review

Review: Fear by Bob Woodward

Title: Fear: Trump in the White House
Author: Bob Woodward
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies. Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files, and documents. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One, and the White House residence. Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office.


Bob Woodward’s latest is an exhaustive behind-the-scenes account of the current White House from about July 2016 to March 2018, and he does not pull punches. All aspects of Trump are covered (for good or ill), and most of the book reads like the transcript of Woodward following these people around for hundreds of hours. The prologue asserts that “the United States in 2017 was tethered to the words and actions of an emotionally overwrought, mercurial and unpredictable leader… It was a nervous breakdown of the executive power of the most powerful country in the world. What follows is that story.” And, yes, the next 300 or so pages basically is that story, although with less flair than I was expecting.

think I wanted Woodward’s journalistic analysis of what went on during the first year of Trump’s presidency instead of just ‘this happened and then this happened and while all of that was happening this also happened.’ Simply listing things point by point did prove some of my assumptions correct, though, so even if it was nice to know for sure what’s been happening behind closed doors, it was also, like, so worrying, too. (E.g.: “I want to apologize to you for a very fucked-up Republican majority. Congress is going to fuck up your presidency. We have no idea what we’re doing.” Or even, “Trump had no understanding of how government functioned.” Great! So awesome!!)

I haven’t read All the President’s Men, but I’ve heard such good things that I went into Fear hoping for another Watergate 2.0. But maybe this book is just too soon. The Watergate break-in is a single narrative with a set group of people over a defined period of time, and All the President’s Men was written after it had already ended. Can anyone accurately comment on something in the middle of it happening? Are we simply asking too much if we can’t even agree on which story to cover? I mean, keeping up with the news can often feel overwhelming, but I feel like I have to do it because so much happens all the time. Fear did help fill in some gaps I had, but it also (literally) put me to sleep.

Should you read it? I don’t know. Maybe. It took a lot of brain power to get through and stopped commenting on events after March of this year – and so much has happened in just eight months! –  but Woodward is such a good journalist that Fear read like a really great exposé, albeit one whose relevance or longevity has yet to be determined.

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