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I was actually looking forward to reading Back Channel: My Covert Operations Under Nine Presidents by William Bertram MacFarland even though it is not a genre I read that often. I was hoping the book would dish some real dirt about what goes on in the White House and was looking forward to gleaning some insight into what made some of the past Presidents make the decisions they did. I thought that the book was going to be a memoir and was looking forward to some truth telling, but just two pages into the prologue, the author states that “although what follows indeed constitutes my recollections, for legal and ethical reasons I must occasionally (and deliberately) alter some names and/or dates and/or places as the situation requires in order to protect both innocent people and still active intelligence “assets”. Therefore, for the sake of their safety and my own, what follows must be presented as fiction. The reader may decide for himself/herself as to how much is actually fictional.”
I have to tell you, that paragraph turned me off the book a bit. I understand the need to change names and dates for peoples protection, however, my feeling is either write a fictional account or write a memoir, not a fictional memoir. I have no idea how my local government really works, never mind the higher echelons of the White House, so to ask me to decide for myself while reading, what is fiction and what is not, is a real stretch for me. For all I know, one sentence in the book may be real and the rest made up!
This book is the first in a series of books that is written by “Bertie Mac” about his experiences as a Special Assistant to the President. The book deals with The Kennedy Years (from 1961 to 1963), and how Bertie actually came to the President’s attention, incidents from the Cuban Missile Crisis, The Vietnam War, The Assassination of JFK and his transition to becoming an aid to the next president, Lyndon B. Johnson.
I found a couple of things distracting about the book. The book really does need to be proofread. There are multiple spelling and punctuation errors that I found distracting while being immersed in the book. I felt the language was sometimes stilted and felt inauthentic when the author was writing what people were saying or, when he was writing about what he was thinking to himself, however the narrative parts were well written, well thought out, easy to follow chronologically and easy to read.
I also felt that the book was skimming the surface of events most of the time. As an example, when the author is at Walter Reed Hospital for the second time and his nurse, Sarah, is being effusive with her welcome and caretaking duties, I am unsure why…I know that he previously had her as a nurse but the reader didn’t get to see the patient/nurse relationship develop into closeness, so her reaction to seeing him again seems out of context and a little bizarre. A good writer will “show” the character development, in most of this book we are just “told” of the development so it feels inauthentic . I would have liked a little more depth in most areas of the book, it would have made the reading experience more intense.
As it was, I didn’t find this book one that I couldn’t put down, however I did enjoy reading it, and would read the next book in the series also. I would give this book 3 out of 4 stars and would recommend it for people who would like a general background of the events during Kennedy presidency from an insiders view.
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