The Situation Room: The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis

Grand Central. May 2024. 368p. ISBN 9781538740767. $35. HIST
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.
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