THE GENERAL'S BRIEFER by Robert J. Woolsey


Email this review


A rollicking, comedic memoir of a man’s years working at the Pentagon as an intelligence officer.

In his second book (Husband in Waiting, 2012), Woolsey draws deeply from his own experience as a briefing officer in the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps during the Vietnam War. He writes that he deferred military service as long as he could, but eventually, after college and law school, he was compelled to honor his obligations. Expecting his time in the military to be something akin to an extended European vacation, he experienced a mix of culture shock and disappointment when he was sent to Columbus, Georgia, for training. He eventually received a commission to become a briefing officer, which meant poring over intelligence reports, curating the most significant stories, and weaving them into a presentation for a general. Along the way, Woolsey provides a running commentary on the state of the world, discussing everything from the 1968 assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy to the Cold War. He even manages to give readers a rundown of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s 1969 troubles on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts and a brief account of future Iraqi president Saddam Hussein when he was still just a “young ruthless thug.” Woolsey was responsible for intelligence that pertained to Europe, which was surely a less active assignment at the time than South Asia, but he still encountered plenty of momentous history. His depiction of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia is particularly notable, as it caught the entire American intelligence community completely, embarrassingly unaware. The entire book is written in a satirical tone, seemingly in the tradition of Joseph Heller, to illustrate the arrant absurdity of war and politics. As a result, the book is often genuinely funny: for example, on his first day as a briefer, Woolsey—in a near panic—reported that a Soviet fighter jet was headed to West Germany, only to learn from an unimpressed superior that this happened daily, as a matter of course. At times, readers might find the tone more supercilious than humorous, particularly when depicting genuinely horrible events. However, the narrative generally balances tragedy and farce with grace and style.

An autobiographical tour of U.S. foreign engagements that’s as funny as it is edifying.

Page count: 287pp
Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2016


FictionCATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
by Joseph Heller
FictionTHANK YOU FOR SMOKING by Christopher Buckley
by Christopher Buckley
NonfictionERICH MARIA REMARQUE by Hilton Tims
by Hilton Tims