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Standing Next to History: An Agent's Life Inside the Secret Service

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  474 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
Joseph Petro served for 23 years as a special agent in the United States Secret Service; eleven of them with presidents and vice presidents. For four of those years he stood by the side of Ronald Reagan.

Following his career as a Navy Lieutenant, during which he patrolled the rivers and canals along the Vietnamese-Cambodian border, he worked his way up through the Secret Se
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 21st 2006 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published January 1st 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Joe Habich
Jul 21, 2010 Joe Habich rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Joe by: My Wife
Shelves: non-fic
This book was very interesting. My brother is a police officer and as soon as I finished it I gave it to him to read. He always said he wanted to be in the secret service. This book has some great insight into what the Secret Service does for our Presidents, VP's and other dignitaries. I found Joe Petro's narrative to be captivating. I really enjoyed this book.
Dec 13, 2009 Bobharman rated it liked it
This is an excellent book, written by a man who's career was both as an agent and as a manager in the US Secret service for 23 years, the major portion of which was served at the White House. I have recently read another book, by a much better known aurthor, which was nothing but an expose of human foibles and was filled with embarassing information about many of the Presidents. His information may have been true, I don't know, but I think it should have been left un-said and private. That kind ...more
Glenn Dettwiler
Apr 20, 2012 Glenn Dettwiler rated it really liked it
Joseph Petro was in the Secret Service during a time that I remembered when I was with the Reagan Ranch detail.. His book is a true account of the service at that time. His account with the Reagan's brought back many fond memories... Unfortunately, the service has changed since its inclusion into Homeland Security and in light of recent events...
Jenny Slagor
Mar 26, 2009 Jenny Slagor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was so interesting to see the "inside" of the Secret Service. I was so saddened by his personal story, but the career was so great! It lacks a lot of political skewing, but still lets you into the Reagan oval office. Loved it.
Dec 24, 2009 Rob rated it really liked it
It was a really interesting, behind-the-scenes take on what it is like to be a Secret Service agent. I think his admiration of Reagan kind of colors the stories about him, but it's an excellent (and quick) read.
Dave Keller
Jan 10, 2017 Dave Keller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Interesting insight into an important world, expertly told by a reliable and credible storyteller, in a breezy and entertaining manner.
Mar 06, 2011 Stacy rated it liked it
Shelves: military
Really a 3.5 star book, rather than 3 stars. There are a lot of "wow" moments in this book which made it worth reading for me, but the overall style of the book makes it hard to rate it higher than 3.5 stars. There were many cool bits of info about the Secret Service and many interesting stories about the agent's time protecting various people (Ronald Reagan, The Pope, etc). However, it was almost too clinical at times. At one point he mentions his wife and daughter and alludes to the challenges ...more
Rick Wahler
Dec 16, 2015 Rick Wahler rated it it was amazing
I almost did not read this, thinking it would be another "expose" of personal foibles of various presidents. Ron Kessler has written 2 or maybe 3 books, which while interesting, are somewhat repetitive, and do mention a lot of the personal. Joe Petro has focused on his career before, during and (briefly) after his service to several presidents. It's a fascinating depiction of the extraordinary work that is done to protect our nation's leader. (900 people accompanied the president to China?)

As t
David McClendon, Sr
This is a pretty interesting read. Petro gives us a glimpse at a side of the President few people get to see. It is also interesting to learn that there is a good deal of politics inside the secret service itself.
Petro gives us a glimpse of what Gerald Ford was like as a Vice President he later lets us see Ford as a President. We also get a little peak at Ronald Regan, my favorite President, and Pope John Paul II.

One thing I found kind of funny is a brief conversation that Petro and Regan had in
May 03, 2011 Michelle rated it really liked it
Joseph Petro Served with the Secret Service for 23 years, 11 of those years he spent protecting presidents, vice presidents and other world leaders. I found this book fascinating with it's details of the working of the Secret service, the workings of other countries and most of all the dignity and honor some leaders showed even in their most "private" moments. This book was full of interesting quick looks into history and the many men and women it takes to protect our President. I defiantly enjo ...more
Jan 01, 2016 Serri rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I was a little disappointed in this book but mostly because I was expecting something different. I was expecting to gain insight and hear, ideally, some great stories about Reagan behind the scenes. Instead the book was more an account of a Secret Service agent's experience protecting Presidents, VPs, and important heads of State. From that perspective it was good -- though often felt like it was written as a summary report for the Agency rather than a novel or story. While interesting, for thes ...more
Kyle Oliphint
Jan 22, 2013 Kyle Oliphint rated it really liked it
Shelves: fun
This is the book I wanted to read about the Secret Service. There is a deep credibility to the author`s telling, a sense of his professionalism, commitment and pride in his service. Mr. Petro wasn't "dishing the dirt", but was taking this reader into the history he lived. It seemed to me that he took great pains to be equitable, even charitable towards those he worked with, his counterparts from other countries and most especially those he had the privilege of protecting. I am grateful for his s ...more
Nov 16, 2008 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book in a day. I found it very interesting. He was very respectful of the Reagan's and of his co-workers. The "inside" information was interesting but nothing trashing anyone. He did let go a little about the Quayle's. I like this kind of insider bio and am fascinated with presidential history, so it was my kind of book. I found it very easy to read. There were only a few places where I had to go back and re-read a section to understand what he was talking about.
Apr 21, 2012 Charis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unlike a recently published book on a secret service agent's memoir, this story is less gossip and more a real life look at how agents do their jobs, whether or not they like the person they're protecting. Mr. Petro covers his time as President Reagan's agent, as well as protecting the pope and a host of other politicians. It is a fascinating look into a mostly hidden world - and a reminder of all the planning, training, work and vigilance that goes into protecting one person.
Nov 05, 2010 Elisif rated it it was ok
I FINALLY finished this book. Not the best. Instead of telling us how he really felt, he spent too much time telling us how great everybody was that he worked with. BORING. However, it was punctuated with interesting tidbits from history, like Gorbachev visiting the US and excitedly buying a cowboy hat, but then putting it on backwards. Just barely interesting enough to keep me reading.
May 11, 2010 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: law-enforcement
I really love this book. Petro has some great stories. I think it would be really neat to work for the Secret Service.

