Among the surge of books published in the aftermath of the Iraq war, most were written by bit-players. Usually justifications of their authors' opposition to the war, they told us more about themselves than the period. Robin Cook, Clare Short, Scott Ritter — did anyone buy them? Did anyone keep them?
This last year has seen the publication of some of the bigger players, including Bush and Blair. But now one has come along which, like Douglas Feith's War and Decision, is a serious contribution to the historical record and, perhaps as a result, has (like Feith's) had few serious notices.
Donald Rumsfeld's Known and Unknown (Sentinel, £25) is the story of one of the grandest sweeps of Washington history any individual has lived. Both the youngest defence secretary (under Ford) and the oldest (under the younger Bush), Rumsfeld's life has, as he says in his introduction, spanned a third of the history of the United States.
But when Known and Unknown came out it seemed to lose much of the press. It is not an "I was surrounded by fools" memoir. Even those the press reported him as being cool about receive more compliments than detractions. But the main reason the book didn't get the attention it deserved is because it wasn't the book the media wanted. For Rumsfeld has committed the modern cardinal sin of failing to write a Robert McNamara-style Fog of War mea culpa. It has been all the media have cared to hear from anyone involved in the Iraq war.
It's a shame, because nobody reading it could fail to learn a huge amount. Rumsfeld's formative memory is the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbour. On the day war ends we find him selling the San Diego newspaper with the headlines announcing it at the local ferry dock. It is a life framed by two Pearl Harbours, for decades later he would be in the Pentagon when a plane hijacked by al-Qaeda tore into the building.