Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Known and Unknown: A Memoir by Donald Rumsfeld

832 pages
Published by Sentinel, a Penguin Group in 2011
New York, NY

"My life has spanned more than one third of the history of the United States. As I thought more about this memoir and a title, the idea of the known and the unknown seemed to fit. Not only are there things in this book people believe they known about my life, but there are also things that may surprise and differ from what many may have read or heard or assumed." ~ Donald Rumsfeld

From the first moment I heard about Donald Rumsfeld's memoir, Known and Unknown I wanted to read it. What could be more fascinating than learning the "inside story" of my country's government for the last forty years than from a man who has spent most of his life serving as a Congressman, an Ambassador, and even twice as Secretary of Defense?

Most readers of my generation will of course remember Mr. Rumsfeld as the Secretary of Defense for most of George W. Bush's presidency, but what many of these same people may not realize is that that was not his first appointment to the job. Donald Rumsfeld also served as Secretary of Defense during the Ford administration in 1975. By 2001 he had been both the youngest and oldest person in American history to be appointed to the job of Secretary of Defense. Fascinating...

And that is exactly how I found Known and Unknown, fascinating. I was only 100 pages into the tome (and tome it is, for the text, index not included, reaches well over 700 pages!) and I could hardly put the book down.

During approximately the first quarter of Known and Unknown, Mr. Rumsfeld discusses in some detail the years 1932-1969 -- from his childhood, to the time spent serving in the US Navy, and later as a 29 year-old US Congressman from Illinois. For me this part of the book was a quick history lesson. Some events and people mentioned I remember hearing about, but for the most part his memoir filled in many of the holes left over from my childhood history lessons.

The second quarter of the book recalls Mr. Rumsfeld's time serving as a representative to NATO and White House Chief of Staff during the 1970s, as well as brief mention of the two decades he worked in the private sector for pharmaceutical companies. Again, the mention of people, places and events filled in more of the holes in my personal world and American history knowledge. By the end of the first half of Known and Unknown, Mr. Rumsfeld has brought his story up to the late 1990s, a time in which I have personal memories and the starting point of what I consider "recent history."

The "meat" of Known and Unknown is certainly to be found in the last half of the book. It is in this last half that Mr. Rumsfeld reaches the end of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st. It is a time that I consider "recent history" and to a point "current events." It is a time I remember vividly. Some events I remember reading or hearing about in the news and other events I experienced personally. For me the last half of Known and Unknown was the most fascinating section of the book... And at times it was also quite overwhelming. I was blown away with the amount of detail contained in each chapter. I can only imagine the amount of time and the extent of research that was required to complete this memoir. And I challenge anyone who thinks they know the reasons why America was attacked on 9/11 and why America went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan to read this book. This is not just one man's view, this is a memoir that includes details, facts, quotations, citations, and references that explain the known and the unknown of that period. It was very interesting.

That said, I must admit Known and Unknown is not for the faint of heart. If you tremble at the thought of reading anything political or historical in nature than you probably won't find Known and Unknown an easy read. Mr. Rumsfeld writes well, the entire book is woven together almost seamlessly, which makes it must easier to follow than other memoirs I've read, but the extent of detail does slow the reader down. If you have a predetermined interest in the topic then it is well worth the effort.

All in all, I am glad I took the time and effort to read Known and Unknown. While not every reader may agree with every decision made by Mr. Rumsfeld (or his bosses) I still encourage every reader to consider reading Known and Unknown, if for no other reason than to learn another side to the story that is recent American history.

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Carrie said...

This IS the kind of memoir that I would be interested in reading. Although at 700 pages I do take pause!

Interesting reading your thoughts on this one.

barbarah said...

I'm hear from Carrie's link on FB. I've been looking for some "real life" stories for my mother-in-law, and this sounds perfect. Thank you!

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

If I read this it would be to know the other side, since I am one who finds it difficult to believe governments and the reasons they put forth in the press for certain things they do. A lot of what happens in this world, happens behind the scenes.

Yet, one can never call a 700-page memoir as 'full of lies or twists'. It can not be. I wanted you to talk about how the title came to be. 'there are known knowns and known unknowns... there somethings we don't know we don't know etc...' have heard it somewhere though this is not the exact quote.

I like your passion to know your history. Most of us don't know anything but call ourselves citizens of this or that country.

Sarah M. said...

Nana Fredua-Agyeman, yes Donald Rumsfeld refers to the very scene where he used "known and unknown" and the press's response. He also discusses the extent of what the government puts forth to the press and what the press assumes on its own. It was all very interesting.

Audrey said...

This sounds like a very interesting read, though the length and subject matter do scare me a little. I think it is one I could most likely take in small chapters...and would thus probably finish in about ten years!

Still, I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this. The parts that sound particularly interesting to me is where he speaks of 9/11, Iraq, and his view of recent events. We all know that the media is often very biased in these accounts so it would be enlightening to hear a first-hand perspective.