Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review of Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’

Bob Woodward, FEAR: Trump in the White House (New York, Simon and Schuster, 2018), 421 overall, illustrated.

The editor knows you’re anxious to read a review of this book after your long wait, so we’ll be brief, up front. Our Historian reviewer elected the “Political Parties” minor at Stanford, and he has written a number of books with a “political” aspect. His The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson is a solid piece of scholarship, done for the American Presidency Series of Kansas Press. Its Bibliographical essay and Index have been helpful to interested historians. We all have waited impatiently to see “what’s next?” with our current Presidency and its evolution, so let’s see this famous book’s impact.

Dear Reader: When some sturdy book like this is finally in my hands, my practice for some time has been, after glancing at the list price, I go to the Index. After rummaging a bit, I seek out the Bibliographical List or Essay and check it out the citations. Now, I read both the initial sentence and paragraph; then the concluding several pages. Now it’s off to lunch, maybe. I think at random about what I’ve learned so far.

I’m very likely at this point to read several of whatever passes for a “first review” by others on Google. It’s surprising what turns up. Now it the author’s name, and of course the title of the book, just in case. Strange things emerge here. How strange? Very. This time it was a superb essay by one Molly Bell entitled, “Donald Trump and the Politics of Fear,” from the Atlantic for September 2, 2016. My suggestion to alert and interested readers of my review is that at your early convenience Check Out this first class item! You won’t be sorry. This young woman is a pathbreaker, a pioneer, it does seem to this observer.

The present book. FEAR: Trump in the White House is as all know, by a first class journalist, long associated with the Washington Post. He is also found adjacent to Carl Bernstein’s name in things and on things. And in accounts of Nixon’s encounter with disaster and removal from D. C. to the Far West with his charming wife and suitcases.

The book before us devotes itself to the following subjects, in somewhat descending order, counting the Indexing: Trump, naturally. Then, Immigration; John Kelly; Robert Mueller, Steve Bannon, and two Generals: James Mattis and H. R. McMaster. Also Reince Priebus, countries like North Korea and China. Hillary Clinton not so much, but Gary Cohn is much noted. I was a little surprised by Lindsay Graham but not by the frequent mention of Jared Kushner.

I looked up Comey and read about him a little; I thought it a bit grudging—Trump genuinely detests him! I looked up Omarosa and she wasn’t in the Index. Surprise. I studied the words under all the classy color photographs and was duly rewarded. (The rendering of that North Korean madman was a perfect portrayal.) After dinner I’ll get on that little task of checking out members of the Trump family; already I’ve found the listings rewarding; that Ivanka is certainly a pistol, at home in our and her environment.

To concentrate on the book as such: I would feel guilty if I did not follow the author’s lead in his very first sentence. It is by way of Tribute! We all get HELP of some kind with our big projects. It is essential and nothing to apologize for. Says Bob right off: “A heartfelt thanks to Evelyn M. Duffy….” She has aided him on five books. On this one, Bob found the challenge “the deep emotions and passions she brings out in supporters and critics.”

What she did is of great interest: “Evelyn immediately grasped that the challenge was to get new information, authenticate it and put it in context while reporting as deeply as possible inside the White House.” She has a company and is clearly “an old hand” at backing up experienced Authors.

Gambling, I checked out U-Tube for “Trump” and hit the jackpot. There was the recording of the occasion when the author sought, at great length, to persuade President Trump to allow himself to be interviewed for this book! There were several problems: the book was very far along already (it was August, 2017). Donald said he hadn’t been asked earlier! Famous staff members butted in on Trump/Woodward, somewhat invited. It’s a good listen, yet this listener was anything but admiring of the two verbal contestants as they shifted position repeatedly. Why not visit “Trump/Woodward” on U-Tube and give it a ten minute try?

At the outset, this book offers a single quote: It’s Trump saying, “Real power is—I don’t even want to use the word—fear.” The date is March 31, 2016, interviewees Woodward and friend are at Trump’s hotel in D.C

Moving on, needless to say as this book goes from unpleasantness to crisis to uncertainty, to bad result, to misconduct, the reader (this one, anyway) is tempted to put it away. Curiosity wins out, however. Let’s get this straight: Here is a visible mole, invited in with “people of affairs,” who knows how to do it, is motivated to continue shaking the bone, is curious for himself as well as the unknown reader, and is usually orderly with his really important narrative.

