Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

[From the book cover] In 1971 former Cold War hard-liner Daniel Ellsberg made history by releasing the Pentagon Papers–a 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam–to the New York Times and Washington Post. The document set in motion a chain of events that ended not only the Nixon presidency but the Vietnam War. In this remarkable memoir, Ellsberg describes in dramatic detail the two years he spent in Vietnam as a U.S. State Department observer, and how he came to risk his career and freedom to expose the deceptions and delusions that shaped three decades of American foreign policy. The story of one man’s exploration of conscience, Secrets is also a portrait of America at a perilous crossroad.

Winner, PEN Center USA Award for Creative Nonfiction, 2003

Winner, American Book Award, 2003

Co-Winner, Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Prize for Non-Fiction, 2003

Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, 2003

“. . . should be required reading in the aftermath of the Iraq War. . .”
New York Review of Books

“As our understanding of the Vietnam War deepens with time and the experience of subsequent conflicts, we are likely to see Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers as a foundational document, a primary source on what was surely the greatest and defining catastrophe in 20th-century American history.”
San Francisco Bay Guardian

“The publication of Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir, ‘Secrets,’ at this particular moment is undoubtedly coincidental, but there is an eerie timeliness about it. . . . Some may be tempted to dismiss his arguments. . . . but skeptics should put aside their doubts and read the book. ‘Secrets’ is an often gripping account by a controversial figure of a tumultuous era that still troubles and divides us. It underscores the need to understand history in areas of the world whose destinies we presume to shape. It provides important insights into the national security bureaucracy that produced the Vietnam War, the system that helped sustain it and the ethos and code of loyalty among officials that held it together. If we’re looking for a warning signal as we teeter on the brink of yet another war waged on the basis of information considered too important to share with the public, we should look no further than in these pages.”
Los Angeles Times

“‘Secrets’ will be of value to readers interested in recent history for the light it sheds on America’s engagement in Vietnam. But it bears also on the present. It reminds us of the importance of dissent within democracies in time of war—a test that, with regard to Vietnam at least, America can claim to have passed, thanks in the end to its press, its courts and the courage of troublemakers like Mr Ellsberg.”
The Economist

“Daniel Ellsberg has released this memoir with an exquisite sense of timing. As Congress considers the third war resolution in 12 years—Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iraq again—Ellsberg begins his book with its Gulf of Tonkin resolution of 1964. That was the vote authorizing Lyndon Johnson to use military force in Southeast Asia ‘as the president determines’ . . . . Remarkable. . . . Conservatives, who resented Ellsberg 30 years ago, might tackle ‘Secrets’ with a new appreciation. His targets are just as often Democrats as Republicans, and one can easily accept his entire story as a tale of the mendacity of Big Government.”
Seattle Times

‘Secrets’ is more than an absorbing memoir. It offers new insights into the high crimes that taught Americans to distrust their government. . . . Ellsberg’s deft critique of secrecy in government is an invaluable contribution to understanding one of our nation’s darkest hours. . . . The picture he draws of life in the corridors of power—elitist advisers dashing down hallways at the summons of their masters, avidly concocting lies for all occasions, treating the public like a population of morons—leaves one fearing for our endangered democracy.”
San Francisco Chronicle

‘Secrets’ is not the hasty memoir of somebody in the news who is aware of how fast his star is fading. It’s long and meticulous; every scene is thoroughly researched and carefully paced, and fitted to its place in Ellsberg’s over-all political progression. Ellsberg encapsulates each of the anti-war movement’s main phases. The Pentagon section of ‘Secrets’ is a wonderful evocation of the intoxicatingly frantic routine of the overachievers who populate the next-to-the-top level of government. . . . The publication of ‘Secrets’ is uncannily well timed. Ellsberg’s first day of work in the Pentagon, in the summer of 1964, coincided with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which became the basis for a congressional resolution that gave Lyndon Johnson almost unlimited authority to pursue the Vietnam War. Ellsberg establishes that the incident was not the military attack on an American ship that Congress thought it was, and that the Administration was cooking up evidence to justify a course of action it had already decided upon. Just a few weeks ago, Congress passed a resolution authorizing a war with Iraq, which gives the President the widest war-making latitude since the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.”
New Yorker

“It is a dramatic, past-paced, and powerful tale. . . . And it’s publication at this time is important. . . . Ellsberg’s own explanation of his transformation is gripping. . . . his memoir is a compelling contribution to the literature that brings to life the human sacrifices required by every generation if it wishes to make the democratic process responsive and meaningful.”

