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Reader’s Review, May 2011

By John Baker

Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator

By Gary Noesner
240 pp. New York: Random House, 2010
Hardback (USA) $ 26.00

The art of negotiation has no more intense or critical interaction between differing parties than the practice of crisis negotiation and its specialty of hostage negotiation. It is an intervention into a situation in which lives literally hang in the balance within a fragile and uncertain web of circumstances, emotions, and possible outcomes. This book is an extraordinary view of both the practice and the complexities of the field.

Gary Noesner, the author, is a true expert on his subject of hostage negotiation. Mr. Noesner worked for 30 years for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), retiring in 2003. During that time he spent 23 years as a hostage negotiator, the last ten of those years as the FBI’s chief negotiator and head of its Crisis Negotiation Unit, Critical Response Group. Mr. Noesner’s work in the field continued for almost six additional years as a senior vice president for Control Risk, an international consulting firm specializing in risk and strategic management throughout the world.

This work is the capstone of a life centered in the practice of hostage negotiation of the many of the USA’s most critical hostage incidents, the education and support of the nation’s front-line response personnel, and the analysis and implementation of improved methods and procedures for the achievement of excellence in hostage negotiation. In each of these areas, the book is outstanding.

Noesner is a talented writer and a compelling story-teller who uses his first-hand perspective to bring to life accounts of such media-famous hostage incidents as the Weaver family stand-off in Ruby Ridge, Idaho (1992); the Davidian siege in Waco, Texas (1993); and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Party capture and 126 day negotiation leading to the release of 600 hostages in Lima, Peru (1996-1997). These and other incidents will be of interest to any reader.

For the hostage negotiator as well as the general student of negotiation, the author explains both the evolution of the practice of the craft of hostage negotiation and its basic foundation in negotiating principles. Noesner emphasizes the fundamental base of his field as centered in the importance of “… managing yourself and the people around you” (p. x). It is all about effective interaction and the use of appropriate negotiation skills. The author, concludes, “You might even say that all life is a negotiation” (p. 216). This reviewer could not agree more.
Highly recommended.

John D. Baker, Ph.D.

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The Negotiator Magazine (May 2011) Copyright © 2011 The Negotiator Magazine