Review: A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Hey there bookworms!

For those who follow my Instagram, you’re already aware of my apprehensions with the current political climate today. I would like to reiterate them here before I write my review:

I know that there are people who strongly disagree with my views, and I highly encourage a healthy dialogue between people in order to reach a mutual understanding. What I do not encourage are insults, inflammatory comments, and a general lack of respect for fellow human beings. These comments have serve no purpose in the political narrative. For those who argue that I should not post political content if I cannot stomach the lack of respect in our political climate, I must disagree. I believe more dialogue is the only path to alleviating the current disrespect in politics today, and I have never been one to shy away from difficult conversations and content.

With that aside and with this understanding, here is my review of Comey’s memoir, A Higher Loyalty:

1. Great Writing Style and Voice

Objectively, I would consider this book very well written. James Comey is a wonderful narrator and writer who really takes you through his thought process and emotions. Despite its serious content, Comey really tells this story using an authentic voice. I learned a lot more personal details about him then I thought I would, like facts from his childhood and personal relationships. His sense of humor and his passion for his work oozes from every word. I found that Comey has very Ben Franklin-esque principles: he desires to constantly improve by recognizing faults and then working to better them. Whether or not Comey successfully recognizes and addresses his faults is up for debate, but it is clear to me that he values self-critique.

2. A Profound and Thoughtful Concept of Leadership

I absolutely loved the theme of Comey’s memoir: leadership. This novel, at its core, focuses on outlining the great qualities in a leader by using examples from James Comey’s life. I appreciated that each story was carefully curated to contribute another quality to the definition of ethical leadership. I think Comey sums it up best here:

“Values — like truth, integrity, and respect for others, to name just a few — serve as external reference points for ethical leaders to make decisions…Ethical leaders choose a higher loyalty to those core values over their own personal gain.”

Again, the question as to whether or not he lives up to his own definition of ethical leadership is up for debate. I imagine that is a question we will be debating for a long time.

ALSO: I appreciated that this books did not focus on solely presidential leadership. Comey draws from leaders in his life before Washington D.C. (Howell, Fahey, his wife). 

3. An Unreliable Narrator

So here’s where this book gets complicated. Of course I expected Comey’s memoir to be voice by an unreliable narrator: he’s human! All human perspectives are unreliable and want to be clear: it is not unreliable because I think he is lying. For example: when Comey planned to resign due to the Stellar Wind program. He explains that his desire to resign wasn’t to get his way in refining the program; instead, he writes that he could not work for an institution which went against his principles. Around the same time, Comey states that there were people in the Bush administration threatening to resign if that same program were not protected; in Comey’s eyes, these people were only doing it to get what they wanted. Yet aren’t the the same as Comey: fighting for something they believe in, however flawed? Isn’t that the definition of ethical leadership, to remain true to a higher cause even at personal expense?

I think that overall, Comey does a good job checking his personal bias at the door to write this memoir. But a good job is by no means perfect.

And I know what question you’re all asking….

3. ….What about Donald Trump? And Hillary Clinton? Or the 2016 election in general?

What I really liked about this book is that it did NOT focus on Trump or Clinton. Most of Comey’s career is apolitical, and it wouldn’t have been representative of his career to only write about the 2016 election. Neither of them appear until the latter half of the book.

Comey does spend a fair amount of time on the Hillary Clinton email scandal, but it doesn’t present a lot of new information. I didn’t expect it to, but it felt like a rehash of what most of the country has already heard: After closing the investigation, emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer prompted Comey to reopen the investigation on October 28th and then close it days before the election. We did get a glimpse into Comey’s psyche. As a Clinton supporter, I wasn’t fond of Comey days after the election. I appreciated this explanation and in retrospect, I can acknowledge that given the information and context it was a difficult decision to publicly reopen the case. I can see why he made the decisions he did. Overall, he made the decision using his fierce passion for the integrity of the FBI as an institution.

A CAVEAT: I don’t know if I completely buy the idea that he didn’t consider any politics in this decision to reopen the Clinton email investigation. Comey does allude that if Hillary were elected and there was information that the FBI found to indict her, it would be devastating to the reservoir of trust in the FBI. So while I don’t think he was purposefully trying to elect anyone, it feels like he did consider politics in his decision to go public with the investigation.

In the case of Trump, I found that Comey held back no punches. Comey spends majority of the book drawing on all of the lessons he’s learned from leaders before Trump, and then uses Trump as a counterpoint. By building up a strong definition of ethical leadership in the preceding pages, Comey gives himself and the reader a leadership litmus test: one which Trump clearly doesn’t pass. The book offers some genuinely frightening anecdotes regarding Trump’s interactions with Comey and the FBI. It also hones in on the inability of Sessions, Priebus, and other WH staffers to control the actions of an impulsive president. I think that some of these stories would frighten both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Overall, I give this book 4.5/5. Well written, great definition of leadership, but told by an unreliable narrator interested in defending his recent actions. Did you read this book and agree/disagree with me? Comment below! 

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