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House of War, by James Carroll

By an everyday book reader
July 1, 2007

In House of War, New York Times best-selling author James Carroll argues and then proves a radical thesis: the Pentagon has, since its founding, operated beyond the control of any force in government or society.

Carroll begins his highly detailed, copiously researched (there are 100 pages of notes), and unequivocally mesmerizing account with a strategy-oriented discussion of the concept of unconditional surrender, by which World War II ended. Even if readers are at first puzzled about where such a discussion may lead, they will soon pick up the thread through this amazing report, by which the author charts the history of the Pentagon, from its actual construction as a building to seeing its rise as a massive governmental unit that has a life unto itself and exists without significant control. As witnessed here, its weight on our national life continues to a phenomenal degree. Certain to be one of the most-talked-about nonfiction books of the season. - Brad Hooper, Booklist, American Library Association

The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power
by James CarrollBook Picture

Softcover: 657 pages
ISBN: 9780618872015, 0618872019
Mariner Books
June 2007

This book is the ultimate loose cannon in American history, and no institution has changed this country more since the end of World War II. From its "birth" on September 11, 1941, through the nuclear buildup of the cold war and the eventual "shock and awe" of Iraq, Carroll recounts how "the Building" and its denizens achieved what Eisenhower called "a disastrous rise of misplaced power."

This is not faded history. Carroll shows how the consequences of the American response to September 11, 2001 - including two wars and an ignited Middle East-form one end of an arc that stretches from Donald Rumsfeld back to James Forrestal, the first man to occupy the office of secretary of defense in the Pentagon. House of War confronts this dark past so we may understand the current war and forestall the next.

Starred Review. If there were nothing more to Carroll's book than its chronicling of the U.S. military's amassing of power and influence from WWII to the present, it would still be valuable history. But the National Book Award winner (An American Requiem) makes the story something else altogether. "The lifetime of the Pentagon is my lifetime," he asserts, noting that the building had its dedication ceremony the week he was born; he also grew up playing in its maze-like corridors while his father worked as a high-ranking air force general. The nuclear dread that dominated the Cold War era thus plays out as personal and family drama, turning the book into "[my] long-delayed conversation with [my] father." It's strongest in its first half, where the development of atomic power and the turmoil of the Vietnam era hold the greatest personal significance for Carroll; later sections on the Reagan and Clinton eras are informative but less intimate. Carroll's approach can be poetic - he makes much, for example, of the coincidence that the Pentagon groundbreaking took place on September 11, 1941 - but the emotional weight he brings to a Chomsky-like critique of American militarism results in an aggressively compelling history. - Publishers Weekly

James Carroll was born in Chicago in 1943, and raised in Washington where his father, an Air Force general, served as the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Carroll attended Georgetown University before entering the seminary to train for the Catholic priesthood. He received BA and MA degrees from St. Paul's College, the Paulist Fathers' seminary in Washington, and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1969. Carroll served as Catholic Chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974 and then left the priesthood to become a writer. In 1974 Carroll was Playwright-in-Residence at the Berkshire Theater Festival in Stockbridge, MA. In 1976 he published his first novel, Madonna Red, which was translated into seven languages. He has been a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Fellow at the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at the Harvard Divinity School. He is a trustee of the Boston Public Library, a member of the Advisory Board of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life at Brandeis University, and a member of the Dean's Council at the Harvard Divinity School. Carroll is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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