Zero Fail Book Summary - Zero Fail Book explained in key points
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Zero Fail summary

Carol Leonnig

The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service

4 (41 ratings)
26 mins

Brief summary

'Zero Fail' by Carol Leonnig is an investigative non-fiction book that explores the evolution of the Secret Service, highlighting its successes and failures, and the challenges it faces in protecting US presidents and their families.

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    Zero Fail
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    The haphazard way in which the Secret Service was created set the tone for the years to come.

    When President William McKinley was killed at a campaign rally in 1901, he became the third US president to be assassinated in 36 years. Congress was both shocked and humiliated – shocked at how easy it had been to take down the president, and humiliated by how frequent these assassinations were becoming. Casting about for a solution, they turned to the Secret Service, an organization set up decades earlier to rein in the out-of-control counterfeiting industry. Protecting the president was now part of its remit, but the Service had no cohesive strategy for the new job.

    The key message here is: The chaos around the Kennedy assassination reflects the Secret Service’s haphazard founding.

    For more than half a century, it seemed that the Secret Service was coping just fine. And then Kennedy came to power. He was a new breed of president. He was rock-star popular; he drew massive crowds wherever he went; he was up close and personal. But not everyone was a fan. In Kennedy’s first six weeks in office, the White House received three times the average number of threats. 

    Kennedy’s divisive personality, and his constant public exposure, called for a new kind of protection – one that the Secret Service could not provide. So its officers began to cut corners. They worked double shifts, they racked up overtime, they were exhausted and on edge.

    In the fall of 1963, Kennedy was on the campaign trail. This was his busiest week since entering the White House. Of course, the Secret Service followed him everywhere he went. On November 21, in Ft. Worth, Texas, some off-duty agents decided to blow off steam at a local bar. Drinking was against regulation, but few cared. It was a late night: some agents didn’t get back to the hotel until 5:00 am. 

    The next morning, many of them were on only a few hours sleep – and almost all were nursing hangovers. As Kennedy’s motorcade crawled through Dallas, there was an explosive crack. Instead of speeding away, the driver slowed down. Agents raced toward the president’s car, and then another shot rang out. This second bullet hit Kennedy in the head. An hour later, the president was pronounced dead.

    Nothing like this had happened in America for decades. The Secret Service failed in its main responsibility, its only job. For years, guilt troubled many of its agents. They dissected that day – and the night before it – minute by minute. This was a failure of historic proportions.

    But, as we’ll learn in the next blink, the Secret Service’s troubles were only just beginning.

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    What is Zero Fail about?

    Zero Fail (2021) is a no-nonsense account of the ineptitude and recklessness that have plagued the US Secret Service in recent decades. From Kennedy to Trump, the Service has continually covered up for, and even promoted, agents who made impulsive, ill-considered and simply bad decisions. 

    Zero Fail Review

    Zero Fail (2021) by Carol Leonnig is an eye-opening investigation into the U.S. Secret Service and its history of protecting the President. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Through meticulous research and exclusive interviews, it provides a rare glimpse into the inner workings and challenges of the Secret Service.
    • It explores the complexity and high stakes of protecting the leader of the free world, shedding light on the immense pressure faced by agents.
    • With its detailed accounts of security breaches, successes, and failures, the book keeps readers on the edge of their seats, defying any notion of a dull read.

    Who should read Zero Fail?

    • Popcorn-munching gossip-lovers
    • American history buffs
    • News junkies

    About the Author

    Carol Leonnig is a journalist with the Washington Post. She has won three Pulitzers, including one for her work on the Secret Service. She is also the coauthor of a book about the Trump presidency, entitled A Very Stable Genius

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    Zero Fail FAQs 

    What is the main message of Zero Fail?

    Zero Fail sheds light on the challenges and controversies faced by the Secret Service, highlighting the importance of their role in protecting the nation.

    How long does it take to read Zero Fail?

    The reading time for Zero Fail varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Zero Fail a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Zero Fail is worth reading for its insightful exploration of the Secret Service and its impact on American history. It offers a nuanced perspective on the challenges and successes of an essential agency.

    Who is the author of Zero Fail?

    Carol Leonnig is the author of Zero Fail.

    What to read after Zero Fail?

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