Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg And The Secret History Of The Vietnam War – Steve Sheinkin
On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents had been commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Chronicling every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War, they revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicians claiming to represent their interests. A provocative book that interrogates the meanings of patriotism, freedom, and integrity.
Review: A few years ago, I dragged a carryon wheelie suitcase through two airports. The suitcase contained a bunch of books and 1,500 pages of documents. The suitcase was so heavy that several kindly strangers had to help me wrestle it onto the plane and into the overhead bin. Good thing my documents weren’t secret because people kept asking me what the hell was in the suitcase.
Can you imagine dragging around a 7,000-page top-secret document? A document that you’ve stolen from the government and plan to leak to journalists? That’s over 200 pounds of paper that you have to move. Secretly. Carrying it around without getting caught would be a terrifying experience. According to my mom, they didn’t even have wheelie suitcases when The Pentagon Papers were leaked in the 1970s!
Most Dangerous tells the true story of Daniel Ellsberg, a US government employee who helped plan the Vietnam War. After years of working for the government, Ellsberg became annoyed at the blatant lies that four different presidents told the American public. Ellsberg thought Americans should know the truth about the war. He took a 7,000-page secret report from his office and leaked it to the media. Was Ellsberg a hero for exposing the truth, or a villain for betraying his country?
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this book. I’ve read nonfiction books about the government before and found them dry. Luckily, that isn’t the case with Most Dangerous. The pace moves like a thriller novel, and the author doesn’t leave out any of the scandalous (or slightly gory) details. I love that the author includes quotes from soldiers and photos from Vietnam. It shows the reasoning behind Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to leak the documents. People were dying in Vietnam because Washington couldn’t get its act together. I can understand Ellsberg’s frustration.
I’m always astounded at the selfishness of politicians. By refusing to admit mistakes, they often make things worse instead of better. Several presidents kept the Vietnam War going because they “didn’t want to be the president who lost a war.” As a presidential candidate, Nixon undermined peace talks in Vietnam. He wanted to prolong the war so that the American public would be outraged enough to elect him. Then he could be the president who “won” the war. Um . . . what? You’re killing people so you can get a job? Why would you think that was okay? This book just proves that I don’t understand politicians and could never be one.
Most Dangerous kept me awake way past bedtime. I kept thinking, One more chapter, one more chapter. Then it was 2:00 in the morning, and I’d finished the book. Even if you’re not in love with politics, it’s worth reading. It’s full of twists that will make your jaw drop. This is definitely not a textbook. I plowed through most of it in one night and then immediately started Googling the books in the author’s Works Cited section to find out more.
Most Dangerous ends with an epilogue about Edward Snowden and how leaking documents has changed since the 1970s. Even though Ellsberg leaked The Pentagon Papers before I (and many other readers) were born, they’re still very relevant today.