Yes, this book is important, just as has been said in the Marketplace all along. If I were President Trump I would see it as one more obstacle to reelection in 2020. I’m guessing that it could hurt his Party (is that the right way to put it?) this Fall, but who knows? Its sale is enormous as I write. By the way: the color pictures in the middle are good; I ‘m no judge of whether they are of special merit.

I just can’t convey the subject matter of FEAR in a review of limited wordage. Fear’s narrative is 357 pages. There are footnotes at the end. I read them early on. The favorite words of attribution are “deep background interview.” Alternately, “deep background interviews with firsthand sources.” I can tell at once that this is a continent away from prose produced by lifelong research historians like me. There are precious few citations to the books of others. The point is: this book is about NOW, as much as the author can make it be. This senior citizen got something of a kick out of footnotes to “tweets”—of all things. Yet: what else is this pixy president going to have in his so-called archives, hopefully in place soon after 2020. I am wondering, by the way, if this is the first book with “lawyer” cited or explained about in the footnotes….

I’m sorry, but I do want to criticize the use over and over and over of various grammatical versions of fuck. Maybe there’s no way out if famous people use it through every meal, etcetera. Other swear words are included as the text strives to be, well, Verbatim. It didn’t improve my opinion of what I was reading—and it sure didn’t improve my opinion of various famous “leaders” of our Nation. Usually, it marked loss of control and/or determination to downgrade something (too often something I happen to like), or to degrade somebody.

That there has been a whole lot of preliminary comment about Bob Woodward and his long forthcoming book is evident. I think it unnecessary to go on about his reputation as chronicler of presidential misconduct, or an outsider finding himself on the inside. He is the writer of books on every recent president who made a key mistake or a stream of them.

Idly viewing TV, I noted “Rachel” would be interviewing this man for an hour tonight. Senator Kerry came on during my afternoon; the subject of the Fear volume arose, and he referred pleasantly to “Bob’s book.” As I left for dinner in my retirement home, I thought, “Oh. I’ll take my book down when eating. ; I’ll leave the cover on; wonder if any of those old folk will notice the book with its brilliant red cover—or its full rear jacket color picture of President Donald J. Trump.” Conclusion: they did recognize it; several turned away; others limited themselves to: : “Oh, you got it!”

Let’s get something straight: It was a pleasure to review the James Comey book; as I said, he seemed a good character example for youth and his book was a worthwhile read for youngsters who might be up to it. I think the bad language and consistently bad conduct highlighted in Fear disqualifying. Not a book for kids.

There just have to be some authentic quotations here from that President Trump—the man sleeping in our White House and using the Oval Office as totally His. Let’s start: Re the Press: “They’re kicking the crap out of me.” 356 “Hope Hicks and Kelly—overrule me every time I want to pull someone’s credentials.” 356 (I’ll avoid my quoting his remarks about his Attorney General. Sessions has been Trump’s nemesis from almost first to last.)

Said an important aide: “We need to have a process to make sure that we do this in proper order, that we’ve thought through all these things.” To which our elected Leader’s considered action about authorizing framing an official reply was, “I don’t care about any of this stuff. I want it on my desk on Friday.” (The subject was whether or if to withdraw from NAFTA.) 156

Over and over Bob Woodward chooses (OR has to choose) to quote the President of the United States in a manner that lowers him in one’s estimation still further. On page 56 banker Gary Cohn is speaking of interest rates going up in the foreseeable future. Says Trump: “I agree. We should just go borrow a lot of money right now, hold it, and then sell it and make money.” Says the book; “Cohn was astounded at Trump’s lack of basic understanding. A few more words. Then, Trump as learned economist: “Just run the presses—print money.”

When I was reviewing the Omarosa book Unhinged, I quoted the word “paranoia” used by her descriptive of Donald with misgivings. Here it turns up again. Roger Porter says, rather early, “Trump’s behavior was now in the paranoid territory.” 166 This man has a lot to say and do about War an Peace!

I just don’t have the heart to quote the President on his many casual observations that are so caustic about countries long friends of the United States. It’s bad enough that he defames our Allies casually, almost at a what’s the difference?” level. He got the idea in his head that our troops should be withdrawn from South Korea at once, for example. Corrective action had to be taken by responsible military leaders at once.

