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Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,072 ratings  ·  113 reviews
In 1971 former Cold War hard-liner Daniel Ellsberg made history by releasing the Pentagon Papers-a 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam-to the New York Times and Washington Post. The document set in motion a chain of events that ended not only the Nixon presidency but the Vietnam War. In this remarkable memoir, Ellsberg describes in dramatic detai ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published September 30th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2002)
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4.23  · 
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 ·  1,072 ratings  ·  113 reviews

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The recent attention over the Wikileaks cases, the Manning trial and Snowden's flight to Russia all have their precedent of Ellsberg in Vietnam. Although there are substantial differences in the nature and continuing effects of these cases, it still remains evident that the ethical imperative to 'speak truth to power' and to say the right thing even at immense personal cost is still alive and well.

That being said, this book, although overly long at points (and containing information about Vietna
Jan 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
I saw Daniel Ellsberg at a 2008 Great Conversations event at the University of Minnesota. He impressed me with his astonishing grasp of past and present events (he's either 76 or 78, depending on which source I'm relying on is correct), and his clear philosophy of right v. wrong. (Sounds simple I know, but I find it's rare in today's politics.) If you're interested, the audio is online:

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Secrets at its best is a look into how the American
Mar 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Long before the birth of Edward Snowden, America was rocked by the revelations of whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. This autobiography provides insight into his life and motivations, while also meticulously detailing the government's efforts to arrest and silence him.

Labeled a hero by some and a traitor by others, Ellsberg's release of the notorious (and highly classified) Pentagon Papers, a study by the US Government and the Rand Corporation of America's struggle in Vietnam, would shake American p
Sep 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Awesome memoir! Read like a thriller, a page turner. And it really happened!! All your favorite characters are there: Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, John Paul Vann, Neil Sheehan, and of course, Ellsberg himself. All the despots too, Mitchel, Erlichman, Kissinger, Hunt, Colson, Halderman, that psychopath Liddy, and the biggest scumbag of all, responsible for the needless deaths of thousands upon thousands (many young Americans), the war criminal Richard Nixon.
This is a detailed story of a true patr
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I all ready considered Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers an heroic act, but something about his telling of the story was a bit off-putting at times. A little bit like as if Rosa Parks had written a book detailing how awesome her act of civil disobedience was. But, who else could tell the story, really? This was a definite page-turner, especially once the decision is made to start copying the papers. I did enjoy his anecdotes about the several times he nearly bungled the operation. If he ...more
I wanted to say something much longer here, but, in short: it’s the kind of book I immediately pass on to my father and then we discuss it for the next two six months.

There’s not a dry paragraph in the book. I’m tempted to say there’s not a paragraph that didn’t humble me. One of the best books I’ve read on the subject, from the man who practically wrote the subject. One of the best books I’ve read this year.
Oraynab Jwayyed
Jan 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
Once again, don’t let the low-star rating fool you. Daniel Ellsberg’s decision to expose the Pentagon Papers was brave beyond explanation. His memoir proves that the resistance against the draft and the Vietnam war was justified, because the public and the media were being misled. Worse, all five presidents that served during the war knew, without a doubt, that America’s involvement would cost the country needless human lives and suffering.

However, the book was difficult to read. Ellsberg is a
Dec 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, history
A great book that reads like an Oliver Stone movie: one part Vietnam war, one part political thriller. Not only does Ellsberg a fantastic story to tell, but he tells it well to boot.

Granted, there are a few points that go on slowly, where he discusses internal politics, and also the final part (the papers release and the trial period) is toned down compared to third-party accounts and documentaries, but perhaps it's to be expected, since he's talking about himself...
Randall Wallace
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love in this book when Daniel in Vietnam comes across Japanese pillboxes and mounds of old stones of a Chinese fort and realized through interpreters that the Vietnamese believe they removed the Chinese after 1,000 years and the Japanese left much faster, so what hope does the US have to be successful? Arthur Schlesinger discusses the Vietnam policy of “one more step” – each step would be framed as one more step to victory while the outcome was that every step deepened US involvement in a quag ...more
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Post, the historical political thriller that released in December, drew on this book and The Pentagon Papers as sources for the story. I read the Papers as that series first published then again before seeing the film. But, for the film, I also read Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir, expecting to read only the relevant parts. But his interesting story kept me glued from cover to cover.

