• To Start a War

  • How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq
  • By: Robert Draper
  • Narrated by: Stefan Rudnicki
  • Length: 15 hrs and 30 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (160 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

One of BookPage's Best Books of 2020

“The detailed, nuanced, gripping account of that strange and complex journey offered in Robert Draper’s To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq is essential reading - now, especially now.... Draper’s account [is] one for the ages.... A must-read for all who care about presidential power.” (The Washington Post)

From the author of the New York Times best seller Dead Certain comes the definitive, revelatory reckoning with arguably the most consequential decision in the history of American foreign policy - the decision to invade Iraq.

Even now, after more than 15 years, it is hard to see the invasion of Iraq through the cool, considered gaze of history. For too many people, the damage is still too palpable, and still unfolding. Most of the major players in that decision are still with us, and few of them are not haunted by it, in one way or another. Perhaps it's that combination, the passage of the years and the still unresolved trauma, that explains why so many protagonists opened up so fully for the first time to Robert Draper.

Draper's prodigious reporting has yielded scores of consequential new revelations, from the important to the merely absurd. As a whole, the book paints a vivid and indelible picture of a decision-making process that was fatally compromised by a combination of post-9/11 fear and paranoia, rank naïveté, craven groupthink, and a set of actors with idées fixes who gamed the process relentlessly. Everything was believed; nothing was true. The intelligence failure was comprehensive. Draper's fair-mindedness and deep understanding of the principal actors suffuse his account, as does a storytelling genius that is close to sorcery. There are no cheap shots here, which makes the ultimate conclusion all the more damning. 

In the spirit of Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August and Marc Bloch's Strange Defeat, To Start A War will stand as the definitive account of a collective process that arrived at evidence that would prove to be not just dubious but entirely false, driven by imagination rather than a quest for truth - evidence that was then used to justify a verdict that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and a flood tide of chaos in the Middle East that shows no signs of ebbing.

©2020 Robert Draper (P)2020 Penguin Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"Authoritative...The most comprehensive account yet of that smoldering wreck of foreign policy, one that haunts us today." (Los Angeles Times)

"A timely reminder of the dangers of embarking upon wars that can imperil America itself.” (The New York Times)  

What listeners say about To Start a War

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If you’ve grown weary of the current GOP administration’s incompetence...

Come spend 15 hours learning about the arrogance and duplicity of the last one. Great book. Captures the group-think and bureaucratic bungling that can lead to a terrible decision in hindsight, foresight, and plain sight.

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a great story of made up minds

I wanted to read this book because of my beliefs and the reason for the second Gulf War. I'm a skeptic of pretty much everything and so although I had my ideas of the reasons which I had accumulated from years of listening to the news and other sources, this book essentially confirmed the bulk of it. It was very interesting and deeply disturbing to learn more of the details and especially the thought process by the individuals involved.

The book is a very good lesson to learn about ulterior motives of people who should be vetted better and how it plays into people who have preconceived ideas about things which they should not carry into their professional capacity.

And although the book was kind on Bush and seemed to indicate otherwise, it was clear that he was also very manipulated by those under him.

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great reporting, a case study in poor leadership

Draper does an incredible job showing in great detail how the Bush administration failed to foster culture of pursuing the truth. this book reads like a thriller and even though I knew what the outcome would be I had a hard time putting it down. there are a lot of organizational and personal details but the overall story is such a powerful leadership lesson. I highly recommend.

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Powerful but Painful History

A riveting, dismaying & infuriating account of how the George W. Bush administration took America into the Iraq War. There was no George Ball, who forcefully advised LBJ against Vietnam escalation. Tragic failure all around. Bush & Cheney foremost, but the whole bunch, including Colin Powell. Well-paced, well-presented & well-read. It is shorter, more reportorial & less stylistically literary than The Best & The Brightest, but one has much the same reaction upon reading it. A powerful, but painful history. Here's hoping that this time America learns its lessons.

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Should be required reading in all high schools nationwide

I’ve always held the firm belief that the blissfully idealistic days of wanting our presidents to be forces for good and righteousness in the world ended with JFK. Since Kennedy, a president’s legacy can fairly be judged by two criteria:

1. How many catastrophically bad decisions did they make, and

2. How many (if any) innocents Americans were needlessly killed or maimed due to these bad decisions.

Going by this metric, George W. and Trump are/were human dumpsterfires as president.

This book lays out in great detail the pointless, totally unnecessary war that George W. started in Iraq, for no reason other than a petty familial feud and a deep loathing for Saddam Hussein.

Not one American soldier should’ve lost their life because of a family feud. We are not living in the Dark Ages.

People need to know about what happened.

People need to read this book.

This book tells the apocryphal story of what happens when a president has his mind already made up on a potentially catastrophic course of action, and ignores the Smartest People in the Room who constantly advise him against it.

The similarities between Bush’s evidence-free insistence that Iraq was somehow an existential threat to America has so many similarities to Trump’s insistence that Covid was no big deal, that it’s not even worth mentioning. But, I mention it anyways, because I’m old enough to still remember a time when we as a nation, as well as our leaders, actually LEARNED from history. We learned from past mistakes.

Those days are over.

Equally as depressing, the days of wondering if the villains of this story - Cheney, Wolfy, Rumsfeld, and Bush - would face any consequences for needlessly ruining the lives of thousands of brave American servicemen are over as well. They will face no punishment. If anything, each of those men only became wealthier and even more powerful from their devious scheme. They live in luxury while the lives they needlessly ruined are buried in the sand.

History has (justifiably) ridiculed and castigated Hitler for starting a war under the false pretense that “Jews ruined Germany.” Yet none of America’s intellectuals or common folk seem to care one iota that Bush started a war under the false pretense of “Saddam is going to attack America with nukes and/or poison gas if we don’t hit him first.” I don’t know what the rationale is for castigating Hitler while praising Bush for essentially starting fire to the same kindling, but I’m all ears if someone would like to explain it to me.

This is one of the most important books of the year, and if there is a God, a few million Americans will read/listen to it, and take its message to heart.

1 person found this helpful

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Tour de force of lead up to Iraq war

Such an excellent Review of events leading up to Americas entry to the Iraq war. This brings back many memories in an compelling g style. Not just a chronological review but rather an excellent history on how we got there. Five stars.

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Iraq

Great book, great reading, awful situation. The book is actually I feel pretty charitable towards Bush, which was not what I was expecting, but clearly lays out his faults as a leader and how we got into this situation.

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One of history's darkest comedies

Throughly researched and terrifying in its indictments. It's not an easy listen, but very much worth it

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Lest we forget a previous inept administration

With all of the scandal and chaos from the last few years we sometimes forget how truly incompetent Bush and his cronies were in the early 2000s. This book is an informed and depressing peek inside the white house that led to the total destruction of two nations, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the eventual destabilization of an entire region (not even counting the home front costs).

The narration wasn't bad but I did have to dock some stars for poor pronunciation. For instance he pronounced "Baathist" with a long "baaa," like one is mimicking a sheep sound. It really breaks the immersion.

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My first book on tape

I really liked this book and the was it was presented. It presents striking facts about the issue from a non-biased perspective.