Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Review: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin, narrated by Ray Porter (Audio)

After watching The Post, I was excited when I learned about this YA bio of Daniel Ellsberg because I wanted to know more about him and about the Pentagon  Papers.

As an aside, I've been reading a lot of YA nonfiction in the last year and not only is the quality top-notch, but I love that due to shorter lengths and simpler language/concepts, YA nonfiction can often tackle topics considered too small for an adult book, so I'm learning about fascinating smaller subjects that are really enlightening to history overall.

Anyway, Daniel Ellsberg actually had been a marine. After his service, he went into government, and he eventually spent time in Vietnam as an observer, alongside soldiers. He'd gotten romantically involved with a journalist who was very against the war.  But it was pretty much what he saw first-hand which changed his mind about the war and our place in it and its necessity. He also saw politicians straight-up lying to the American public about our level of involvement, how the war was going, and how many Americans were dying. Eventually he felt he was a duty as an American, to expose to American citizens, the truth behind the lies. He snuck out thousands of Top Secret documents, copied them, and released them to various journalists. They first ran in the New York Times, but they were slapped with a lawsuit and couldn't publish them anymore. The Washington Post then took up the story, until they too were rejoined from publishing. It went to a dozen more newspapers until the story was out and government lawsuits were not having the success they wanted, and only looked like the government was continuing to suppress the truth.

Ellsberg was prosecuted as a traitor, even though he argued (and I agree) that his actions were instead very patriotic. The Nixon administration wanted to ruin him in any way they could, so they got a group of men together to break into Ellsberg's therapist's office, to try to find his notes on Ellsberg which they then planned to leak and publicize. Not only were there no notes, but those bumbling burglars (known as "the plumbers") went on to break into the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate building, leading directly to Nixon's downfall.

There are a disturbing number of parallels to what's happening in politics today with the president wanting to control news stories and with the importance of journalism as "the fourth estate," providing an additional check on government.

Steve Sheinkin is a truly impressive biographer, even more so with his bios all being aimed at a younger audience. Some moments in history are super confusing. I've read All the President's Men. It was hard to get through, I'm not sure I followed everything, and it was too dense to get through in a short time frame. If you are an adult who wants to learn more about a part of history but haven't had luck, I strongly suggest you look for YA nonfiction about it. It's so accessible and non-complicated, while not dumbing down the content at all. It's a real trick to explain these events clearly and simply, and Sheinkin is the Master.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

This book is published by Macmillan, my employer. I listened to an audiobook version through Cloud Library via my local library.

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