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Known and Unknown: A Memoir

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3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,491 Ratings  ·  158 Reviews
Unabridged

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Like Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown pulls no punches.

With the same directness that defined his career in public service, Rumsfeld's memoir is filled with previously undisclosed details and insights about the Bush administration, 9/11, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also features Rumsfeld's unique and often surprising observations on
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Audiobook
Published February 8th 2011 by Penguin Audio (first published February 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Bridget
Jun 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
OH YES I DID. Unabridged version and all.

I'm a sucker for a good memoir. It doesn't matter if you agree with Donald Rumsfeld or approve of everything he's ever done: he's an engagingly lucid writer who has lived through (and influenced) some seriously major historic events. Reading this book was like having a good sit-down with your aged grandfather, except this particular aged grandfather has held an impressive smattering of government positions over the years including serving as Secretary of
...more
Matt
Dec 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was pleased to have the time to delve into the mind of the man at the helm of the Department of Defence post-September 11, 2001. Rumsfeld does a great job of showing that his life was more than playing the Defence role for Bush, carving a name out himself over five decades. Rumsfeld details his life, from a childhood on the outskirts of Chicago through to his navy service and eventually introduction to the political sphere. In detailed chapters, Rumsfeld explores how his ties to the Illinois G ...more
Dan
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I had no intention of reading this book, to be honest. In general, I tend to avoid memoirs because of the inevitable tendency of the authors of them to whitewash their own roles in events. But I saw it at the library and I loved the title, which reminded me of Rumsfeld's classic remarks on "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns." The title reminded me that Rummy was a great critical thinker. The book is a worthwhile reflection on a career in public service that covered 4 decades: the 1960s, the ...more
Alex Shrugged
Oct 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-books
"Known and Unknown" by Donald Rumsfeld is good and if someone was not following along during the Iraq War or Afghanistan War then this book is required reading.

It is a memoir of the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his view of things. At times it's a little tedious as he quotes directly from his various memos... almost as if he is trying to cover his... well.. his bases, and if he were younger, I would object, but he is both the oldest Secretary of Defense and simultaneously the youngest
...more
Scott Pagel
Apr 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
quite good. It is easy to see a rating on this book as a rating on the USA's military policy in Afghanistan and Iraq since 9/11. My rating is strictly based on this memoir alone, and not the policies described within. I found the endnotes and supplementary material on the website to be the difference between 4-stars and 5-stars.

I've been in Taiwan since 1999 and although I happened to be in the USA on 9/11/2001, much of my understanding of aftermath of that attack has come from reading transcrip
...more
Alex Acton
Dec 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book both insightful and interesting. Mr. Rumsfeld, and team, clearly did ample research to recall a great deal of detail about specific moments of his career. Because of his long tenure in national politics, Rumsfeld provides a decidedly insider prospective on much of modern American history.

I was also pleased to find that while I disagree with much of Rumsfeld's politics, I was able to enjoy this book. The author really seems to be trying to give an honest airing of the past, with
...more
Elgin Jr.
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Known and Unknown is a wonderful book on many levels. But first, as for the critics who I have seen claiming he admits no error, they are either lying, have not read the book, or were too blinded by their ideology to comprehend what they were reading. What surprised me about the book was how interesting it was, particularly the early years and the insight Rumsfeld gives to well known figures in their early years, and to events that are now but distant memories. I was also particularly interested ...more
Ann
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This memoir written by Donald Rumsfeld, our country's secretary of defense during the Geo. W. Bush years, is well worth reading through to the very last page of a very long book. Mr. Rumsfeld's service to his country covers decades ... he is a truly dedicated public servant as opposed to a polished politician. Having a son in the ARMY who served in Iraq from 2006-2007, I fully appreciate Mr. Rumsfeld's dedication to fully supporting and equipping our men and women in uniform during the months a ...more
Howard Olsen
May 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A magisterial look back on a life in public service that began in the early Sixties. Say what you will about Rumsfeld (and you never want to be the sort of person about whom people say "say what you will about..."), but the guy exercised power at a high level for most of his adult life with an agility and integrity that few could match. And he's still innovating at age 78. His use of a companion website to publish the memos he refers to in the book is something any DC insider should employ in pu ...more
Abbe
Review

"I would heartily recommend it. I don't think anybody could go buy a book written by anybody who has been more intimately involved, closer to power, for as many years, has been through as much, has known all of the power players as you have. It is amazing."
-Rush Limbaugh (interview transcript)/2/8/2001

