Robert Gates is not a good writer, his book is too long, he repeats himself, but “Duty” is absolutely worth reading. That sounds strange but Gate’s level of access and ability to present a behind the scenes view of the Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars makes putting up with the writing worth it.
I’ll start with the weaknesses, firstly the repetition. Robert Gates really really wants everyone to understand that he likes the troops and did everything for them. I do not doubt his sincerity, but at the same time I do not need to be reminded of this in every chapter. It is impossible to tell if he really was as selfless in accepting the Secretary of Defense position as he portrays himself, but constantly portraying himself as a weary man just doing his duty to the troops seems like he is overcompensating. The feeling is akin to seeing someone with a support the troops bumper sticker, a support the troops wristband, and a patriotic shirt all at the same time. Truly, are there many people out there who don’t actually support the troops at some level? Another issue is the length of the book, at 600 pages it could have used a better editor.
Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton got along well and agreed on almost everything. That is something that I would have never known if I hadn’t read this book, and it gives me even further reason to wonder about how much her supporters actually understand about Clinton’s views. Also great was reading about the different military figures like General McChrystal, or Mike Mullen, and the various differences that they had with President Obama. Recently I’ve become more interested in behind the scene books that detail how foreign policy is actually made, and how officials interact. This book is worth reading for that. I would only recommend this book to someone who has lots of time and is truly interested in this behind the scenes stuff, but if you are interested in that, the insider knowledge makes up for the tediousness of the writing itself.