I finally got around to reading Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward’s 2018 book, Fear: Trump in the White House, even though I bought the book when it was first published. I still have a bunch of other books about former U.S. president Donald Trump that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I have a bad habit of buying books and letting them stack up, sometimes waiting to be read for years. But I also find reading about Donald Trump particularly difficult, mainly because I find him disturbing and depressing to read about, even if he is also kind of fascinating. I mean, it saddens me that so many people think he’s so great, but it also fascinates me that people don’t see what I can see so plainly.
This morning, after a concerted effort, I finished reading Fear, and I have Woodward’s follow up book, Rage, waiting to be read. I think I finally read Fear because there has been so much press about Woodward’s more recent book, Peril, which was published last month and is about the transition of Trump’s administration to Biden’s. I haven’t purchased Peril yet, but the reviews made it sound like a compelling read. I figured I should read the previous books before I get to that one. I did start reading a new book this morning, but it’s not about politics. I need to take a break after reading Fear. I guess the title was appropriately chosen.
So… on with my review…
Bob Woodward is an award willing journalist and associate editor who has worked for The Washington Post for 50 years. So far, he’s written at least 20 books that have been national bestsellers, and he’s shared in two Pulitzer Prizes. The man has quite an impressive pedigree as an author, as fourteen of his books have been on The New York Times bestseller list. Having just read Fear, I can attest to Woodward’s ability to write. Fear was easy to read and understand, and I never found myself skimming, as I did when I read John Bolton’s book, The Room Where it Happened. Bolton came off as kind of pompous, writing for himself and, more pointedly, his ego. Woodward, on the other hand, writes for his readers. That’s the kind of writing that is a pleasure for me to read.
Fear tackles the beginning of the Trump era. It’s mainly about Trump’s staff, and the lengths they went to try to “handle” him– harnessing the tremendous power Trump suddenly and surprisingly got when he was elected president. Woodward explains how staff members were chosen to work with Trump, as well as the difficulties Trump’s staff faced as they tried to deal with Trump’s overwhelming personality. Many of the people who worked in Trump’s White House were experienced professionals, particularly within the military. On the other some staffers were people who got jobs because of how they looked, or because they were friends of Trump’s… or because they were his relatives.
Steve Bannon gets a lot of coverage in this book, although Woodward was probably kinder to Bannon than he should have been. I always got the sense that Steve Bannon was a bit of a manipulative snake, but Woodward makes him seem more professional than he ever appeared to me in this news.
In straightforward, clear prose, Woodward uses his investigative journalist skills to uncover Trump’s early days in power. Woodward clearly tried to be impartial and often gives Trump more credit than he probably deserves. I can appreciate the attempt at trying to be fair and impartial, especially given the fact that Trump is the most polarizing president I have seen in my lifetime. It could not have been easy for Woodward to maintain such decorum.
I think Fear is a well-written and researched book, and I learned new things by reading it. However, I agree with some of the reviewers who mention that there’s nothing particularly “earth shattering” or deliciously juicy about Fear. The trouble is, Trump was so heavily covered in the press that a lot of what’s in Woodward’s book, while easy to read and digest, is stuff that was already in the news.
I probably waited too long to read Fear. If I had read it when it was first published, I might have gotten a lot more from it. I might enjoy Peril more, simply because it covers the end (hopefully) of Trump’s political career, when things really got weird. But, as I mentioned earlier in this review, I felt like I should read the first book of Woodward’s highly touted trilogy. I did learn some new things, and there were some entertaining passages about some of the interactions Trump had with some of his staff. I particularly enjoyed reading about Trump’s long suffering lawyers, who did their best to get Trump to take their advice rather than simply acting on impulse. Many of Trump’s staffers were the “adults in the room”, but they could never seem to get him to settle down and get to work. Most of them were always “putting out fires” and dealing with Trump’s tantrums.
Anyway, according to Amazon, most people thought this was a good book. Some people thought it sucked. I didn’t think Fear: Trump in the White House was bad at all, but it could have been better. I did feel like the end of the book was a bit abrupt. I was reading about Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, deciding to resign from Trump’s service. Then, suddenly, the book ended, and I was knee deep in footnotes and sources. I do think Fear is a good reference for those who want to read more about Trump. There’s plenty of associated reading to be explored.
I think if I were giving this a rating between one and five stars, I’d give it a 3.5. I found it easy to read and mostly interesting, but I wasn’t too shocked or surprised by much of what I read. If I had read this in 2018, I probably would have had a slightly more favorable reaction to Fear: Trump in the White House. But in September 2018, I was about to move and had a lot of other stuff going on… and frankly, I remember not being able to bring myself to read a book about Trump, because I found him rather terrifying. I still do, to be honest.
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