This memoir focuses on Ellsberg’s extensive background and how he took the documents. The book also explores the war
Alina Spiegel
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An incredibly important read for any American who believes that our foreign policy should be determined democratically. This book reveals the extent to which U.S. presidents can (and have) deceived the American public and the congress. It describes a culture (that likely still exists) in the executive branch that dismisses the opinions of a "common citizen" as uninformed, and therefore, not worth consideration. It begins to explain how a war so unpopular with the American public could last for t ...more
Keith MacKinnon
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Words of James Madison, drafter of the First Amendment:

“A popular government, without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps, both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."

Words of H. R. Haldeman spoken to President Nixon, Oval Office tapes, June 14, 1971, on the impact of the Pentagon Papers:

"To the ordinary guy, all this is a bun
Aug 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was incredible. I'd recommend this to anyone interested in learning something about the Vietnam War and the lies and atrocities committed by our government. Ellsberg tells the story of his experience working for the Pentagon at the time and his travels in Vietnam. He risks his career and his life to release top secret Pentagon documents that expose the abuses of our government. It's a shame this book isn't more popular and that more people don't know who Ellsberg is and what he did for ...more
Eric Layton
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As many of you know from reading my reviews, I have an affinity for historical books from the Vietnam War era. This is because this was "my" war. This was the terrifying event that was happening on the evening news when I was a kid. This is because of the fear my parents had regarding my draft-age brother in 1969. It was these and many other things that make it "my" war; including the excellent music from that era. Rock & Roll had something to say. It said it LOUDLY! What it was saying was t ...more
Tracy Ellis
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting but a tendency to be a bit turgid
stick with it, it's okay. The story is important though and I'm pleased it's been told
Jan 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Secrets" is the memoir of Daniel Ellsberg, the patriotic whistleblower who leaked a top-secret history of the Vietnam War (later called the "Pentagon Papers") in order to help end it, by revealing to the American people that the case for the war had been built on decades of lies and deception -- and that the war was not only unjust, but also fundamentally unwinnable.

Ellsberg was a high-level analyst who spent considerable time in Vietnam and advising policy-makers; he was, in fact, a Cold Warri
Frederick Bingham
Jan 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a memoir of Daniel Ellsberg. He was a mid-level analyst who worked at the Pentagon, State Department, Rand Corp. and other government and private jobs. He became famous in 1971 with the release of the Pentagon Papers, a classified study of the history of the war in Vietnam. The study showed a consistent pattern of lies and misinformation put out by the government over a period of 25 years between the late 1940's and mid 1960's.He discusses the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and the lies put out ...more
Feb 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This meticulously detailed book details Daniel Ellsburg at first supporting the war in Vietnam to exposing the lies of three decades of American foreign policy decisions made during the Vietnam War. His work at the Pentagon provided the springboard of exposing the lies because he had total access to confidential documents and secret files that covered up secret maneuvers and other operations that put our government and our soldiers in jeopardy.

After his volunteer tour in Vietnam as a State Depar
Dec 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Daniel Ellsberg was in 1971 a former Cold War hard-liner Daniel Ellsberg who after years of working for the government advising its military policy made history by releasing the Pentagon Papers – a 7,000-page top-secret study of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam – to the New York Times and Washington Post. It was a journalistic bombshell that shook Washington DC, the White House, and the military to its core. The behind the scenes studies and decision making of 5 presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Ke ...more
Peter Staadecker
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ellsberg was a patriot turned patriot and whistle-blower during the Vietnam war. His book outlines his trajectory from Harvard graduate, marine corps lieutenant, state department staffer to courageous whistle-blower. Ellsberg had discovered that successive governments, starting under the Johnson presidency, had systematically lied to the American public and congress about key aspects of the US rationale for and involvement in the Vietnam war. Ellsberg released this information to several newspap ...more
Steve Van Slyke
Apr 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Both an entertaining suspense thriller, as Ellsberg goes underground to avoid being nabbed by the FBI before he can release the Pentagon Papers, as well as a major piece of the history of how and why five US administrations led their country deeper and deeper into the abyss of Viet Nam. I'm currently reading Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly, which also addresses the latter. Whether or not you agree with what Ellsberg did, you have to admire him for being willing to give up everything meaning ...more
Dan Cohen
Jul 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this excellent book. The story of Ellsberg's career leading up to his leaking of what came to be known as the Pentagon papers is well told and very interesting. But the book really distinguishes itself in the sections where Ellsberg considers whether he was right to do what he did in leaking the material, and, more to the point, whether he should have done it sooner and whether he should have been so acquiescent in his earlier career.