"Readers might be appreciative to find themselves in possession of a serious memoir, more in keeping with the older Washington tradition of Dean Acheson or Henry Kissinger. As might the h

...more
Ray
Mar 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rumsfeld's memoir begins with his personal background as a Chicagoan, Princeton wrestler, and Navy pilot, and businessman. But the bulk of the book, and the bulk of the books interest, involves his political life. I felt it was generally an honest book, not an extreme partisian diatribe. My impression was that he tried to give an honest assessment of his political beliefs and management style. However, most of us recognize that the way we see ourselves is not necessarily the way others see us. H ...more
Michael
Feb 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked up this book after watching the documentary "Unknown Known." I thought his performance during the interview was honest and straightforward. The media, failing or refusing to understand the complexities of war and politics have left many with an inaccurate perception of the war, Rumsfeld and the Bush Administration. I think in this book, Rumsfeld provides an interesting insight into the challenges facing high-level officials in American government generally, and the American response to ...more
Cliff
Jan 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rumsfeld was always smarter than his critics. Smart enough to know getting into a food fight with them probably wouldn't get him anything he wanted or thought was valuable. It's in that spirit that he writes his memoirs. Smart, thoughtful, willing to make his case but realizing he can't win a fair fight against those who are playing by a separate set of rules. As a result, he's merely reporting things as a matter of fact, always giving the due that he might be wrong.

Rumsfeld's career was totall
...more
Jim Bowen
This biography is a book of two halves. The first half deals with Donald Rumsfeld's life up to the moment he was made Secretary of Defense by George W. Bush. The second half deals, in extreme detail on occasion, with the 6 years or so he filled the position as Secretary of Defense for Bush.

The book is somewhat strange. I think that a lot of adults on either side of the Atlantic have opinions about Rumsfeld. Were you to ask them, they'd probably describe him as some sort of Machiavellian Wizard o
...more
Rebecca
I first became of Donald Rumsfeld as more than just a name in the paper in the spring of 2003. I was a press conference with him and one of the reporters asked a stupid question, so stupid that I remember thinking at the time, "That was ridiculous." And then, Rumsfeld did something I have always wanted to see a politician do, but have never actually witnessed: he called the reporter out. He said something along the lines of "That's a ridiculous question," answered it briefly anyway, and then mov ...more
Derrick Lim
Apr 07, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I got into this book mainly to find out more the man that gave us the poetry of the 'known knowns and unknown unknowns'. I always had the feeling that Rumsfeld was much deeper person and that the media often didn't appreciate his witticisms and portrayed him poorly.

Rumsfeld, like McNamara, is an extremely thoughtful person that is able analyze an issue at its roots, challenge the assumptions, as well as perceive the possible eventualities. However, he isn't smug about it, and acknowledges what
...more
Michael
Jun 25, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There isn't a shred of wisdom or circumspection in the book. Not a shred. There isn't even a shred of analysis. I was thrilled to know that he loved the Lone Ranger on the radio and was afraid it wouldn't continue after Pearl Harbor. I was also thrilled to know he became an Elvis fan and had a serious conversation about the military.

As a witness to history and one of its foremost contemporary decision-makers, he recounts his experiences with a certain glee. But one might hope his decisions were
...more
Janschie
Feb 09, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A big book memoir about Donald Rumsfeld and apparantly every aspect of USA domestic and foreign policy going back to before the Kennedy era until the lastes Bush Administration. He held numerous, critical posts during this time, and he discusses and explores them in detail. On the surface, its like a whose who of American politics. He appears to reveal much, and possibly a good portion of what he writes is accurate. He is also self deprecating at times, and inserts highly interesting stories and ...more
Mike
Sep 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rumsfeld is a politician of the old school. He’s extremely intelligent and quick on his feet. I think the main problem he ran into during his service is that he was too honest. He didn’t sugar coat much of anything for anyone. If you asked him a question, he gave you an answer. You may not have understood the answer (known unknowns) but he knew what he meant. This book is good because he doesn’t set out to bury people, but he tells it the way it happened. Over 25% of the book is source materials ...more
Warren Benton
Rumsfeld is someone who served most of his adult life in politics.  From his early days of being a congressman to his two terms as Secretary of Defense. Rumsfeld is the narrator for this book, and if in his free time he wanted to narrator professionally he has a very pleasant reading voice for dry non-fiction.

