The extraordinary story about the Obama administration’s decision to launch a supersecret cyber operation against Iran’s nuclear facilities is the centerpiece of New York Times correspondent David Sanger’s Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (Crown, $28). But this well-sourced and vividly written book also provides informative accounts of the handling of other key national security challenges, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab Spring, China and North Korea. President Obama is portrayed as both idealist and pragmatist. On the one hand, he’s wary of military action when no national threat exists and rejects the neoconservative notion of the United States as “indispensable nation.” On the other hand, he’s depicted as firmly willing to use force to protect U.S. interests, as when he ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, expanded drone strikes into an antiterrorism offensive, and authorized use of the Stuxnet cyberworm to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
Private Empire (Penguin Press, $36) is Steve Coll’s masterful study of ExxonMobil, the largest and most powerful private corporation in the United States. The company functions as “a corporate state within the American state,” Coll writes, and many of its inner workings are exposed in the book. Still, for all the book’s investigatory rigor and insight, it avoids coming across as an anti-corporate screed, instead offering a fair-minded, extensively researched and elegantly written report on ExxonMobil’s behavior.