“A remarkable and riveting story that still shocks 30 years later. . . . Ellsberg creates page-turning human drama and suspense.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“. . .should be required reading in the White House. . .”
–Richard Larsen, Ventura County Star

“It should be required reading for anyone interested in what really goes on behind the scenes of the American political stage.”
–Daily Times, Pakistan

“. . . a real-life political thriller that cogently traces the nation’s failed policy in Vietnam.”
USA Today

“. . . a page turner. . . . mesmerizing. . . . As the Bush administration prepares for war with Iraq, Ellsberg’s chilling description of government deception reminds us that secrecy is the greatest threat to democracy.”
–Ruth Rosen, San Francisco Chronicle

“It’s like a historical thriller. It’s such a complete story over so many years.”
–Edward Erne, Kulturzeit, German national television

“It is hard to read his book without seeing the dramatic parallels between the Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon Vietnam era and the Bush/Clinton/Bush Iraq and terrorism era.”
–Knute Berger, Seattle Weekly

“No previous psychological portrait of a whistle-blower has topped Ellsberg’s for suspense, subtlety and clarity. The admirable qualities of the book extend beyond its insights into one person’s evolution from organization man to dissident. . . . Ellsberg is a keen observer of public policy. The citizenry he tried to serve by leaking the Pentagon Papers 31 years ago is fortunate to have access to his wisdom.”
St. Louis Post Dispatch

“Those looking for insight on the Bush administration’s transformation of executive power could do nothing more to horrify themselves than read Daniel Ellsberg’s Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers. . . . In Secrets, Ellsberg asks us once more to learn. Given the likely fact that the phenomenon he documented is happening again, unfortunately it’s far too timely a request.”
Durham Independent

“. . .consistently dramatic. . . . a compelling narrative. . . . His well-told memoir sticks in the mind and will be a powerful testament for future students of a war that the United States should never have fought.”
Washington Post

“In this long-awaited memoir, Ellsberg tells the gripping story of his transformation from hawk to dove, insider to outsider, secrets keeper to secrets spiller.”
Boston Globe

“Reading the complete Pentagon Papers for the first time in the summer of 1969, Daniel Ellsberg had two revelations. One, of historical interest today, concerned the character of the Vietnam War; the other was about the war powers of the presidency, and how they corrupt Presidents. The relevance of this second revelation, as President Bush decides whether to exercise the authority Congress has given him to attack Iraq, is profound.”
Atlantic Monthly

“His odyssey from Pentagon staff officer to the man who spirited 47 volumes of top secret documents out of the Rand Corporation, copied them, and delivered them to the New York Times and a dozen other newspapers is breathtaking.”
London Review of Books

‘Secrets’ is a powerful account of patriotism and conscience, and important exposé of the deeply ingrained practice of governmental lying and the arrogance of power, and a profound cautionary tale for our times.”
Santa Barbara Free Press

“In times of war, Americans tend to give the president the benefit of the doubt. They assume he’s acting rationally, on the basis of access to classified information they can’t know about. But in his new book ‘Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers,’ former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg demonstrates that such assumptions can be false. ‘Secrets’ describes, as no book has before, exactly how American leaders deceived the public about a war plan that they knew could not win in Vietnam—even as they sent increasing numbers of soldiers to fight and die there. As the U.S. prepares for a war against Iraq whose outcome no one can foresee, many will ask if we’re doomed to repeat this history of deception.”
–Fred Branfman,

“Teetering on the precipice of war with Iraq, Americans might pause to consider the lessons of this country’s martial experience . . . . There may be no better place to start the history class than with ‘Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers’ by Daniel Ellsberg.”
Denver Post

‘Secrets’ works at many levels: as an eyewitness report from the field of the early days of the U.S. troop buildup in Vietnam; as a history of the secret and dishonest decision-making process that led to and prolonged the tragedy for both nations; as a firsthand description of the allurements of power; and above all as an honest relation of what it takes for a respected government employee and Rand Corp. adviser to abandon the code of the apparatchik and risk life in prison and the impoverishment of his family because he couldn’t stand the lies and murder anymore.”
North County Times

“Fascinating. . . . Unforgettable. . . . A compelling look into the workings of power.”