The only issue with this book is that he expects you to have paied better attention to, or remembered more from, High School history classes. That not being my best subject, sometimes its a little confusing to track the names.
Aug 21, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it
Overall, the material is good. If you have a more detailed interest in the Secret Service, I recommend Ronald Kessler’s book. However, this is a quick read and has a few interesting anecdotes about the Reagans.
Oct 14, 2008 Traci rated it it was amazing
Wow! This book was a great read. I learned sooo much about the secret service, which I found interesting. Plus I was quite young when Regan was president, but learned alot about him too in this book. Highly recommend this book to anyone!!
Josianne Fitzgerald
Jul 31, 2007 Josianne Fitzgerald rated it liked it
I picked this book out from the library for my husband, and I ended up reading it today when I couldn't find anything else. I was captivated from the beginning chapter. It's a collection of anecdotes, mostly, of the ex-SS officer, and it provides a glimpse into history.
Tj Ingerson
Mar 06, 2013 Tj Ingerson rated it it was amazing
A great read on what goes into protecting important figures, including the President, Vice President, the Pope. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at Joseph Petro's life in the Secret Service, and it surely was page turner for me.
Jul 31, 2013 Nova rated it it was amazing
The life of an agent is intriguing. To foresee danger and protect the president -agents are like heroes in this sense.

My favorite line is: "...To do absolutely everything possible to prevent such a decision from ever having to be made."
Sep 23, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it
Still reading this one, but it's fascinating. Inside info about the Secret Service and what it takes to guard the President, the Pope, etc. I was inspired to read it by my recent addiction to the West Wing.
Oct 29, 2009 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book on the author's life experiences as a Secret Service Agent. It goes through his experiences with different positions, who he protected, and his journey along he way. This truly is a unique career choice with the utmost importance. Absolutely fascinating!
May 13, 2015 Ashley rated it it was amazing
Very interesting to get an inside perspective of the Secret Service. My grandpa read the book 1st and told me what parts he liked - reading those passages, I understand why. Wit, humor, reverence and love of country are all embedded within this book. I loved reading it.
Bebe Burnside
Nov 14, 2011 Bebe Burnside rated it really liked it
A look inside the Secret Service told my an agent who protected Ronald Regan. Informative without being too technical and very human. You can't help but like Joseph Petro as you begin to get to know his story.
Jun 29, 2013 Jcpinct rated it really liked it
A nice balance of first-account stories and tactics told by a former secret service special agent assigned to the protective details of Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and other famous officials. I'm definitely recommending this book to my family and friends.
Justin Siegel
Nov 16, 2014 Justin Siegel rated it it was amazing
I really like this book so far. It's really interesting to see how Joseph Petra when from a litunet in the army to a amazing secret service agent that helped prefect present Ronald Regan. I would recommend this book for kids 7th grade and up.
Jan 29, 2016 Angel rated it really liked it
I confess, i love guys that do this job. I find them facinating (Swiss Guards are my very favorite followed closely by SS) and i was thrilled to read this book. Petro is interesting and gives a good view of what he does and the behind the scenes of some famous people in US history. Great book!
Matthew Stetz
Dec 05, 2014 Matthew Stetz rated it really liked it
Fasinating inside account of how the secret service protects the President. Good stories about Ronald Reagan and is time in office. The chapter on protecting Pope John Paul II on his visit to the USA in 1987 may have been the most interesting
Apr 19, 2010 Karie rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book--it was a fascinating look at a side of White House life we rarely see. Petro's clear admiration of Ronald Reagan was endearing. Definitely a good read.
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“Then, before leaving, she handed the president a note from one of her young sons. The boy asked the president if he would be so kind, while he was staying there, as to please remember to feed his goldfish. When the president read that, he assured the Aga Khan and his wife, “Absolutely.” He said he would be honored to do it and promised that he would do it himself. So one of the first things he did the next morning was feed the goldfish. And he did it every morning that they were there.” 0 likes
“The following morning, Tuesday, November 19—the first morning of the summit—tragedy struck. The president went into the boy’s bedroom to sprinkle fish food into the bowl and one of the goldfish was belly up. Obviously it wasn’t the president’s fault, but he felt terrible about it and was genuinely upset. After all, he’d given his word that he would take care of the little boy’s goldfish, and now one of them was dead on his watch. He kept telling us how he felt responsible, which didn’t surprise any of us, because that’s the way he was. So he summoned a few people on his staff and told them that he needed to replace the goldfish. He sent a staffer to find a replacement goldfish, but it had to be one that looked just like the dead one. Later, he penned a handwritten note to the little boy, apologizing for what had happened, and put it in the boy’s room, himself. With all the other things he had on his mind, he was forever an old-school gentleman.” 0 likes
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