In Ron Suskind’s thorough depiction of the financial and political worlds of the first years of the Obama administration, he says that “confidence is the public face of competence. Separating the two—gaining the trust without earning it—is the age-old work of confidence men.” This simple statement lays bare the themes Suskind explores in Confidence Men (HarperCollins, $29.99), his fast-paced, highly detailed investigation of the inner workings of Washington D.C. and New York City since the financial crisis of 2008. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer introduces us to numerous characters—predominantly male, boorish, and sexist—who once confidently acted as masters of the universe, yet were brought down to Earth by the recent financial shake-up. Be grateful there are journalists like Suskind to give us insight into what happened and why.
For those who read the initial installments of Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (Little, Brown, $27.99) in The Washington Post, this book offers an even more extensive, astonishing, alarming, and ultimately dismaying look at the growth of America’s classified world. Authors Dana Priest and William M. Arkin go beyond startling statistics about the rising numbers of security clearances, intelligence reports, and mysterious office complexes to provide case after case documenting the bloat and chaos of the security state. Among the issues they examine are the proliferation of government anti-terrorism programs, the wasteful redundancy of Northern Command, the adoption by local law-enforcement of programs and equipment originally developed to fight terrorists, and the admission by several top intelligence and military officials that even they don’t fully grasp all the programs under their responsibility. In fact, one of the most revealing aspects of the book is how many of those involved in this secret world are themselves upset about all the duplicative or necessary programs.
Barack Obama’s upbringing and political development have been well documented, but David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, delivers a riveting presentation of Obama’s “political, racial, and sentimental education” in The Bridge (Harper Collins, $29.95). An outstanding example of “biographical journalism,” Remnick’s book follows his subject through all phases and locations of his life, examining how Obama grew from “Barry” to Barack, how he defined himself vis-a-vis each of his parents, how he honed his public and private personalities through community organizing and relationships with mentors such as Chicago mayor Harold Washington, and the way he brought his diverse experiences to bear on his run for the presidency.