The key question before purchasing a book should be “What do I want from this book?” With hardcovers regularly costing $30 or more, expectations should be addressed before purchase.
To that end, I will explain what a reader gets from this book. That information can be used to determine whether it’s worth picking up.
First and foremost, one gets a timeline of Trump’s views and decisions on the novel coronavirus. The book begins with Woodward explaining what Trump knew, who informed him about it and when he was told about the severity of the virus. He lays out all of the warnings. The second half of the book focuses on 2020, and because of that the coronavirus issue looms large throughout. Using the interviews as a guideline, Woodward provides insight into Trump’s reactions to the virus almost on a weekly basis.
While this is happening, one also gets a look at Woodward’s views on the virus, through the questions he poses to Trump. It becomes obvious that Woodward, while not being a direct advocate for the conspiracy theory that China purposefully manufactured the coronavirus and then spread it around the world, is at least very open to that possibility and repeatedly pressed the President to have more resources allocated to pursuing the theory.
In fact, Woodward comes off as very sympathetic to Trump throughout much of the book, while simultaneously presenting Trump as fundamentally flawed. In Woodward’s assessment, Trump is very bright but reflexively frames matters in overly simple terms so as best to reach a core audience.
Trump is also presented as being honest, but simplistic, in his foreign policy. His apparent follies with Kim Jong Un are depicted as Trump being focused only on preventing a war. His efforts to promote Putin are the result of trying to have a demonstrably better relationship than Obama had with the Russian leader. In particular Trump is too trusting of Xi, who may have intentionally released the coronavirus to the United States and other world powers.
This interpretation of Trump runs counter to the personal anecdotes and analyses in both Mary Trump and Michael Cohen’s books. If one has read those books, the presentation of Trump in this one will seem disconcerting and ring a bit false.
That said, the actual day-to-day operations in the White House are fascinating and, I have no doubt, factual. Woodward’s earlier Fear leaned on a variety of information sources, and the same holds true here. The opening of the book even follows the original Fear almost like a coda, explaining with greater detail the hiring of Mattis, Tillerson and Coats… and their eventual departures. Then the reader is jumped ahead to the second, coronavirus-heavy half of the book.
So, a little conspiratorial, and a little bit conciliatory toward Trump and his “fourth dimensional chess” believers. Still very interesting and informative, particularly for those wanting to know how the White House has been handling the last few months. It was worth my purchase… I leave it up to others to decide if they’d want to buy it.