I don’t see any useful purpose being served by trying to summarize a lot of this widely held book in this place. Many subjects are being summarized, beginning every, say, three or four pages. I don’t see information being well served by my resummarizing over and over. Those entranced with the Flynn matter, the Comey matter, the staggering turnover in high employees since the Inauguration, can read everywhere—and now here. We have to face Trump’s weird tweeting to begin each day, or the oddity of his family members barging in as though not at all related to “the boss.” As I say, those entranced with all the sideshow of Trump in Action, should read much of the Woodward book—maybe at the Library.

To me, Woodward has opened up the next stage beyond Rachel Maddow, and other hard-working TV news interpreters. He has done—in my scholarly view, at least—a solid and sound job of revealing things that need opening up yet again to daylight.

Clearly, we are all in a whale of a mess, aren’t we? Our incumbent didn’t have to be elected, did he? But he was. Now there seem to be alternatives: A. We somehow can educate him on facts and appropriate conduct; B. We can somehow get rid of a lot of highly placed office holders close to him, and bring in qualified leadership for lots of jobs; and/or C. we can figure out how to work the machinery designed long ago to eliminate any dangerous or incompetent President from office.

Using one or more of these alternatives just might save us from ruining ourselves and other well-meaning, self-governing Allied nations.

It is now a time to be SERIOUS, stop equivocating, and evading, and postponing, and, yes, hoping for a miracle. At your reviewer’s advanced age (over 100), I feel like insisting, no, demanding, that the Congress and our electorate do their duty. The Future needs a warrantee, a guarantee: Do What’s Right!

Bornet’s Book Review of “UnHinged” by Omarosa

UNHINGED: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House. By Omarosa Manigault Newman. 334 pages No Index. Not illustrated. New York City: Simon and Schuster.

Our reviewer, who’s produced reviews for learned journals since 1948, is at it again, as he did with Comey, Wolff, and two others focusing on the White House, back when. He wrote for us twice of Donald J. Trump (in January and June, 2016) as a candidate, obviously as a troubled observer. To repeat, our elderly one’s three degrees are from Emory, Georgia, and Stanford. Seldom, he says, does a book memoirist come to her/his self-assigned task with so much reason to be bitter. After all, OMAROSA’s many pleasant enough Trump years ended abruptly when fired in person by the Chief of Staff. ! Let’s see….