“. . .‘Secrets’ is a necessary and painful read.”
Chicago Tribune

“The history of the Vietnam era antiwar movement has been written in layers, often through autobiography. In Secrets, Daniel Ellsberg adds an important, compelling contribution. . . . Unfortunately, this book is almost too pertinent today, given the Bush administration’s penchant for secrecy in all things. . . . Given the Bush administration’s adoption of a preemptive war doctrine, Ellsberg’s truth-telling book about our earlier wrong-headed making of war is a must read for anyone who cares about peace and justice.”
National Catholic Reporter

“. . . Daniel Ellsberg’s riveting tale is a history of ignorance, conventional and unchallenged wisdom and lying by U.S. government officials.”
Jewish Peace Fellowship

“Ellsberg offers his readers several books in one: a coherent account of the disastrous progress of the Vietnam War from an insider’s viewpoint; an affecting story of his emotional journey from “good soldier” to righteous rebel; and, toward the end, stunning new evidence of the cynical treachery of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.”
Creative Loafing

“There is, of course, a lot that separates Vietnam from Iraq. Yet reading Daniel Ellsberg’s new memoir, it’s hard to ignore the similarities. While Ellsberg’s personal narrative of Vietnam stops in the early 1970s, it’s a book that has an uncomfortably contemporary feel to it.”
Rocky Mountain News

“Here’s a plot for you. The U.S. government decides that a regime on the other side of the world is a threat to peace. The president puts burning domestic issues on hold to focus on this so-called threat. Military brass and experts from around the country warn him that the cost of such a war will far outweigh the benefits. But the president’s inner circle decides that full-scale war is the only solution. The White House prepares for a massive bombing while concealing its projected costs in time, men, and money from a nervous American public. Congresspeople from both sides of the aisle, skeptical but fearful of losing votes, grant him this full power to wage war. Sound familiar? That was 1964, the year of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir begins in 1964. . . . ”
Baltimore City Paper

“A well-crafted, windmill-tilting autobiography. . . . Thoughtful, full of righteous indignation—rightly so—and likely to be of great interest to students of the Vietnam War and domestic resistance thereto.”

“. . . .amazing. . . . An astonishing story of American history.”
–Sedge Thompson, West Coast Live

“He presents a convincing argument that the major lesson of Vietnam was the maladaptive concentration of war powers in the executive branch.”
Boston Herald

“. . . Ellsberg has delivered an eye-opening, useful lesson on American policy-making that is compelling and relevant today. History does repeat itself, after all, and ‘Secrets’ is particularly timely in light of the Bush administration’s drum-beating for waging war against Iraq . . . .’Secrets’ offers a good look at how government policy is made. You see how smart people equipped with the best information still made bad choices in the name of political expediency.”
Miami Herald

“The book itself ranges well beyond the papers episode, including intriguing and unsparing, and often surprising portraits of many key figures.”
Logos Online

“He paints a striking picture of intelligent people persevering and tinkering with a war policy that could never be successful, given the inherent limitations of the U.S. military and its South Vietnamese ally.”
Foreign Affairs

“. . . Ellsberg’s autobiographical account provides insight into the disturbing abuses of presidential power that plagued the Vietnam/Watergate era. Recommended for public libraries.”
Library Journal

“. . . an important addition to U.S. history in the 1960s and 1970s.”

“. . . compelling, suspenseful. . . ”
Book magazine

“Editor’s Pick”
Foreign Policy Association

Los Angeles Times

San Francisco Chronicle

American Booksellers Association

“Best Books of 2002”
Los Angeles Times