Books by Ronald Kessler

Ronald Kessler is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen non-fiction books. He began his career as a journalist in 1964 on the Worcester Telegram, followed by three years as an investigative reporter and editorial writer with the Boston


LAURA BUSH by Ronald Kessler
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: April 4, 2006

"Why sully or smash icons when it's so fun to make new ones out of Silly Putty? "
The Bushes are wonderful; the Clintons are not. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1999

Money matters in this high-society resort, according to bestselling author Kessler; so do pedigree, the right wardrobe, the right restaurant—and bigotry and misogyny. Palm Beach is an island enclave off the east coast of Florida, first established as a playground for the rich in 1892 by Henry Flagler (Standard Oil, railroad money). Among the first winter residents were John D. Rockefeller, John Jacob Astor, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan. Recent homeowners include billionaire entrepreneurs from television, cosmetics, real estate, and finance. Rich as they are, however, the newcomers can't be admitted to Palm Beach's inner circle without running the gauntlet of the Old Guard socialites and their leader, the wealthy widow Barton Gubelmann (there are a lot of wealthy widows and divorcÇes in this story). Gubelmann introduced Kessler (Inside the White House, 1995, etc.) to nuances of who was in and who was out. Out are Jews: Palm Beach's two most illustrious private clubs permit no Jewish members and are touchy about Jewish guests. Other ethnic groups serve as maids, cooks, gardeners, and waiters, until recently legally required to be registered and fingerprinted (that local law was declared unconstitutional in 1985). Donald Trump comes off as a hero: His club, Mar-a-Lago, admits not only Jews but African-Americans. Shopping, plastic surgery, drugs, sex, and charity balls help Palm Beach regulars pass the time. Women are appreciated for their (cosmetically enhanced) bosoms, their wardrobes, and their ability to organize parties. The Jewish author donned a tuxedo to socialize and gather tales of both old and new money, yet he also established rapport with some of the lesser mortals on the island: a "walker," a restaurant manager, and an eccentric blond real estate broker from London. None of his sources raise the level of discourse above a Monica Lewinsky—Linda Tripp chat. Although Kessler tries to be nonjudgmental, the weight of accumulated anecdote paints a picture of narcissism and decadence that is both pitiable and unsettling. (16 pages photos) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Feb. 1, 1995

A mixture of juicy but hard-to-verify gossip and anecdotes about presidents from Secret Service agents (sworn never to reveal secrets), White House housekeepers, butlers, maids, and cooks, as well as media figures and politicians. A former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporter, Kessler (The FBI, 1993) has interviewed many named and unnamed sources who have worked at the White House. Currently, Kessler tells us, the White House employs a core of about 1,600 people (Herbert Hoover had approximately 50 employees) plus perhaps another 1,000 charged to other departments at a cost of over a billion dollars a year—although no one is sure exactly how much, since Kessler indicates that spending is uncontrolled and unaccountable. Also, Kessler's portraits reveal that no president is a hero to his valet (or to anyone else on the White House staff) and no First Lady a heroine to her housekeeper. Kessler's ``eyewitness news reports'' especially savage LBJ and Clinton, while drawing portraits critical of other presidents: the frugal, paranoiac Nixon and his $7.50 haircuts; the nasty, imperious, nitpicking Carter, whom Kessler depicts as the least-liked president; the popular but henpecked Reagan. Kessler depicts LBJ as a lying, uncouth tyrant who stole government property for his Texas ranch, and a contender for JFK's White House sexcapades title. More substantively, Kessler argues that LBJ ignored dire CIA warnings on Vietnam and followed the overly optimistic advice of the yes-men with whom he surrounded himself. Finally, Clinton is pictured as a poor manager and a deceitful figure who spends too much time pressing flesh while presiding over a staff that seems incompetent, unprofessional, and lacking in common sense and maturity. With substance calculated to irritate frustrated taxpayers as much as to entertain, Kessler's tabloid style is effective in enticing the reader to keep turning the pages. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