The provocative quotation following appears, alone, by itself, on the back jacket for everybody to read. You might as well: “He rambled. He spoke gibberish. He contradicted himself from one sentence to the next…. While watching that interview, I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald’s brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many didn’t notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when. They thought Trump was being Trump, off the cuff. But I knew something wasn’t right.”
There’s an awful lot to quote in this book. The author is clearly a talented “African-American woman” and we are always aware of it. She is seldom relaxed, it seems; on the other hand, despite mood swings, she is capable of great joy now and then. We are reminded that two of her family members were shot dead early on; and she worries—and has cause, as mobs misbehave here and there in her pages, but not quite cover to cover.
The author is a beautiful woman of good posture, a veteran of The Apprentice for years, seldom unemployed if she wishes to have a job between various intermissions. (After being fired by the White House (sic) in chapter one, UNBELIEVABLY, in a day or two she is offered a huge salary by a Trump daughter to work on the 2020 campaign. For that day and time, at least, she says “no.”
Subtitle, “An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House,” but she is all over the place on content as we turn the pages: California, Ohio, Florida, NYC, downtown D. C. The start is dramatic: she’s abruptly FIRED, and not the way we might be. For Omarosa, it was off to the Situation Room with that Kelly soldier where there were threats, loudness, recrimination, replies, locked doors, hints of violence. After that beginning, we have no doubt that this experienced lady is important and her memory feared.
My book is marked up with big circles and “quote,” check marks, and “discuss.” This is a somewhat dramatic narrative, one to be taken seriously. One wishes the writer well,but there seems an aura of strain throughout, I thought.
This White House staff member, Omarosa, expected her life to improve Donald J. Trump’s standing on this planet. She comes to hate him at the end, and she worries about the destiny of our good Nation with him still in control. Let’s listen to misgivings: “…I knew without Keith [Shiller], the president would probably become unhinged.” 303 Again, “…Due to his lack of empathy and his narcissism…” And, “…I realized that something real and serious was going on in Donald’s brain. His mental decline could not be denied. Many in the White House didn’t notice it as keenly as I did because I knew him way back when. … I knew something wasn’t right.” What might be done? She came up with: “Declare a state of medical emergency?” 246
This was startling: “During one of my visits he asked, “Hey, Omarosa, what do you think about Comey? I had to let him go, right? He couldn’t be trusted; he was not loyal.” … She judges, “No one—and I mean not a single person, agreed with his decision.”244
Do read about Trump and his awareness of guns on page 240-241. She doesn’t think much of WH doctors (nor do I, from my LBJ book research). 242 That medical personnel, she says, gave out any pills to anybody. “All we had to do was ask.” Her 2nd wedding was “the happiest day of my life” not surprisingly.
From reading newspapers, we believe our leader disregards Briefings. Here, we read: “In our briefings, Trump’s attention was scattered. He was distracted, irritable, and short. Normally, when DJT got into one of these moods, you knew to give him time and space. But in this case I could not….” 217
Is his mind sharp and clear? She is sure about his mental deterioration and is articulate about both that, and “his racism.” 292-293 At one point, this reviewer came to think: NO. Don’t be quoting this to our public! He’s the President of the United States. Limit those quotations.
We never forget this book is by a black woman. It’s clear: “… white men who surrounded me….” “A white participant is given the benefit of the doubt; a black woman in the workplace never is, regardless of the circumstances.” 265 This book is about something called “the cult of Trumpworld.” [one word]
Here is one message conveyed: “…I was miserable at the White House. Morale was at an all-time low, and the environment was toxic. I realized that Donald Trump was the biggest distraction to his own presidency. Donald Trump, the individual, the person, because of who he is and what he stands for and how he operates, would always be the biggest hindrance for us. Donald Trump, who would attack civil rights icons and professional athletes, who would go after grieving black widows, who would say there were good people on both sides, who endorsed an accused child molester; Donald Trump, and his decisions and his behavior, was harming the country. I could no longer be a part of this madness.” 318-319
How, you may ask, does a “typical historian-reviewer” feel on emerging from this candid, observant, critical, worrisome, concerned, notable book? As it happens, I have written on our race relations in the past (I’m white), am familiar with three presidents to the point of really researching and writing about them, come close to despising our incumbent President, and have been hoping for the best. (That would be dumping that Trump by the wayside at the very soonest.)
On the other hand, Donald has been for years, after being handed immense startup money, unquestionably an entrepreneur, creator of useful hotels and golf courses, a family man, and a jovial entertainer of huge audiences. If I enjoyed all or any of those “Miss Bosom” programs he provided on TV, I really should thank him.
Still and all, I’m frightened by what I read in this book about DJT’s CASUAL, UNINFORMED, and IGNORANT “presidency.” Omarosa’s book , sure didn’t help my sense of well-being. As read along, I felt, well, awful. Examples of an unfit, almost uncaring, certainly inadequate, President kept showing up, over and over. I didn’t like the really staggering contrast with my earlier H.H., F.D.R, and L.B.J. obsession, surrounded as they were in office by brilliant, dedicated public servants who seldom resigned, listened obediently and unfailingly to briefings with consequences,, and spoke rationally and regularly to the man who chose them. Yes, they campaigned while in office, more or less, but they G O V E R N E D and mostly set aside their earlier occupation while in our employ.
Here we have a bright woman of 44 years. She filled a job called (unbelievably) Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison, all in Trump’s White House. (Earlier, she served in Clinton’s WH!) Back when, she strove beyond the MA at Howard University; was a military Reservist chaplain (sic), and is apparently an occasional minister with her active minister 2nd husband in Jacksonville, that is, when “between political jobs.”
She handles much work with one hand behind her. Her favorite activity, it seems, is striving to change the political mindset of a giant mass of black voters out there, changing it to firm support of her current politician whoever it is, and doing that whatever the cost or time-demand. One never-ending goal has been to advance her own personal popularity, her reputation, because it will surely help Donald J. Trump! Maintaining or enlarging his probable vote-count in the coming election has been her hope (in summary).
Candidate Trump after the end of the 2016 campaign was disturbing to Omarosa. “It was very concerning to listen to him go on and on about the election in private. He would get all worked up and get crazed about the ‘fake news’ reports. I was worried that in his first week [in the WH] he was already cracking under the pressure.” 210
Our book author casually mentions those 4,000 White House jobs to be filled way back when. It’s scary. Staff were to “back up whatever the President said or tweeted, regardless of its accuracy.”211 What level of employee would allow that? On page 228 she almost casually speaks of “paranoia” setting in. Wow. Later, she wonders as to a tweet, “Does he even realize he sent it?” Italics hers. 228, Omarosa ruminates happily, after Trump’s Victory speech, “That moment was one of the highlights of my life.” It had proved “how wonderful and great this country had been to me.” She was living the American dream, she proclaims. Those days for her long ago getting public assistance were Over! You bet! Back after Inauguration, the most powerful man on the planet was next to her, and she deeply reflects as to that: it was “the two of us on that stage together!”
It was many months –almost a year–before the room nicknamed the “WH Osama bin Laden death planning room” would be used to house a General employing it to FIRE an employee far below Cabinet level. It was December 12, 2018 when our Omarosa would be escorted there, threatened, with the door locked against her in that scary basement, maybe facing the spectacular glare of a square foot of long ago awarded gold braid on the chest of her nasty critic. She has been blurting: “I’m being railroaded!”
It all made me think of President Andrew Johnson’s turbulent administration, back when the Senate failed to convict by only one vote, despite impeachment by the House. Maybe I’ll read up on all that—to Be Prepared! This time, maybe seriously consider finishing what we start!


Book Review of “A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey in HNN


James Comey, A HIGHER LOYALTY: TRUTH, LIES, AND LEADERSHIP (Flatiron Books, 2018, 290 pages)

Editor’s Note: Here we have a volunteer reviewer—the veteran of dozens of earlier reviews–who has kept one eye on the American Presidency off and on during his extended research and writing lifetime. Off and on, he has been charged with responsibility over organizations; that fact clearly affected him and egged him on to examining the difficult and burdened life of James Comey, FBI Director, who served three presidents. I think it likely that readers of his review here will find that this suddenly famous book (being nationally noticed) looks rather interesting in his portrayal. (Dr. Bornet served us recently with a look at the Wolfe book on President Trump, remember?)

It has been a rare experience: trying to review a book that is being featured on my TV, my computer, by my local daily newspaper’s columnists, and in comments by the old guys at the breakfast table. James Comey, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, 277 prose pages, a book with an odd and unusual jacket (jet black, with large letters top to bottom), good Index, moral tone front to back, and a feeling of built in “precision.”
As I read, and got set to write, I felt I must be performing “a public service” for our entire Land. I got to feel that the total communication media, all of it, appears to be interested in what I’m doing! And what was that, you ask? Well, here we have a candid book by the 7th Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States. Its author, on accepting that prestigious assignment, had been employed by the Department of Justice in the administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama, left the government to earn more money with several large corporations in the private sector, returned to accept the FBI directorship once held by J. Edgar Hoover for fifty years, then peered forward expectantly with a probable (almost guaranteed) 10 years of service ahead of him. I would be going along for the ride!

A book of 14 chapters and a short epilogue, free of footnotes, by no means intended to be a history of the famous Agency, Comey’s book boasts a great Index, one I examined at once to see what I was up against. Maybe it won’t telegraph too much if I say that the author, whose father was a chief of police, takes us through his boyhood dodging bullies in Yonkers (yes! “Hello Dolly”). He draws conclusions about himself from that mistreatment. (And shares his distress at the early death of one child.) His college (surprising to himself and to us) will be William and Mary in Virginia, where my step-niece went, happily, I recall.
It does appear that Comey was at one time active with his choice of religion, and that here we have one who takes seriously guidance in conduct familiar to the Boy Scouts. In writing, he stands to one side pretty often and asks inside himself if his conduct is “appropriate” and worthy of whatever task he faces at the moment. We have one who takes seriously the idea that we all have missions in life that we need to heed. We are responsible. We owe family members a good life. We will be held to account. There are responsible ways to do things….

I honestly think that this book—now so identified with our national political scene and its constant partisanship, but not through Comey’s doing—would be a very good read for a great many high schoolers. Yes. There is a surprising amount of wisdom and good advice in these pages. It’s an easy read, and this father of four writes as though his own children will be looking over his shoulder and praise or protest—maybe applaud.

