January 9, 2014 2:24 PM EST

Famous for demanding “no drama” from his aides, Barack Obama survived his first presidential term without an insider’s tell-all memoir. Now comes his former Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, with a thick tome about his Pentagon tenure. The Bush-era holdover is respectful of Obama while criticizing his top aides and his handling of Afghanistan. The bigger target is Vice President Joe Biden, who Gates says has integrity but terrible judgment–“wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” he writes. The White House retorted that Obama thinks Gates is wrong and that Biden “has been one of the leading statesmen of his time.”

The book is titled Duty, though some wonder if Gates violated his by dishing (including on Hillary Clinton, who he says confessed to opposing the Iraq surge for political reasons). In one passage, Obama ends a meeting on Iran reminding “those of you writing your memoirs” that he was still undecided on a key issue. “I was offended by his suspicion that any of us would write about such sensitive matters,” Gates recalls, while doing just that.

This appears in the January 20, 2014 issue of TIME.

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