The publisher is trumpeting how Kessler's revelations here of William Sessions's abuses of office led to the former FBI director's dismissal—but those revelations form only one small part of Kessler's comprehensive, largely approving examination of how today's FBI emerged from the shadow of J. Edgar Hoover. Sessions granted former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporter Kessler (Escape From the CIA, 1991, etc.) unprecedented access to the agency, which Kessler used to gain more than 300 interviews. In the process, while picturing Sessions as a generally decent man who made a point of hiring women and minority agents, Kessler also found him to be an agency cheerleader who disguised personal travel as business trips and turned a blind eye to similar exploitation of power by his wife and assistant. But despite its chiefs' failings (according to Kessler, all but William Webster took improper advantage of their position), today's FBI, Kessler says, is ``an American success story'' that, unlike the publicity-minded institution of the Hoover era, is willing to zero- in on large targets that may not yield immediate results, such as drugs, white-collar crime, the Mafia, and political corruption. Though occasionally embarrassed—recent years have seen racial- discrimination suits; requests that librarians identify users of scientific and technical information; the first agents caught trading secrets to the Soviets, dealing drugs, and attending a sex club—the FBI retains its cadre of dedicated, well-trained agents. Elegant prose isn't Kessler's strongest suit (he repeatedly describes women as ``attractive'' or some variation thereof), but he's gotten agents to open up about the organization's inner workings. Field offices such as L.A. (which combats auto theft, drug-dealing, and celebrity-stalking) and N.Y.C. (which cracked the World Trade Center bombing) are described, as are the famed training and serial-killer ``profiling'' divisions, featured in The Silence of the Lambs. A revealing glimpse of an American institution in transition. (Photographs) Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

Authorized history of the CIA, by Kessler (Escape from the CIA, 1991, etc.). In the context of Iran-contra, murky doings in Latin America, Israeli penetration of US intelligence, and the CIA's utter failure to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kessler would have us believe that the CIA has significantly changed since the Senate hearings of the 70's. ``Cooperating on a book that would undoubtedly contain criticism of the CIA and give away secrets required [of the CIA] a longer-term vision of where the public interest lies,'' claims Kessler. But one senses rather that the CIA has simply come to grips with the necessity for improved public relations via friendly writers. Kessler begins by lionizing recent director William Webster (who later gets a full chapter), and goes on to whitewash the agency. From time to time, a wrist gets slapped, but in no real sense is the reader placed ``Inside the CIA.'' Kessler does offer a clear presentation of the Company's various departments and what they do, but his failure to explore fully the implications and aftereffects of the CIA's actions creates a bland unreality in which Senator Patrick Leahy's being mistaken for a spook by a neighbor bulks as large as the toppling of Iran's elected government by Kermit Roosevelt. A number of embarrassments are dealt with, but always in such a way that they do not appear symptomatic of inherent attitudes. Also not dealt with: CIA inclination to tailor information to presidential taste (a key to the failure to predict Soviet collapse), and the ascension of competing US agencies. Lack of historical perspective and of a serious overarching view of the international intelligence community doom this cheery bureaucratic tale to mediocrity. (Eight-page photo insert—not seen.) Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: May 6, 1991

The intriguing tale of Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB colonel who returned to the Soviet Union barely three months after having defected to the US, giving his on-again, off-again masters a considerable propaganda victory. Drawing on deep-throat sources in the intelligence community and interviews with the disaffected principal, Kessler (The Spy in the Russian Club, 1990; Spy Versus Spy, 1988, etc.) offers a tellingly detailed account of the stranger-than-fiction case. On August 1, 1985, Yurchenko, a globe-trotting security officer who had a tour of duty at the Soviet embassy in Washington, D.C., during the mid-1970's, turned himself over to the resident CIA agent in Rome. Spirited back to the States, he furnished debriefers with a wealth of information of KGB penetrations of Western intelligence services. Among others, the apostate exposed Edward Lee Howard (a former CIA operative) and Ronald W. Pelton (a sometime employee of the National Security Agency). While spilling the beans about traitors and KGB methods, however, Yurchenko apparently became disenchanted with his putative hosts. At any rate, on Nov. 2, 1985, he walked out of a Georgetown restaurant—and into the nearby Soviet embassy. From this haven, Yurchenko denied ever having defected, telling the press he had been drugged and kidnapped by the CIA. Although some slight doubt remains as to whether Yurchenko was a KGB plant, Kessler argues persuasively that he was a genuine turncoat who slipped through the hands of American agents largely for lack of empathetic handling. Despite having promised him a comfortable lifetime income, the author points out, the CIA (traditionally contemptuous of defectors) alienated Yurchenko in large as well as small ways, e.g., by failing to provide Russian-speaking interrogators, dismissing his complaints of digestion problems as the whining of a hypochondriac, and breaking a pledge to keep the case out of the media. A fascinating and painstakingly documented footnote to the history of cold-war espionage. (Eight pages of photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >