Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (2015) Roaring Brook Press
As he did with the spy, Harry Gold, in Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, Steven Sheinkin uses one man to tell a much larger story in Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War. That man is the infamous leaker of the so-called Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg. A veteran himself, and a former Pentagon employee, Ellsberg initially believed that the war in Vietnam was a noble cause. However, the more he learned, the less he believed so. Eventually, based on the information to which he was privy and the US populace was not, he changed his mind completely.
Whether you believe Edward Snowden to be a patriotic whistleblower or a traitorous leaker, and whether you believe that Apple’s refusal to hack into the phone of the San Bernardino murderers is reprehensible or ethical, it cannot be denied that these are weighty matters worthy of national discussion. In the time of Daniel Ellsberg, people read newspapers and watched a generally unbiased nightly newscast. In contrast, many people today derive their news from “sound bites,” political analysts, and partisan news stations. These issues deserve more thoughtful consideration.
While Most Dangerous is an excellently researched biographical and historical account, and can be appreciated for that aspect alone, Steve Sheinkin’s book also will also promote reflection on the nature of national security, personal privacy, democracy, freedom of the press, and foreign intervention. We have been on very similar ground before.
“They all drove to the Capitol for the traditional outdoor inauguration ceremony. Johnson watched Nixon take the oath of office, wondering what lay ahead. “I reflected on how inadequate any man is for the office of the American Presidency,” he later recalled. “The magnitude of the job dwarfs every man who aspires to it.””
“He had often heard antiwar protesters shouting that Americans were fighting on the wrong side of the Vietnam War. They were missing the point. “It wasn’t that we were on the wrong side,” Ellsberg concluded, “We were the wrong side.””
FBI agents began questioning the Ellsbergs friends and relatives. They even attempted to obtain Patricia Ellsberg’s dental records, but her dentist refused to cooperate. Nixon’s operatives broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor in a failed attempt to steal his medical records. They were searching for anything to use in a campaign to discredit Ellsberg.
“Psychologically, it’s not so bothersome, because we believe in what we’re doing,” Patricia Ellsberg said about the feeling of being watched by one’s own government. “But I think it’s troublesome for the country that there is surveillance of citizens, and that the right of privacy is being threatened.”
Read an excerpt from Most Dangerous here.
Awards and accolades:
Other Steve Sheinkin books reviewed on Shelf-employed
Another review of Most Dangerous is at Sally’s Books
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