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The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
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The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,818 ratings  ·  429 reviews
In the days immediately following September 11th, the most powerful people in the country were panic-stricken. The radical decisions about how to combat terrorists and strengthen national security were made in a state of utter chaos and fear, but the key players, Vice President Dick Cheney and his powerful, secretive adviser David Addington, used the crisis to further a lo ...more
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published August 20th 2008 by Doubleday Books (first published July 15th 2008)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  3,818 ratings  ·  429 reviews

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Will Byrnes
The title comes from Dick Cheney’s vow to go to the “Dark Side” in the battle against terrorism. There is a wealth here of drill-down detail about the mechanisms by which America abandoned the constitution in favor of a unitary, imperial president (and really vice president) who believes that l’estat est moi.

Jane Mayer - image from Elle Magazine - shot by Heather Hazzan

I have read a fair number of books that delve into the Bush administration and nowhere have I seen the comprehensive depth Maye
Dec 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
there’s something i call ‘generational narcissism’ which is basically the naive belief that one’s generation is special and different and unique for no other reason than that one is part of it. there are a few varieties:

1) new-age generational narcissism: the belief that the ‘universe’ (that vague overused and totally unhelpful term) has destined some serious astronomical, astrological, apocalyptical and/or spiritual kind of paradigm shift to occur in one’s time. i.e. age of aquarius, end of day
Dec 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I was well aware of the excesses of the Bush administration’s war on terror, but still Mayer’s book was shocking. It’s been eleven years since we saw the first pictures of abuse in Abu Ghraib. Mayer starkly brings back the memory. This detailed account of disregard for human decency, false imprisonments, and torture brought on feelings of disgust and revulsion. Given some of the rhetoric in the current presidential campaign, this book is as relevant as ever. I can’t recommend it highly enough. M ...more
Aug 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
"He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process becomes a monster himself." - Friedrich Nietzsche

In reaction to Britain's brutal treatment of American prisoners of war, George Washington vowed that this new Democracy would "take a higher road." Thus, the U.S. military doctrine was born, based upon the belief that "Brutality undermines military discipline and strengthens the enemy's resolve, while displays of humanity could be used to tactical advantage." Since its inc
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Required reading for every American. Jane Mayer documents how a handful of people in the Bush Administration changed the moral course of America and tarnished our global reputation in the name of "keeping us safe." Benjamin Franklin said that those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserver neither liberty nor safety. Well, that's pretty much where we are at. Yes, there have been no more attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. But that "safety" was not a product of torture. Just because they got a ...more
Sep 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Devastating critique of Bush/Cheney's deranged emotional response to 9/11. Clarifies not just the abject illegality and anti-Americanism of torture, but also its ineffectiveness and dangerous consequences. The book is not as tightly written as Mayer's subsequent "Dark" work:
Dark Money The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
Oct 31, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Every American
Eyeopening! Glad I opted to read this as it explained a lot of what I'd picked up in bits in pieces from other media over the years, but I thought to myself, "No way! We have too many checks and balances for a single individual to take over." The author did a nice job of timelining what happened after September 11, 2001 and how key players and top officials were swept out of the way while Vice President Dick Cheney and his "adviser" David Addington took over The White House.

In my opinion, David
Mar 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Neo-cons, Sean Hannity fans, Rush Limbaugh fans
No book has ever made me feel more disgusted and outraged. The fact that the highest leaders in the U.S. government had condoned and authorized torture was really not news to me after seeing the photos of Abu-Ghraib (in 2004) and the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side (in 2008). I had also read numerous reports about suspicions and evidence of abuse at Guantanamo and various "black sites" around the world. But the details of abuse of power, secrecy, and coverup by many of our highes ...more
Jul 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
At the end of WW2, Europe was devastated, Germany in particular. It had reaped what it had sowed. German prestige was non-existent after the horrors of Nazism and the prestige of the United States could not have been higher. The whole world looked to the U.S. for the future.

Just last week, I saw a ranking of countries in world public opinion. Germany was by far and away number one and the United States was well down the list. Less than 75 years after being at the top, the U.S. has been easily su
Mar 11, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, nonfiction, war
Mayer tells her story slowly, deliberately, carefully placing interview upon interview until we are faced with a pile of facts so distastful that it is difficult to imagine we turned faces away for so long. It is true we "didn't know," but the secrecy surrounding the internal operations of the White House is no excuse for allowing what we all may have suspected--that we were losing our moral high ground in the war against terror by stooping so low as to disregard our own, and international laws, ...more
Jul 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book makes my blood boil. These people, who not only authorized torture, but encouraged it, have disgraced our country and screwed up our struggle against jihadism. It is a story of incompetence and arrogance, centered on the Vice Presidency and the VP's grey eminence, David Addington.

