4.20.2011

Book Review-Bullets, Bombs, and Fast Talk

Bullets, Bombs, and Fast Talk: Twenty-Five Years of FBI War Stories by Special Agent (retired) James Botting Potomac Books 2008 ISBN: 978-1-59797-244-4.
In Bullets, Bombs, and Fast Talk FBI hostage negotiator and SWAT member James Botting details his twenty-five year career in the FBI from the 1970s Hoover era to the 2000s. Botting started his career in Alabama in 1971 in the closing years of the Civil Rights era. There he had the job of enforcing the new federal laws all the while keeping tabs on former, and current members of the KKK
while at the same time tracking bank robbers and kidnappers. He moved to Los Angeles at the same time the FBI changed its focus onto more serious crimes like terrorism, narcotics, and organized crime which local police were not equipped to handle. He was present at some of the Bureau's greatest victories and failures in the war on crime. He details the chase for Patty Hearst and her SLA comrades, the intensification of gun violence in the 1970s and 80s when it seemed like everyone started packing a gun; the investigation and stand off with Robert Mathews and The Order white supremacist group; the Cuban prison riots, the LA riots, Ruby Ridge, and Waco. He sheds light on one of the lesser known jobs of the FBI, the negotiator. Negotiators serve as the voice of reason between the agitated, crazed, or fearful perpetrator or potential suicide and the sometimes overeager police and SWAT, including the FBI. The lessons learned and passed on by Botting and his colleagues have saved several situations from becoming violent bloodbaths and numerous lives in the process but he also details the incidents like Waco where negotiation would only work so far against a man like David Koresh.
Botting's writing style is concise and pragmatic. He sets a good pace and the book can be read a chapter at a time or all at once, the mark of a good read. This is the story of a guy who's been there, done that, and then some. However, if there is a mark against the book (or for it depending on your taste) he doesn't talk about the personal aspects of his work other than The Year of the Gun when he and many of his colleagues become rightfully fearful of the growing number and deadliness of guns on the streets of America. He talks about his relationships with his superiors and others which is generally positive, but from the reading it seems like sometimes he's at the center of the action while at other times he's superfluous and a fly on the wall. However, this is probably more due to the expertise of the exact situation requiring other personnel and skills. Overall, the book is a prime example of law enforcement memoir.
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