I have reviewed many books for learned journals over the years and will not allow this one’s portrayal in newspapers to seem like just a spear directed at presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, or just some kind of judgment on our sitting President. There is much here. This is not primarily or even largely a political book, I have come to think. It has many little sections that treat interesting episodes in our national life. While other readers may differ, I believe it to be no political diatribe targeted at the author’s newfound enemies.

At least eight pages go to Martha Stewart’s problems (from one who knows). Her opportunity and burden was many thousands of dollars in stock, (sold short on the eve of disaster), and niceties of truth telling by our law man related to her purchase and sale of it. She got five months in prison. The reader can hardly believe she was worth so many millions at that time (and since). I, at least, wondered what if anything that prison stay did for, or to, her personal “nature.”

There is quite a section early on about the mafia. I am not one who worships The Godfather, but if I were I would love pages 20 to 28, with so many apparently insightful remarks about suit wearing leaders and followers and shall we say “gang members” in NYC and Sicily. It turns out the American mafia has been anything but idly random; there is much organization and Comey when in New York City seems to have had a front row seat.

In the Bush years there was much maneuvering related to 9/11. Another preoccupation of Comey is the propriety of various kinds of torture by our CIA (with lots of denial he had to deal with). That vice president who would have succeeded Bush (God saved us from that!), was behind the scenes in his years–a force to be reckoned with,it appears. Comey got ready to resign back then when “justice” seemed forgotten or pushed aside.

Many readers will focus interestedly on the Hillary Clinton episode of 2016, and try to second guess the choices made at the time by FBI Director Comey. Plainly, he was trying always to protect the Bureau’s good name; hers was of less interest, quite clearly. That he was a Republican may have been relevant—but it doesn’t seem so. That she was (choose a word: careless, self-serving?) in handling her vast email correspondence as Secretary of State is true; yet those dire words “Secret” and “Top Secret” can become inflated in meaning when many thousand messages are being assessed. How assess, evaluate, Comey’s decision in October to reveal truths to all of us out there? What are we to do with the assumption of ALL of us that she was bound to Win?

Donald J. Trump gets a full column in the Index, with “loyalty to” as expressed by him to the FBI leader a feature, naturally. The famous, or is it notorious, dinner they had, with Trumpian misconduct, gets 11 pages. (Most reviewers just settle in there and tell that story, followed with ample second-guessing, harsh judgment, and a lot of siding with one or the other of our face-to-face parties. People seem almost happy as they repeat snappy and even snarling long-honed hostility to Mrs. Clinton or ‘that Trump.” (And why not, with him tweeting stuff daily?)

There is nothing quite like those first person accounts of Trump in Trump Tower and Trump pulling Comey to one side in the White House! (It will be a good movie whatever the cast.) Having lived in the whole book with our new pal, James Comey, and inevitably getting concerned enroute about his wife’s morale, his efforts to uphold standards, and his assurance he will direct the FBI forthrightly for that full ten years no matter what, the reader gravitates to siding with that stalwart FBI man over that Chief Executive. At least I did; it was easy. An example: “Under the optimistic assumption that the attorney general had any control over President Trump, I then took the opportunity to implore him to prevent any future one-on-one communications between the president and me. “That can’t happen,” I said. “You are my boss. You can’t be kicked out of the room so he can talk to me alone. You have to be between me and the president…. Sessions cast his eyes down on the table [and]…said nothing.”

Next the head of the FBI observes, “I would struggle with President Trump for three more months.” Then the president called on the phone “to see how you’re doing.” He wanted “’to lift the cloud.’” Shortly after this, Comey was on the West Coast interacting with FBI subordinates, working routinely with morale as necessary. Giving a speech, he stopped in midsentence. On the back wall of the large room were projected the words “COMEY RESIGNS.” As time passed, “nobody called. Not the attorney general. Not…the deputy. Nobody.” He knew only what the media was saying. What a way to run a railroad!

The powerful FBI Director had no way to get back to Washington. He considered renting a car and driving the whole way…. (Displayed from above at the time was the same hateful treatment accorded McCabe when he was fired so his pension would be invalidated! Intimates did get Comey transportation to D.C., where a letter was idly awaiting. General John Kelly called to say it made him sick and he would quit in protest (a remark protested). It made no difference that Trump had praised his FBI Chief repeatedly and often asked him to stay. Many FBI employees were “tearful.”

