Good history with plenty of special-ops fireworks.



An ex–Navy SEAL digs into the agency’s origins and development.

Milligan delivers a well-researched history beginning after Pearl Harbor, when the Marine Corps commandant learned that the president was “much interested” in the use of commandos. In August 1942, Evans Carlson (“Carlson’s Raiders”) led a raid on Makin Atoll designed to take pressure off Marines at Guadalcanal. It was a poorly organized debacle in which a dozen men were left behind to be captured and beheaded. Some successes followed, but all commando forces were disbanded after 1945, although the Navy retained two specialized units, which foreshadowed the SEALs. They were the Underwater Demolition Teams, who performed heroically in reconnaissance and clearing obstacles before landings in Normandy and the Pacific and the continued development of the Seabees, “the Navy’s builders.” Except for improvised raids during the Korean War, the usual peacetime deterioration followed until the arrival of John F. Kennedy. Though his love of special forces was mostly focused on the Green Berets, the first SEAL team was commissioned on Jan. 1, 1962. Special units flourished during the Vietnam War, but they had little effect on the outcome. Perhaps luckily, the SEALs’ commitment never exceeded 150 during that time. The Green Berets (well over 1,000) specialized in winning hearts and minds and recruiting Indigenous fighters, with spotty success. With no specific role, the SEALs acquired a reputation as pure fighters, and Milligan devotes most of the final 150 pages to small-unit actions, not all of which involved SEALs or ended well. By the war’s end, SEALs were established as America’s elite go-anywhere warriors. Since this book describes their “rise,” the narrative ends with Vietnam. Milligan has scoured archives and turned up much unpublished material. He describes far more small-unit battles and lives of obscure but colorful men (all men) than a focused history requires, but few readers will complain.

Good history with plenty of special-ops fireworks.

Pub Date: July 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-553-39219-7

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.


Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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