I’d just like to say right from the start that I won’t be discussing politics in this review. I know some people think this book is all about Trump, but it isn’t—by a LONG stretch (and no, that’s not a joke relating to Comey’s height of 6ft 8”). This book is about being true—to yourself and what you believe is right. It’s about loyalty and integrity, and how none of us get it right all the time. And it’s about consequences.
I bought this book because of my writing. As many of you will know, the White Rose series main characters of Warren and Beth are closed tied to the FBI and the organisation plays a large role in the stories. The highlight of my trip to the USA last year was standing outside the J Edgar Hoover building—the FBI Headquarters. The FBI has come to mean a great deal to me. The recent attacks and accusations directed at the FBI have left me conflicted (read my blog post on that here). Comey was the Director when I started writing and he would pop up in my social media feeds, and I grew to like and respect him—without really knowing too much about him, I’ll admit. Because of these factors, I was interested in what he had to say in the book.
James Comey only spent three years as Director of the FBI. He has previously worked as a lawyer, in the US Attorney’s Office in Southern New York, and became the Deputy Attorney General. During this time, he tried to prevent, or limit, the use of torture by US organisations, which is written about in the book. Unfortunately, his objections were overruled. He left the Department of Justice to work in the private sector until Barack Obama nominated him as the Director of the FBI in 2013.
The book takes us through Comey’s early days, telling the reader about the moments and people in his life who have inspired him, and those, who by their dishonesty and lack of integrity, have strengthened his resolve to do the opposite. He talks about family, the loss of his infant son, and his own dilemmas, faults, and bad decisions. This I found to be interesting—the book isn’t James Comey telling everyone how wonderful he is. It shows the good and the not-so-good. No one is perfect, and Comey is very open about this. His life experiences have guided him to be truthful and transparent, to act with consideration and within the law, to be an ethical leader.
When Comey commenced as Director of the FBI he laid out five expectations he had of all who worked there: to find joy in their work, treat everyone with dignity and respect, protect the ‘reservoir of trust’ (the goodwill and trust built up by those who have gone before), work hard, and fight for balance in their lives. He was concerned that the expectations of the job and the employees drive would lead them to work long hours and ignore what was important – the people they loved and who loved them. As a family man (he has five kids) he firmly believes in maintaining work/life balance.
The book is called ‘A Higher Loyalty’ which neatly sums up Comey’s attitude to his role with the FBI. The FBI is an independent organisation and has no political affiliations. It has to stay separate to protect the integrity of the work it does. He makes it clear that the Director of the FBI works for the USA, not for the President, and it is to the USA that he gave his loyalty, not the President. I would like to note here that Comey worked with the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, and his opinion didn’t vary for any of them. The chapters dealing with the 2016 election and the investigation into the Clinton emails really show the complexities of the job and the fallout that can come from making a hard, by right decision (don’t judge until you read it, please).
There is so much more in the book than what I have mentioned. Yes, there are detailed chapters on Trump, as there are on Hilary Clinton, the Martha Stewart case, dealing with the Mafia, and more. I learned a lot from this book and I know I will read it again so I don’t forget those lessons.
There is a quote from the book I would like to share:
“I don’t love criticism, but I know I can be wrong, even when I am certain I am right. Listening to others who disagree with me and are willing to criticise me is essential to piercing the seduction of certainty. Doubt, I’ve learned, is wisdom. And the older I get, the less I know for certain. Those leaders who never think they are wrong, who never question their judgements or perspectives, are a danger to the organisations and people they lead.”
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, by James Comey
What is ethical leadership? How do you do what is right instead of what is politically expedient? How do you maintain loyalty to the values of the institutions you have sworn to protect, the values you have dedicated your entire life to upholding, even if that loyalty comes at your own personal expense?
I recommend this book to anyone interested in ethics, leadership, learning from life’s lessons, and US politics through the eyes of lawyers and law enforcement. It is a book for reading and considering what is said, not politics.
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