Monday, October 5, 2009

The Test of Our Times by Tom Ridge - A Book Review

The Test of Our Times
America Under Siege... and How We Can Be Safe Again
by Tom Ridge, with Lary Bloom
Published by: Thomas Dunne Books
(copyright: September 1, 2009)
ISBN 978-0312534875

Reviewed by Beverly Pechin (10/09)

I would be lying if said I didn't approach this book with some excitement, simply based on the fact that Tom Ridge is a native of my own home town of Erie, Pennsylvania. But I would also mislead you if I said I was anxious to read "yet another one of those kiss and tell Washington politician books" that I was so vehemently expecting with this. Like it or not, here was another politician, out of office, telling it all. It was bound to be a typical story line of political gain, finger pointing and all out boring politics... right? Wrong!

Former Governor Ridge held two substantially attended "meet & greet" book signings locally & I knew it would be a plus to not only get my copy signed but somewhat of an honor to speak to the man again after having seen his actions and reactions to what happened to our country on September 11, 2001. His speech was heartfelt & dignified, just as expected, and his ability to be "real" with the crowd was inspiring.. but he was a politician after all.. isn't that what they're best at? However, this didn't mean the book still wasn't going to be one of those kiss & tell, boring, post Washington memoirs that politicians write to make their own quick mark in history; not that Tom Ridge needed to make any other real "mark" after being appointed the first Secretary of Homeland Security post 9/11. He has become somewhat of a household name without the book. I kept my expectations low & somewhat predetermined as to what to expect despite the wonderful appearance at the press releases/book signings locally.

I'm not a politically inclined person. I have my views, thoughts, ideas and perspectives on politics and those on politicians, but I'm not one to quickly get into a discussion of what they are or take on a battle of wits regarding political views. I'd be lying to say that my general view on "politicians" themselves is overly kind and loving either. I began the book with a slight predetermined idea that this was going to be a typical kiss and tell political memoir. How intriguing could it really be? How much could he "really" tell? I was surprised. I was pleasantly surprised.

Within the first 30 pages of the book I had a lump in my throat. It all came back to me like it was just yesterday... that day in history where it's one of the few times you can hear people say "I was doing this or that when I heard the news". I recalled, all too easily, that feeling of doom & fear that overtook me as a parent having to explain to two 9 year olds and a 12 year old what had just happened to our country. I recalled checking plane schedules where I worked, seeing who could or couldn't have been on any of the planes they had mentioned on the news. And I recalled people gathering around the televisions, radios, whatever means we had available, to simply get more information about what had just happened on our own soil. Within those first few pages, I had tears in my eyes and memories running rampant in my mind. I knew this was no ordinary book of memoirs. This was a book about something so BIG in the history of America that there was no way it could be "ordinary".

Tom Ridge was the Governor of Pennsylvania when 9/11 occurred. His book begins at that point, explaining how even he, as a Governor, was somewhat clueless as to what had happened, why and how. As he moves along the story line he introduces you to many different people and explains how each of these people at some point in his life have played very relevant parts in his becoming and acting as Secretary of Homeland Security - a post that was literally created for him out of need & desperation of our country's situation.

What I love most about the book is the honesty. The ability for Ridge to step up and say "I was not perfect. I was running blind and had to follow my instincts, my knowledge of what I was being told and later finding out that what I was being told wasn't always 100% correct." Ridge brings the human aspect into the situation and while he does comment on various factors which helped make his decisions, he rarely if ever takes a random stab at anyone to gain respect for the decisions he made during his reign as Secretary of Homeland Security. As he said, taking the job was probably regarded as "political suicide" by most; yet this proud, former soldier, felt not only honored but obligated to his country to take the position and try his best to make a difference.

Surprisingly, I didn't view the book as a stepping stone to gain fame & honor in hopes of someday being asked to run for President. Many have gossiped about the possibilities, some scoff at the idea, others cheer at the thought and yet there's nothing in the book to say "Hey, look what a great job I did here so now it's time to think about a 'higher position' for me maybe!" Ridge uses the opportunity to not only get information out there to the American public but by helping to get them informed, perhaps bring us to another level beyond fear & into a level of knowledge and understanding that will help us be prepared & willing to live our lives the way we now will see fit in order to remain safe on our own soil. He shows us that times have changed, people however really have not. We are a proud country, a country that bonds when needed and with education about what happened on 9/11 can perhaps prepare in a much better way to keep it from ever happening again. He somehow, in these 300 pages of memoirs, reminds us of who we are and who we must become in order to see another tomorrow as a nation.

The book is intriguing, taking the reader from the certain memories of his childhood and growing up here in Erie, PA to the days of pulling a stable life from under his family & literally moving them from all they knew... all based on his own need and desire to once again serve his country, this time in a position that nobody had a clue how to handle it or what was expected. It's not a "Republican book", it's not a "Bush Era book". It's a book of truth, honor & information. A book of honesty, something rare you will find in any politician if you ask me. I'll be honest, my roots to Erie intrigued me to want to read this book... but upon the first opening pages my role as an American encouraged me to continue to read & learn even more about this man & this country he so proudly served, in so many different "uniforms".

This is a book you not only should read, but will be thankful for reading. It will open your eyes to many things, many names, many personalities and most of all many ideas that we MUST continue to push forward in keeping our own soil safe for our fellow countrymen, ourselves, our families. It's not another "tell all" political gain memoir. It's unlike any "politician's memoirs" I've ever seen before and Tom Ridge can hold his head high in knowing that he created something that was not only unique in his "business" but honorable to his country.

Rated 4 1/2 Stars on a 5 Star Scale!

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