I’m not normally given to writing product reviews – and when I am, they’re usually relatively unflattering critiques of things I’m not afraid to dislike. Every once in a while, however, I’m willing to make an exception for something that’s exceptionally interesting, or has an interesting history. A book I recently read fits both those criteria – and is, I expect, of interest to a lot of folks who read this website.
That book is Communicating with Intelligence, by James Major, published last month by Scarecrow Press. It’s pricey – around $40 USD – but it’s well worth it. You see, Communicating with Intelligence is actually two books – two of the definitive reference books in the intelligence community.
I know that sounds like hyperbole – wasn’t this thing just published? – but it isn’t: Communicating with Intelligence comprises the complete (and, I believe, updated and revised) contents of the author’s Writing with Intelligence and Briefing with Intelligence. Now, before you go hunting through Amazon for individual copies, I should mention something about these two books which the publisher seems oddly reticent to promote: They were originally published by the Defense Intelligence Agency. Before Scarecrow published them as one volume, getting either book was challenging, even if you worked in government circles, and folks outside the federal government were pretty much out of luck.
That is happily no longer the case; anyone with forty or so bucks to spare can now learn pretty much everything there is to know about crafting intelligence products. You can be forgiven for supposing that this book is only of interest to the military and national-security fields – which seems to be where the publisher is promoting it. That’s really far from the truth, however; anyone who works with information – one of the basic building blocks of “intelligence”, after all – can (and most assuredly should) learn something from this volume.
The first book in the volume, Writing with Intelligence, teaches you how to do just that – prepare and produce accurate, accessible, and user-friendly written reports. It is itself – thank the Gods! – written very well, in a very accessible, relatively informal fashion that’s highly approachable. Yes, it’s a textbook, and you will (hopefully) learn something from it, but the process of doing so is completely painless. Seriously, I really believe this part of the volume is so good, and so important, that pretty much everyone who produces anything written as part of their job should read it.
That said, the second book in the volume, Briefing with Intelligence, is also very good, but (perhaps) less useful outside the government intelligence community. Nonetheless, it’s a very good primer on all aspects of making and giving briefings and presentations, which most of us probably fear more than we should.
Both halves of the book are broken into fairly short sections, each of which contain a series of self-text examinations designed not to test the reader’s knowledge, but expand it – less a rehash of what you’ve just read, but a chance to put what you’ve just learned to use.
In short, I highly recommend this book to anyone who’d like to improve their writing skills, or who works in any part of the intelligence field; it’s one of the best resources of its kind available, anywhere. Go. Buy. Read. Learn. You’ll thank me later.