Notable in the book are the stories of honorable men with military and conservative backgrounds who could not stomach what was going on and resisted it.

Also notable is the argument that torture, ultimately, is
Dana Stabenow
Oct 10, 2008 rated it liked it
A painstaking and just amazingly detailed account of how extreme rendition (in English, kidnapping) and extreme interrogation (in English, torture) came to be public policy in the current administration. I can’t say you’ll enjoy reading this book, but it’s a book that should be read, at the very least as a cautionary tale as to just how far things can go wrong when nobody’s watching.

It is reassuring to report that there are heroes, like David Brant, the head of NCIS, Alberto Mora, Counsel to th
Paul Rhodes
Jul 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: deluded Republican automatons
Recommended to Paul by: Democracy Now!
Well, I finished the book. Quick read, and most of it I had read already in the pages of The New Yorker. Still, it is nice and convenient to have Jane Mayer's articles all in one continuous narrative. The book, needless to say, is quite harrowing. There is no doubt that the American Government is torturing. Bush, Cheney, et alia have all admitted as much, only they don't, of course, use the word "torture", thinking like little school kids if they avoid the word they'll also avoid punishment. Ins ...more
David Quinn
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars.

This is a good book to read in conjunction with "A Higher Loyalty" by James Comey. Mayer provides the deeper background of the major players in the GWB administration during the war on terror and Comey provides the insider's perspective. Mayer presents David Addington as an ideologue (and more) hellbent on expanding presidential authority and Comey tells us why he's a bully in need of a comeuppance. The books diverge quite a bit beyond this time in history but are thematically compleme
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, war
Jane Mayer is extremely readable, she has managed to create an overview of the Executive Order that Cheney and Addington put together that vastly expanded Presidential powers, cleared the way for renditions, shredded the Geneva Convention, presented weak and strained arguments that made torture acceptable, and expanded the surveillance of Americans by their government and gave the President unrestrained war powers. She then shows how these expanded powers created a reign of terror where America ...more
Nov 08, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2009
This is an ambitious work of reportage that discusses how far over the line the U.S. stepped in its pursuit of the war on terror, and why. In regard to the actual definition of torture, Mayer uses interviews to show opposing viewpoints rather than presenting much legal research of her own. The book is more about the political situation that allowed the U.S. to operate on "the dark side," despite many warning signs that this was illegal or at the very least imprudent and ineffective.

Mayer describ
Jul 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For those of us, who believe in the Constitution’s sanctity and liberal American values and ideals, the past fifteen years have been one bad news after another. There were the lies which led to waging war on Iraq and the killing of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. It was followed by officially sanctioned torture of prisoners, followed by pervasive electronic surveillance of all US citizens, all of which again denied blatantly by the government at first. We have had suspects, which included ...more
Aug 03, 2008 rated it liked it
As someone who wasn't unaware of most of the cases described in this book, upon seeing the book I snapped it up, eager to know how particularly bad it was, having read some of the author's earlier work, on Clarence Thomas for example. But I was unprepared for how sickening the details would be about this modern day set of barbaric outrages perpetrated by the CIA and the U. S. military in dealing with people they had captured in the "war on terror". The decision to unilaterally declare as legal t ...more
Dr. Carl Ludwig Dorsch
Nov 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: human-ways

We had high expectations of this work, which though perhaps unfair, were disappointed. Hoping for a fierce and well ordered indictment, though indictment there was what we all too often found ourselves upon was a more-or-less (given the inherent difficulty of access) complete, but often scattered, episodic and anecdotal tour of the federal legal bureaucracy as it dealt with the possession and interrogation of captives in the G.W. Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” Here are sips and hints o
Jennifer Arnold
Jul 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
For me, Mayer's book brought to mind a line from Yeats (one of my favorite poets)..."The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." In this case, it's Cheney, Rumsfeld, John Yoo, David Addington, and a host of other White House appointees whose dogmatic belief that coersion and torture are the only way to extract information from alleged terrorists (despite hard evidence to contrary - the best evidence we got out of anyone came from FBI interrogators, using ol ...more
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
A nice overview of various aspects of the war on terror.

