Review: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Format: ebook
Pub Date: October 2019
Publisher: Hachette
Length: 464 pages
POV: Mostly first person past, some 3rd person
FTC: borrowed from the library
Content Warning: this book details patterns of abuse, rape, sexual assault and harassment including a few graphic descriptions. 

While the blog was on "hiatus" due to my broken laptop, I decided I needed to try reading more nonfiction and other genres besides romance. Because I was in a rut. Most of the books everyone was squeeing about were written in first person present, a tense POV combo I cannot stand, and many of the books being lauded just weren't my cup of tea. So I asked for recommendations and placed several holds through my rural library. It took months, but this one finally became available last week. It feels like forever ago, but Harvey Weinstein was sentenced on March 11. So it's been 12 days. I'm incredibly glad I waited to read this post-conviction, because it reads like a true crime novel with an element of justice now. I'm not sure it would have felt the same without the real life conclusion.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Ronan Farrow's writing. I read the original Harvey Weinstein piece, of course, but that's not the same as a long format book. And I'm primarily a fiction reader these days, so my tolerance for certain nonfiction styles is really low. Thankfully, Farrow is an excellent writer, and his writing is clean and engaging. The majority of the book is in first person, past tense, detailing his steps as he went about reporting on this story. The third person writing is stuff he learned later through sources, other reporting, or legal documents: especially the stuff about Black Cube, the private intelligence firm filled with former Israeli Mossad members who infiltrated the lives of several victims and engaged in sketchy, quasi-legal surveillance of Farrow and others. (This is, I think, the most underreported part of this whole thing. I can't believe how little I heard of this before reading the book).

The bulk of the book is about Harvey Weinstein and the extraordinary lengths executives at NBC went to kill reporting about him, as well as the underhanded techniques Weinstein, himself, employed to keep Farrow's story from ever seeing the light of day. But there are other, linked, stories that are also here about the role of the National Enquirer in protecting HW and other powerful men as well as the abuse within the ranks of NBC, most especially by Matt Lauer. The description of the rape he's accused of is the most graphic in the book, and I think the details of it were too graphic for most of the television reporting I remember watching. It's supposed to be part of the book's premise: powerful men and the system set up to enable their abuses, but sometimes those stories feel out of place when the Weinstein story takes up so much page time and energy.

I did come out of the book with a greater understanding about how many people are involved in reporting investigative stories for papers, magazines, and television. I was notably struck by how Farrow, throughout the entire book, made sure the reader knew his producer, Rich McHugh, was a stand up, ethical guy. It's a theme. More than any other person in this story, McHugh is described as risking himself and his job to do what was right instead of what was easy.

This was a good choice for me, personally, in my nonfiction reading journey. It's got a quest, a mystery, spies and more.  I was left with an overwhelming distaste for and distrust of NBC News, and a determination to never see Matt Lauer's face ever again. It's an important book, and I'm very glad I read it.

My Grade: A-

The Blurb:
In 2017, a routine network television investigation led Ronan Farrow to a story only whispered about: one of Hollywood's most powerful producers was a predator, protected by fear, wealth, and a conspiracy of silence. As Farrow drew closer to the truth, shadowy operatives, from high-priced lawyers to elite war-hardened spies, mounted a secret campaign of intimidation, threatening his career, following his every move, and weaponizing an account of abuse in his own family.

All the while, Farrow and his producer faced a degree of resistance they could not explain -- until now. And a trail of clues revealed corruption and cover-ups from Hollywood to Washington and beyond.

This is the untold story of the exotic tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability, and silence victims of abuse. And it's the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

Both a spy thriller and a meticulous work of investigative journalism, Catch and Kill breaks devastating new stories about the rampant abuse of power and sheds far-reaching light on investigations that shook our culture.

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