Michael Wolff (2018)

What can one say about a journey to the centre of the most disruptive and controversial White House of modern times? That is happened at all is amazing: that this book gives such a clear and (I would say) generally reasonably balanced view makes it a major contribution to political literature.

Wolff describes an administration at war with itself, a medieval court in which factions form and dissipate while seeking the attention of the monarch – and truly there’s no other way to describe Donald Trump, who sits at the centre of the book while remaining curiously absent as an individual. Trump comes across as a bundle of contradictions: an outsider who took on the system and won, but someone pathologically requiring attention and submission from all around him while simultaneously hating those who engage in this behaviour; someone unable to control his attention of impulses at the most basic level; someone who personalises everything, seeing every interaction as a zero-sum game in another’s gain must be his loss; and who is managing the presidency through, and for the benefit of, his own family.

It’s clear that Wolff thinks Trump is uniquely unsuited to the role of president, and is surrounded by staff who’s main task is to offer protection in both directions: protecting Trump from the world, but equally protecting the world from Trump. It’s also clear, I think, that Wolff’s Trump is suffering from dementia.

The book is marred by its writing style. There are rambling and often too-detailed sub-clauses – usually within hyphens – that often make sentences appalling difficult to read. And there are some jarring word uses (“hortatory”? really?) that add nothing and give the impression of someone trying too hard in places. Still, it’s a compelling read, both as history and warning.

4/5. Finished Friday 2 March, 2018.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)