While it is well written, it charges many people with attitudes and deeds, but offers only the author's word as truth.

Meyer's thesis is that Islamic terrorism is a joke. As a person who has never had the duty to act in situations involving important interests, she uses 20/20 hindsight to smirk at and criticize those who performed that duty in good faith for us. Her cheap shots do not explain the decisions of the Bush administration. Meyer i
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Diane by:
I heard and read about some of the main facts written in this book, but when Jane Mayer put the story altogether I became even more sickened by the administration's (Cheney and Addington's) authorization of the capture and torture of suspected terrorists, keeping them without charges of crimes in order to keep their illegal activities secret in Guantanamo and other hidden torture sites throughout the world. (When the stories leaked out, they then attempted to grant immunity to themselves and tho ...more
Jun 19, 2009 added it
Read the STOP SMILING interview with author Jane Mayer

Lift Every Voice
By James Hughes

(This interview originally appeared in the third annual STOP SMILING 20 Interviews Issue)

After millions embraced Barack Obama on election night in Chicago, though still weeks before the record crowds that flooded the National Mall and its tributaries became flyover country for a departing president bound for Dallas dormancy, I spoke with author Jane Mayer about the range of emotions and challenges churned up in
Jul 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The Dark Side, that name conjures up many images from the Bush presidency. Unlike many books that dealt with this subject, this one seems largely free of political bias and presents information in a clear, neutral way. From the very beginning, when 9/11 happened, you get the sense that something bad was about to happen, and indeed it does. The political disaster that was going to grip Washington, and the United States, was a kind of perfect storm that The Dark Side examines. Not only did the adm ...more
Sep 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I guess I'm getting to be squarely middle-aged; I find these days I'm tearing through non-fiction of a political nature -- books that help me secure my place in these insane times. Mayer's book is dense, detailed, and disturbing. I can't figure out whether this kind of writing is politically partisan ... or if it's just a case of the scary f***king truth being succinctly reported. It was helpful for a scatter-brained reader like myself to hop around a bit from section to section, then circle bac ...more
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The only book (ok, aside from the series that included Zizek's little book) about 911 I've ever read. It'll probably remain that way for some time, but this is a great work of journalistic history. It made me understand things about the Bush administration (or, according to this book's overarching argument, the Cheney administration) that I never fully grasped. A lot of the broad strokes here we all know already, but it makes such a difference to read them in a succinct historical narrative inst ...more
Jul 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Decent, a bit repetitive
Antonio Nunez
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In this book about the US' authorities reaction to 9-11 Jane Mayer is in fine form. Although the book came out in 2008 it holds up remarkably well. The story is a well-known one. The authorities (particularly the CIA and the Presidency) were caught napping and tried to make up for that lapse by unleashing the hounds of hell. Particularly damning is a conspiracy between high ranking government lawyers headed by VP Cheney's counsel Mr Addington (in this book, a bully and a heartless fanatic) and i ...more
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This tells the story of how America got OK with torture. This is an erudite account starting with the intelligence failures that allowed 9/11 to happen up to a step by step description of the executive power grab that led to rendition, enhanced interrogation techniques, CIA dark sites and the Nixonian argument that if the president does it, it's not illegal (which is coming back into fashion). The astounding thing about this story is how much of the policy was written by lawyers, most notably Ch ...more
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Torture and The Dark Side: Interview with Jane Mayer 1 21 Jun 23, 2009 12:11PM  
The PBC Minute: Jane Mayer (video) 1 14 Jun 23, 2009 08:51AM  

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Jane Mayer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of three bestselling and critically acclaimed narrative nonfiction books. She co-authored Landslide: The Unmaking of the President, 1984–1988, with Doyle McManus, and Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, with Jill Abramson, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Her book The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the
“Few would argue against safe-guarding the nation. But in the judgment of at least one of the country's most distinguished presidential scholars, the legal steps taken by the Bush Administration in its war against terrorism were a quantum leap beyond earlier blots on the country's history and traditions: more significant than John Adams' Alien and Sedition Acts, than Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, than the imprisonment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. Collectively, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. argued, the Bush Administration's extralegal counter-terrorism program presented the most dramatic, sustained, and radical challenge to the rule of law in American history.” 12 likes
“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding. —Justice Louis Brandeis, Olmstead v. United States (1928)” 2 likes
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