-read for history and political wonks. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Stephanopoulos' recognizable name and the intriguing topic are a heady mix that will make for lots of interest.

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Journalist Stephanopoulos (All Too Human), who was senior advisor to the president for policy and strategy during the Clinton administration, has collaborated with Lisa Dickey (coauthor, Walk Through Fire) to pen a history of the White House Situation Room. The Situation Room was built for the Kennedy administration in 1961, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Today, it's a meeting complex (not a singular room) from which national security principals, including the president, manage crises. The book covers the Situation Room's role in crises (like Kennedy's assassination) and military operations (like U.S. forces' 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan). The book is based on interviews (including with President Biden). There are accounts of the stalwart role of women in the room's decision-making and the changing capabilities of communications technology, plus personal stories about emotional Situation Room moments like 9/11 and the January 6 insurrection. The book also reveals new information about events like the Obama administration's painstaking planning surrounding the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Note that the book does not analyze the actual decision-making. VERDICT Personal accounts drive this highly recommended book's powerful accounts of the crises handled over 60 years in the Situation Room.—Zachary Irwin

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus A behind-the-scenes look inside the White House Situation Room. Stephanopoulos, co-host of Good Morning America and author of All Too Human, served as Bill Clinton’s senior adviser for policy and strategy. His position and history as a Washington, D.C., insider allows him to examine a series of crises through the story of the Situation Room, located in the subterranean bowels of the White House complex. The author explains that the room was set up in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, which John F. Kennedy blamed on poor advice. The idea was to centralize information collection and give the president a dedicated space for decision-making, with a permanent staff of geopolitical experts. Stephanopoulos tracks events ranging from the defeat in Vietnam, to the collapse of the Soviet Union, to 9/11, examining the management styles of the presidents and other key figures and punctuating the story with interviews wherever possible. A peculiar element is that, despite its importance, for a long time, the place itself was unimpressive, much like a dull corporate meeting room. New communication equipment and technology were gradually added, and by the time of the operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden, the president could watch events unfold in real time. In fact, the problems of the current era are information overload and the temptation to micromanage. In early 2023, the room was remodeled into “a digitally advanced, ergonomically designed, smartly configured complex,” and it is now known as the WHSR (pronounced “whizzer”). This transformation was inevitable and necessary, although the author clearly feels a twinge of nostalgia. Recounting a history that might have been lost, Stephanopoulos presents an interesting package for political aficionados as well as general readers. An effective blend of political analysis and personal stories, tied together at the epicenter of crisis management. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Publishers Weekly ABC News host Stephanopoulos (All Too Human) takes readers behind the scenes of a legendary White House location in this sprightly history. The Situation Room’s origins date back to the spring of 1961, when Godfrey McHugh, JFK’s Air Force aide, recommended the establishment of a “National Daily Situation Room” that would “serve as a management tool by providing intelligence, communications, briefing, display and monitor facilities.” His recommendation was implemented after the April 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco, which exposed the limits of the president’s access to real-time information; within weeks of the disaster, President Kennedy ordered the creation of a space along the lines of McHugh’s suggestion, and it was constructed in a week, at a cost of $35,000. Stephanopoulos walks readers through its evolution and use during multiple consequential moments in American history, including LBJ’s micromanaging of the Vietnam War and Nixon’s staff’s efforts to avert WWIII in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War while the president was intoxicated and unable to function. Each section emphasizes the admirable commitment to duty of Situation Room staff; even when the White House was considered at risk on 9/11, the personnel assigned there refused orders to leave their posts, and other staff remained to support them, including the White House chef. Presidential history buffs will find much of interest here. (May)

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