This book covers his years under the George W. Bush administration.  He talks about 9-11, Afghanistan, and the war on Iraq.All throughout the book he has an air of mistakes were made but no
...more
Mark
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a significant biography (832 pages!) of a significant character in modern U.S. history, surprisingly so! At age 30, he was elected to congress (in 1962), served four terms, and was called into the Nixon administration as an assistant to the president (among other offices), was Secretary of Defense under President Ford (the youngest ever) and of course Secretary of Defense (the oldest ever) under President George W. Bush. I have of course skipped much in between the two SoD jobs, but the ...more
Michael Stanfield
I give the book's first half 4 stars, but the second half? Only three. The book chronicles a life lived in service to America and the things seen, decisions made. The first half is just the right blend of personal and political, much of history happening around him, while his service put him near the center.

However, the second half was much too detailed about reasoning behind decisions. It was not a surprise, but still too much defense was played. I'd have like to see less of the detail and more
...more
Jerome
Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a really interesting read. Rumsfeld has a LONG, rich history in government service. Definitely check this out. His defense of the Iraq war is reasonable, and he provides some interesting details on the 2001 portion of the war in Afghanistan. An excellent companion to this is Douglas Feith's War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism. Feith was Rumsfeld's undersecretary of defense for policy, and played a major role in shaping many of the ideas and policies ...more
Christopher
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the more controversial SECDEFs in recent memory, Rumsfeld's memoir is (un)surprisingly short on score-settling. What comes across is a consummate manager/executive with a definite vision for the agencies he led but one who isn't focused on self-promotion or "if only they'd listened to me". There are definite turf-battles with Colin Powell's (and later Condi Rice's) Dept of State, neither of whom come across well (Powell being fairly duplicitous and Rice too focused on consensus instead of ...more
Douglas
I really enjoy reading books by the people who were actually there and Rumsfeld was actually there for much of our recent history. I appreciate his recollections and insights, though I felt like he constantly trying to shift blame for the mistakes made in Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Nixon and Ford years, I did not see this as much, but in these latter conflicts Rumsfeld seemed to have no blame. For every issue, there was always someone else (Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice in particular) that ...more
Fay
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you like revisionist history, you will enjoy this book. While it was difficult to swallow some of his retelling, the book provided intering insights into how his mind works and helps explain why we are where we are today.
Mark Selby
Sep 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rummy should have Secretary of State. If he was, we would have been more successful in Iraq and sooner.
Gale Jake
Mar 31, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


Audible book. Excellent read. Of course, one needs to keep in mind that biographies are biased and leave the whole story out and autobiographies are often outright lies. Rumsfeld narrates his own book, does a superb job, and his views on many major events and his relationships with powerful people is highly interesting, captivating and is a look at history of the last 50 years as he presents it. It's a look behind the white (house) curtain. He can certainly not be as humble as he presents himse
...more
John Brown
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished Known and Unknown, a fat memoir by Donald Rumsfeld, and enjoyed every page. Rumsfeld served as the Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush. But Rumsfeld’s service didn’t start there. He was a Navy pilot, an assistant to a congressman during the Eisenhower days, and, in the early 60′s, a four-term congressman from Illinois. He held various positions in the Nixon White House in the late 60′s and early 70′s, including ambassador to NATO. He was Chief of Staff and Secretary of Defe ...more
James Paternoster
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rumsfeld can be a Rorschach test. Titling his memoir out of a much-mocked, though perceptive, observation on the challenges of decision-making, isn't likely to change that. But this is a well-written, unusually documented account (with an extensive website that goes far beyond the strictures of endnotes).

Not a lot of score-settling, but clear (generally respectful) accounts of disagreements, often drawing for detail on his lifelong habit of writing memos to others but also to himself.

Insights,
...more
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Donald Henry Rumsfeld is a United States businessman, retired Navy Fighter Pilot, diplomat, and politician who served as the 13th Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977 and as the 21st Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006. He is both the youngest (43 years old) and the oldest (74 years old) person to have served as Secretary of Defense a ...more
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“Those who made the decisions with imperfect knowledge will be judged in hindsight by those with considerably more information at their disposal and time for reflection.” 14 likes
“There are known knowns, things we know that we know; and there are known unknowns, things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns, things we do not know we don't know.” 3 likes
More quotes…