Stalling For Time

Stalling For Time, by Gary Noesner, Random House RRP$26, 240 pages

As far as subtitles go, “My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator” takes some beating. Gary Noesner’s memoir lives up to its premise, offering an overview of 30 years working for the Bureau sprinkled with analyses of individual cases.

The highest profile of these was the Waco siege of 1993 that ended in the death of David Koresh and 75 of his followers. Noesner lays the blame for this firmly on the FBI command structure that preferred “tactical response” to negotiation. Their final disastrous assault cut short a slow-burning dialogue between Noesner’s team and the Branch Davidians that had seen 35 people leave the ranch peacefully. “I walked out in disgust and drove home,” Noesner writes. “It was the saddest and most painful day of my career.”

Noesner is refreshingly undramatic and, though you might smile at his suggestion that many of the book’s lessons “apply equally to the kinds of negotiations we face in everyday life”, I ended up thinking he’s probably right.

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