A Higher Loyalty by James Comey

Having watched numerous crime shows like CSI, Bones, Criminal Minds etc. I have always wanted to know what goes on in real-life FBI investigations. You would assume a book written by a former FBI Director would be filled with blood, gore and guns; alas, this book is not for the crime buffs. This focuses on leadership; “what makes a good leader?” is the central topic of this book. I had watched the mini series “The Comey Rule” which is based on this book when they telecast it on Zee Café, the weekend of the 2020 US election. At the time, the election could have gone either way and we really didn’t know what to expect. The series followed the Clinton email investigation of the FBI during the 2016 election and the subsequent Trump presidency. As the series showed a different perspective, I decided to read the book. I didn’t find time for it till January of 2021. I have a personal bias against non-fiction, as I think they are too slow and a tad boring. I could not have been more wrong. I actually finished the book within three days as it was short and succinct.

The book is semi-autobiographical. It talks about the major influences in his life and how they shaped him as a leader. He remains as humble as possible, trying to connect with the reader at the simplest level. Each chapter is perfectly structured and each paragraph has something unique to add, which keeps the book flowing at a brisk pace. It almost reads like a fictional story, and reality is often stranger than fiction. He talks about how to be a better leader and has written about it both from the perspective of a follower and a leader. Reading this is inspirational. He talks about how laughter from a leader is a message to everyone in the room; how something as simple as laughter is the make-or-break characteristic of a leader.

The book started with the Ramsay Rapist almost killing the protagonist and his brother. The one thing I never expected in a non-fiction book, is the first thing that happens in this one. A thrilling beginning sets of an amazing book that would touch upon various topics from Italian mafia, Martha Stewart, the aftermath of 9/11, the Clinton investigation and finally, Donald Trump himself. In fact, I expected this book to be a diss track about Trump, revealing his worst qualities and poking fun at him, like a Late Night TV show host’s monologue. But Comey deals with the topic in a mature way, as befits a FBI Director. He draws comparisons between Obama and Trump. Every single person on the planet has done this, but coming from someone in the higher echelon of the government, someone who has spent a significant amount of time observing both of them at close quarters, his perspective just proves the rest of us were right. Turns out Trump is just as weird off-camera too. I personally liked how he compared Trump to a don in the Italian mafia, demanding loyalty every single time, begging someone to kiss his ring. It’s almost like he’s stuck in a bad date with Trump, especially during the dinner at the White House.

To conclude, I would say this is a book everyone should read at least once in a lifetime. The last few chapters focus on Trump and are the most-awaited part of the book. As I mentioned earlier, I read it to confirm my suspicions about Trump. But this book is much more than that. It touches upon various topics that are seemingly-different yet point to the same thing. In this case, they all point to the various qualities in a good leader, or should I say good human? Prior to this book, I had read very few non-fictional works. “The Emperor of Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee was the best of the few non-fictional books that I had the patience to read till date. Comey’s book occupies the same spot.

Score: 9.5/10

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