A Higher Loyalty Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: A Higher Loyalty shares James Comey’s experiences as the director of the FBI and outlines what he learned about leadership, ethics, and politics throughout his life, career, and experiences with President Trump who was the reason he lost his job in May of 2017.

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A Higher Loyalty Summary

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Even if you don’t care much for politics, you’ve probably at least heard the name James Comey. He served as director of the FBI from 2013 until his controversial dismissal by Donald Trump in May 2017.

As a lawyer, he did many other things such as prosecuting the insider trading case against Martha Stewart and helping Rudy Giuliani in his crusade against the New York Mafia in the 1980s.

In his book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, James Comey gives us a never-before-seen look into his life. We follow Comey from his upbringing as a bullied kid in New York through his long, high-profile career in government. 

From working to change the Bush administration’s surveillance and torture policies to overseeing Hillary Clinton’s email investigation and investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, he has been involved in some of the biggest cases of our recent history.

Let’s see how much we can learn from him in just 3 lessons:

  1. Comey’s early life included bullies, work experience, and even getting robbed.
  2. Working closely with the Obama administration, Comey discovered six traits of great leaders, among many other life lessons.
  3. James Comey’s inside view of Trump’s presidency reveals a lot about what actually happened in its early days.

Get ready to learn, because you’re about to discover some interesting new lessons! Let’s go!

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Lesson 1: James Comey’s early life included jobs, bullies, and even a robbery.

Comey’s life began in New York but he moved to New Jersey as a child. His mom gave him haircuts and patched up his old clothes to save money, making him a target for bullies. It didn’t help that he was also scrawny and had a habit of talking too much. 

But the bullying taught him some important life lessons. He says one of these was learning to read people. But what’s more, he says this bullying gave him his deep desire to help the defenseless. 

Another formative experience from his youth was working for a man named Harry Howell at a grocery store. Howell taught him how to be a good leader by showing him that you can be powerful and have compassion at the same time. Howell worked hard and had high standards, but he knew when it was necessary to show mercy when people made mistakes. 

Another major shaping moment for Comey was when he was robbed in his own home at just sixteen. The man held him and his brother at gunpoint and demanded money. The event was terrifying, but they both survived without harm. 

Naturally, it had a deep effect on him personally. For the first time, he reflected on what was important in life and decided he would choose a career that would help people directly. 

Lesson 2: President Obama taught Comey a lot about many things, including leadership.

Comey began working as the FBI director in 2014, under President Obama. In his time working with Obama, he was deeply impressed with how effective and intelligent Obama was as a leader.

Comey lists six traits that make a great leader, they are: 

  • A strong sense of decency and integrity
  • Possessing the confidence to be humble 
  • A fair balance of toughness and kindness
  • Transparency in their motivations
  • An awareness that everyone wants their work to be meaningful
  • The understanding that words are important, but actions are even more important. 

Comey says Obama had many of these qualities, and also a great sense of humor. After a string of police incidents in 2015 that brought extreme racial tension to the country, Comey tried to give a unifying speech at a press conference. As FBI director, he couldn’t pick sides with either Black Lives Matter or Police Lives Matter, so he just made everyone angry. 

When Comey talked to Obama afterward, the president listened intently to what he had to say, taking time to see all viewpoints. Afterward, Obama respectfully took him into the perspective of what it was like to be a person in a black neighborhood. Comey learned a lot from him and appreciated his leadership.

Lesson 3:  We can get an inside look at the early days of Trump’s presidency through Comey’s experiences.

Comey’s experience with the Trump administration was rocky from the beginning. When he gave Trump his first briefing on threat levels, he informed Trump and his team that Russians had been attempting to influence the election’s outcome. Immediately Trump and his team discussed ways they could use this information to their political advantage. 

This was just their first meeting, but only one of many occasions he was reminded of the actions of the Mafia bosses he used to work to lock up. Soon, more evidence of Russian connections arose. Repeatedly Trump asked for Comey’s loyalty. 

But Comey hated bullies and had huge ethical concerns. He took memos and recorded all the times Trump asked they speak privately. All modern presidents consider talks like these between the president and FBI director to be inappropriate.

Nevertheless, Comey did his best to remain free of bias and expected to serve out the next 10 years as FBI director. Until Trump’s last call to Comey in April of 2017. Trump expressed his disappointment that Comey wasn’t making more of an effort to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation. In May, Comey heard the news of his firing along with everyone else while he was in California on the job. 

Comey feels he lost his job for his refusal to influence the FBI investigations on the behalf of the president. He leaked his memos to the press, hoping it will lead to an investigation, though he knows there likely isn’t enough evidence right now. But he ends by saying sooner or later, justice will prevail.

A Higher Loyalty Review

I don’t love politics or history, but A Higher Loyalty was still pretty interesting. It’s great to get this fascinating first-hand account of some of the details on major recent political events. I think there’s a lot to learn from this book no matter what side you’re on politically!

Who would I recommend the A Higher Loyalty summary to?

The 52-year-old that loves to read the news and wants more details behind the headlines, the 35-year-old with an interest in politics, and anybody that’s curious about what really happens in Washington DC.

Last Updated on July 23, 2023

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Luke Rowley

With over 450 summaries that he contributed to Four Minute Books, first as a part-time writer, then as our full-time Managing Editor until late 2021, Luke is our second-most prolific writer. He's also a professional, licensed engineer, working in the solar industry. Next to his day job, he also runs Goal Engineering, a website dedicated to achieving your goals with a unique, 4-4-4 system. Luke is also a husband, father, 75 Hard finisher, and lover of the outdoors. He lives in Utah with his wife and 3 kids.