There’s a part of me that loves superheroes and detectives–this book was a real life tour of the role negotiators play in saving lives and ending hostage situations from terrorism, kidnappings, prison riots, barricades and threatened suicides.
Gary Noesner tells page-turning story after story of tense, walk-the-line between life and death stand-offs and how he and/or the FBI crews on scene handled the situation. It starts with a domestic dispute that escalated when an aggrieved ex-husband kidnapped and held at gunpoint his ex-wife and son. Noesner then describes his own career path, and details Waco, Ruby Ridge and other notorious government failures while also including tales of successful negotiations that talked the perpetrators down without any bloodshed.
He lauds the successful balance between tactical (armed SWAT) units and the negotiators and also what he thinks went wrong in Waco and other bloody encounters. Noesner’s main focus is importance of negotiators and the centrality of both teams working together instead of an over-reliance on force, which he blames for unfortunate outcomes.
The main things that struck me about this book:
- It is tense and thrilling–better than a movie.
- The power of words. In so many desperate situations, cool-headed negotiators were indeed able to establish contact and communications with the would-be violent leaders and then get people out safely. A well-placed word can save lives and an ill-placed move can lose them. Guns and tanks seem all powerful sometimes, but often a caring, patient tongue can be more effective.
- (less important) Noesner’s career path seemed so straight forward. He wanted to work at the FBI; he applied and he started. Getting jobs today hardly seems so accessible.
- Normal people overwhelmed by emotions committed most of the kidnapping and threatening. It goes to show how strong emotions can be and how critical it is to manage them properly. Further, it’s something that none of us is better than.
- Calm communication can solve most issues–even in everyday life. Noesner even says towards the end that “all of life is a negotiation.” Relationships, rapport, calm, understanding and seeing the needs of the other person are the tools negotiators work with–and their our tools too with each other. Success is in seeing the humanity of the other person and wanting their good–in short, loving them (as Jesus calls us), rather than over-powering them.
Stalling for Time is a fascinating combination of psychology and true crime and true heroes.
Would you read a book like this? Have you ever seen communication strategies work well/poorly in your own life?
Are there other books detailing the heroics of law enforcement? What about the darker sides of force and government power?