Apparently Ellsberg has written articles abou
Nick Black
May 16, 2014 rated it liked it
what a mess that was (the buildup in vietnam, not Secrets). this reads like an informed moral justification for ellsberg's security violations more than anything, though, which is certainly going to result in a biased view. more interesting for large-scale analysis of decision making than details (for the latter, consult e.g. stanley kurnow's Vietnam).
Betsy Barnes
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book

While this a good book, The reader must keep in mind this is a memoir. It has many passages, and even chapters, that are very wordy and lengthy-not to mention long complex sentences. The first 2/3 of the book sets stage with personal first-hand experience and emotion. I found the last 1/3 of the book the most interesting-because of the facts provided. The book has left me with the desire to read additional books about this era, in particular, the Vietnam war. However, I will not be read
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
I'm impressed. This is a memoir everyone should read. Some question the bias of a first person perspective on history like this, but aren't all histories written through a filter? I found Ellsberg believable. Talking with older friends who lived through that time, they found it believable, too. And something that made sense of things they'd experienced. Moreover, this was one of the most *readable* historical memoirs I've ever picked up. I normally have to slog through books like this, but I cou ...more
Kristin Jenkins
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
"To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook. But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: you can't trust the government; you can't believe what they say; and you can't rely on their judgment. And the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been the accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it's wrong and the president can be wrong."

The Vietnam War era intrigues me and this book di
Diana Long
Sep 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Daniel Ellsberg has been the voice of the conscious of the American people. Although Viet Nam is now a history and is far removed from the present day Daniel is still vocal and I believe the phase "I love my country, but I fear my government" will always apply more to him than any other American. Since this was a war that I did not believe in I wanted to know, I needed to know certain facts about the war in which claimed many lives of my generation. To anyone that is interested in the Viet Nam w ...more
Dean Hamp
Jan 18, 2013 rated it liked it
An excellent account of the theft of "The Pentagon Papers" by the fellow who stole them. Ellsberg narrates his journey from Washington analyst to Vietnam and back, as well as his famous 'leak' of top-secret documents to sabatoge the US war effort in Vietnam. Although his leak helped sway public opinion against the war, it was Nixon's psychotic overreaction to the leak that brought his Presidency crashing down in ruins. Well worth the read.
Kathleen Cochran
Hard to read in black and white

Forty-some years ago I lived through this debacle via TV and newspapers. I was a college journalism student. What a time to see in real life the absolute necessity of a free press. I hope the students of today are paying attention.
Brian Mikołajczyk
The memoir of American hero Daniel Ellsberg and his journey through the State Department into Vietnam and subsequent leaking of the Pentagon Papers which ultimately led to the withdrawal of American bombing and troops in Vietnam as well as the impeachment of Nixon.
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Daniel Ellsberg is a former United States military analyst who, while employed by the RAND Corporation, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the Pentagon Papers, a top-secret Pentagon study of US government decision-making about the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers.

Ellsberg is the recipient of the Inaugural Ron Ridenhour Courage Prize, a pri
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“McNamara revealed in his memoir In Retrospect that he had secretly advised President Kennedy, and after him President Johnson, that under no circumstances should they ever initiate nuclear war. He didn’t tell me that, but it was implicit in everything he had said. There is no doubt in my mind that he did give that advice and that it was the right advice. Yet it directly contradicted the U.S. “assurances” on U.S. readiness for first use he felt compelled to give repeatedly to NATO officials throughout his years in office. (NATO retains a first-use policy to this day, as does the United States outside the NATO area—perhaps now with a new degree of sincerity, indicated by the first-use premises of the Bush administration’s nuclear policy review leaked in March 2002.)” 0 likes
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