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Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  162 ratings  ·  31 reviews
From the former Secretary of Defense, a fascinating, behind-the-scenes memoir that reveals the inner workings of the Pentagon. A straight-talking account that explains not only what happens in the Pentagon but why--and why it matters--written by the man who used to run it.

There is no single institution in America as big as the Department of Defense. It spends more money th
Paperback, 800 pages
Published June 25th 2019 by Random House Large Print Publishing
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Frances Johnson
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, history
Excellent book by Ash Carter, President Obama's Secretary of Defense. Lessons from a lifetime of leadership in the Pentagon, is the subtitle. Secretary Carter is an intelligent and talented individual who writes in an entertaining narrative. I highly recommend this book to all.
Jessica V
Sep 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is one I’ll read again. Carter’s explanation of the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Combatant Commands was masterful. That section should be part of any strategic military education program. I’ve never heard anyone explain it so concisely and yet convey the nuances. I didn’t buy this book for this reason, but it was one of the parts that will cause me to return.

This is one of the few books I’d recommend getting both the a
Andrew Carr
Dec 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ash Carter is a representative figure of the Obama Administration. A smart, sensible technocrat who can be both deeply impressive and utterly bewildering at the same time.

Carter was a former scientist, drawn into Defence's world as a young scholar. He worked most of his career inside the Pentagon, held a variety of senior leadership positions and then for the last two years of the Obama Administration (2015-2017) served as Secretary of Defence. As such, this is very much an insiders, policy-ori
Ryan W.
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Didn’t know what to expect from Secretary Carter’s book, but I give it 5/5 and say it is a must for any military professional who serves today. His unrivaled understanding of the Pentagon from his “Big 3” roles : Acquisition Czar, Dep. SECDEF, and SECDEF. Also, his methodical approach as a physicist almost breaks everything down into a x + y = z formula easy to understand. The aperture of this book is wide, but reasonable: swarms, technology, leadership, accountability, the future, diplomacy, an ...more
Oct 14, 2019 rated it liked it
After reading this book I can only imagine the horror Ash Carter felt as Turkish battalions marched into northern Syria and began pounding the Kurdish divisions who did the dirty work of the United States Army in its fight against ISIL.

Carter must be appalled.

And appalled by the micro-management of diplomatic affairs by the White House, not to mention the blurring of lines between diplomacy and political muckraking.

In this book ostensibly about the leadership of the US Department of Defence by a
Nov 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the book and thought Carter wrote well and had great perspective on the office. I found it very interesting that while Ash Carter is probably best know as Secretary of Defense and a technocrat he thinks of himself as a scientist not a bureaucrat or politician.

He was pretty sunny about his effectiveness as secretary, the effectiveness of the DoD and military generally, and about his actions and motivations as secretary. I do think he was a very good secretary of defense and led the DoD
Janet Kerschner
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Carter takes us on a fascinating walk through the Pentagon based on his long experience working in several positions there. While he gives many examples from his personal history, this is more "user guide" than memoir.
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
During my time at the Pentagon, the civil servants and military assistants with whom I'd interact regarded Ash Carter with reverence. His name was everywhere in the USD(AT&L) offices where I sat as a skinny 23-year old cycling through the same few suits I had to buy. I'd look at the neat, fat "A" and "C" in his signature that would appear in the "packages" (folders with relevant documents that required signature) that I'd shuttle throughout the halls and rings of the massive building.

The straig
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-2019
Carter writes a clear, relatively concise account of his time working at the Pentagon over the past 30 years. There are many high points to this book. Carter, a scientist by background, shows the importance of looking at defense-related policy problems from a technical point of view to help decide the best course of action. However, as DEPSECDEF and SECDEF he could no longer apply his technical expertise to every problem, although this background helped, and often had to determine the right thin ...more
Henry Davis IV
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is probably the most relevant and insightful narrative about how the Pentagon and Department of Defense (DoD) as a whole functions at its most senior levels I have ever read. While Mr. Carter's predecessor Robert Gates also wrote a fascinating, well done memoir of his time as the Secretary of Defense (SecDef); Gates lacked the 30 plus years of Pentagon and DoD experience Carter brought to this position. It is fascinating to hear Ash's views about everything from his personal leadership phil ...more
Dennis Murphy
Oct 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, on-america, on-war
Inside the Five-Sided Box: Lessons from a Lifetime of Leadership in the Pentagon by Ash Carter is perhaps one of the best, beginner books to defense policy in the form of a memoir that I've come across. Carter's not above his moments of self-aggrandizement and justification, it is his memoir after all, but the vast majority of his presentation is largely unassuming. The angle Carter takes is different from Bob Gates, and very different from Rumsfeld and some others. I would recommend this as som ...more
Some interesting tidbits if you’re a fan of bureaucratic maneuvering, but mostly it’s just Mr. Carter patting himself on the back...repeatedly. From drawing the Iraqi campaign map by hand, to turning the accidental bombing of a hospital into a positive political move, the former secretary of defense never hesitates to take credit and apparently never made a wrong move. To listen to him tell it, he’s the only honest, nobly-minded person in Washington and everyone from Presidents to Congressmen le ...more
Feb 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This excellent book by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter taught me much about military decisions, foreign affairs and ethical leadership. After working for decades in the Pentagon and reaching the top position, he is uniquely qualified to write this book. He talks about good management practices and the successes and mistakes he made. I found myself wondering if he was revealing secrets when discussing important military situations we’ve all read about in the news. Bottom line: it’s a bluep ...more
Dan Watts
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
I generally avoid autobiographical books, but I was interested in this one because the author was known for promoting the use of new technology at the Pentagon. Unfortunately, only 1 chapter deals with tech, so it wasn't what I had hoped for. On the other hand, there are a number of things that make this better than the average autobiography: it's all about "the good stuff" (his work at the Pentagon), he's (diplomatically) candid about people he didn't always agree with, and there are plenty of ...more
Russ Mathers
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book was great, it covered all Carter's experience in the Pentagon from his acquisition jobs to SecDEF. He narrates the book, and at first it was very dry and monotone. But he grows on you, and I enjoyed listening to him tell his own stories.

