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Nothing taxing about this memoir

An IRS agent describes 12 years of collection work

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At the end of "Confessions of a Tax Collector," Richard Yancey tries to put readers at ease. After recounting his adventures as a revenue officer - the person who seizes businesses and homes because of delinquent taxes - Yancey says congressional passage of the Revenue Restructuring Act in 1998 led to a "seismic shift" in the way the Internal Revenue Service conducts its affairs.

"Included in that legislation," he writes, "is a section referred to inside the Service as the 'Ten Deadly Sins,' violations of the tax code for which termination is the only remedy. One section deals with harassment and intimidation of taxpayers. It is hardly surprising, then, that seizures, liens and levies are at an all-time low."

As the April 15 US income tax deadline approaches, those words might soothe. Still, an insider's account of how IRS revenue officers deal with tardy and dishonest wage earners could seem like a scary reading choice.

Who would have imagined that a former IRS revenue officer would compose a memoir not only exposing the agency's inner workings, but also offering humor, pathos, and insights into the human condition on almost every page? "Confessions of a Tax Collector" is not just a superb memoir about working for the IRS; it's a superb memoir, period. Yes, it contains detailed explanations of internal procedures, paperwork, Congressional mandates, and judicial rulings, but with his gift for explaining every topic clearly, no matter how complex, Yancey never allows readers to become bogged down.

The author did not set out to become an IRS revenue officer. When he interviewed for the government job in 1990, at the age of 28, he felt desperate. Growing up near Tampa, Fla., Yancey came from an upper middle-class family, graduated from college with an English degree, then tried a number of careers, including playwriting, acting, managing a convenience store, and teaching school. Nothing panned out.

He was living in the home of a widow six years his elder; they called themselves an engaged couple, but marriage never seemed realistic. Yancey began thinking about finally establishing financial and emotional independence. An advertisement placed by the federal government for revenue officers listed a salary much higher than anything he had ever earned, so he applied.

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