Book Review: Anonymous public servants are the heart of George Stephanopoulos’ ‘Situation Room’

The biggest challenge for an author tackling the history of the Situation Room, the basement room of the White House where some of the biggest intelligence crises have been handled in recent decades, is the room itself. As a setting, it’s pretty underwhelming.

In “The Situation Room: The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis,” George Stephanopoulos describes how the room — actually a series of rooms — for much of its history didn’t live up to its reputation in popular imagination or media. The centerpiece of it, as Stephanopoulos writes, had “all the charm of a cardboard box.”

But what keeps readers engaged in Stephanopoulos’ history isn’t any behind the scenes schematics or technology. This isn’t a Tom Clancy novel, though it moves along as briskly as one. Instead, it’s the stories Stephanopoulos and Lisa Dickey share of the normally nameless and faceless public servants, the duty officers who have staffed the center since its inception during John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

Stephanopoulos, a political commentator and ABC anchor who worked in the Clinton White House, wisely zeroes in on a single crisis during each of 12 presidencies during the Situation Room’s history. Along the way, he reveals much about the differing management styles

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