I recommend the book for anyone who served during Carter's period of service. He critiques President Trump in places, but for valid, specific reasons, decisions and actions. He also calls out President Obama where Carter disagreed with him, though that w
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: military
Straightforward and reserved account by a very serious man who played some key roles at the highest levels of government. His open disdain for certain theatrics by the Press and by Congress is refreshing to hear out in the open. He doesn't come across as a rank partisan, but as a person who seriously thought through the most important strategic matters of our time. Anyone can learn a lot from this book, but anyone who has worked in the federal government will probably appreciate it more, in part ...more
Jun 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
This book is an absolute must-read. Not only did it educate me on some of the geekier sides of the Department of Defense (Carter started his career as a physicist), but he dedicates chapters to relationships with the media as well as personnel, waking readers through his hires and his feelings on those who disappointed him (Ron Lewis). He was candid and frank on his relationship with John Kerry (then SecState). I am surprised the book hasn't garnered more press attention.
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terrific book that details the decision making and leadership lessons of the former #3, #2, and #1 leader in the Pentagon (Acquisition Czar, Deputy SECDEF, and SECDEF). Ash Carter served in multiple high level positions culminating as the Secretary of Defense in the last two years of the Obama Administration. His insights into how a Defense Secretary take information and process it to inform decisions makes this book worth the time to read.
Carter discusses all aspects from the intricacies of th
Andrew Miller
Oct 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting background on an important member of the national security community. Gets into the weeds of Pentagon process in a way that I didn't care for but a coherent book. Not a book I'd recommend to people that don't have an interest in Washington or Pentagon politics but probably a good fit for people into that.
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
The Council of Foreign Relations has a podcast called, "The Presidents Inbox" and it was my first introduction to this book. The podcast itself was about 30 mins but it was packed with information about the military arm of foreign policy. Throughout the interview Ash Carter stood out from other guests that have appeared on the show, he could explain something complex lucidly and dive into the different layers with ease. To me this was an indication of an individual who has a vast understanding o ...more
Doireann O'B
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting book, which provides a good insight into how the Department of Defence works. Although I'm sure he was an effective secretary of defence, the book is a bit self congratulatory, I was waiting for him to make an error but it never really happened... However it provided an interesting insight to government decision making in the US, and was well written.
John DeRosa
Wondering how the memoir of a SecDef who rose through the civilian rungs as Undersecretary, DepSecDef, and SecDef will play out as the SecDef who has a cult following, rose to SecDef after being a general, and resigned before his tenure was over.
A remarkably readable book with personal insights and vignettes about people he worked with; it could have been boring, but was a reminder that we need personalble, smart, and motivated people in the federal agencies.
Doug McGuire
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
While offering great advice and doing a good job of explaining decisions made on his watch, the self aggrandizement got in the way at times. Otherwise, a good read.
As heard of on The Lawfare Podcast
Robert D
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great read and education!
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
Interesting snippets between long sections that kind of bored me. I found myself wishing it had been edited tighter & made shorter. ...more
Jan 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Interesting insights, but also a book where the author attempts to cement his legacy.
Adrian Snead
Jan 30, 2020 rated it liked it
Best book I’ve read to understand how the Pentagon actually works. The book itself is a slog and very technical.
Best suited to readers unfamiliar with the military and the Pentagon. Tends to get repetitive, particularly regarding some of the author's achievements while in office and his personal views on the subsequent administration. 3-star rating for the informative content. A decent read, overall.
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