Panetta came to Washington during the Nixon administration as an idealistic young Republican. He later switched parties, rose through the Democratic ranks in Congress, and served as President Bill Clinton’s director of the Office of Management and Budget and chief of staff and as President Barack Obama’s director of the CIA and secretary of defense. This is a distinguished trajectory by any standard, and Panetta’s candid memoir offers a useful window into recent U.S. history. A few references to policy disagreements with Obama dominated the discussion of the book when it first appeared last year; the controversy seems overblown, as the book’s assessment of Obama is on the whole rather positive. Panetta’s most valuable insights involve federal budgets; few understand the subject as well. His account of how the Clinton administration was able to balance its final budgets shows how the U.S. political process can lead to good outcomes; his account of the sequester during the Obama administration shows how it can lead to terrible ones.