I just don’t feel like retracing and dwelling on that Comey/Clinton interaction in October; it has been in the hands of commentators quite awhile. But going over the famous Trump/Comey dinner as told here should be interesting. On pages 247 to 255 we have one side’s account. Meeting in the Oval Office, these two had a memorable interchange. Bill O’Reilly is quoted to good advantage.

What do I think? I believe reading A Higher Loyalty about dedication to doing one’s job no matter what is a good reminder that those charged with real authority ought to be worrying for all of us. Its author has to choose over and over between pathways that are decidedly different. We are not compelled to grasp and admire the Comey choices in every case, but we do need to think a bit more than usual about alternative paths within his grasp.

It is right, I think, to quote James Comey’s final message, carefully phrased: “The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is and always will be independent.” Endangering those sentiments, it appears is the “vicious partisanship” we are undergoing as I write this review. The troubled author, not yet out of the woods, hopes we will find “a higher loyalty…, truth among lies, and…ethical leadership.” Let’s hope so!

This little book of worry, concern, and dedication to one’s assigned task was a good way for me to spend most of a week—mostly thinking. For a time, I felt charged with responsibility and wondered off and on what I was obligated to do next—that is, if all would be turning out well in the end. It is one of James Comey’s contributions that many in the army of readers of A Higher Loyalty will quite possibly end up feeling as I did, enroute.


“Fire and Fury”by Michael Wolff: Book Review

Editor’s note: We decided to give our elderly historian-writer, one with plenty of research and writing experience with presidents, an opportunity to offer a very quick chance to evaluate the phenomenal new book SOUND AND FURY, by Michael Wolff, a volume rooted in part on hanging around inside the White House. (You read that right!)
What he has produced, in a real hurry but with intense concentration and skills born at Emory, Georgia at Athens, and finally Stanford, plus a variety of grants and serious employments, is an essay to be read and thought about, we think. Partisanship on its subject is impossible to avoid, but we think he has “done his damnedest” to be fair to the reader on this book evaluation of a president that we all think about with wonder. (He says that to be “impartial” on the subject of the suitability of Donald J. Trump to be our President is a goal beyond mere mortals…)

As nearly as I can see, the book SOUND AND FURY by Michael Wolff (New York: Henry Holt, 2018) is the 17th book “about Donald J. Trump,” but there may soon be many more. It’s hard to believe. But Amazon claims on its book site that this man long associated with downtown NYC is “…the very definition of the American success story….” Testing, and certainly verifying, I discovered after rummaging, that gadgets or play items (whatever one might call them) entirely devoted to Trump—as figure, not necessarily as just President—come to probably about 50—but clever investigation might well uncover far more than that—especially after the monetary success of this book.
The public is making a huge deal out of the publication and then availability of the volume getting our attention here. (One would think there’s nothing else to focus on “out there.”) The Guardian proclaimed, “Michael Wolff has written a book to shake America to its foundations.” (So there! Maybe that’s so….) Variety headlines for us the Ten Most Explosive things to be found in Wolff’s pages.
I reluctantly admit that at my Oregon home the television screen has been focused on President Trump like a laser for some time now, and I see no chance of that obsession fading away, even with random tuning of news channels! (For this student of American Diplomacy, it’s disturbingly necessary! But enough. Let’s get down to producing paragraphs related to a book that will, soon enough, be the focus after the words “President Donald J. Trump” are pronounced.
At the beginning, I wondered just how Wolff got into the White House. I should have known: That Rupert Murdoch! Indeed, the author says his virtually unrestricted access but with instructions of sorts was primarily responsible for his book with its wholesale quotes, for Trump’s buddy was one who “opened every door I asked him to open.” At once, we wonder at Wolff’s clearance, if any, to wander those official corridors adjacent to cabinet members (competent or not) and scores of employees. We’re glad to have this, or really any book, that “reveals,” but I at least am very uneasy about the hallways walked by every president being bummed around daily for months by a book writer seeking to guarantee himself a fortune.
What is this astonishing book based on, rooted in; what guarantees its instant publication? The author asserts that he spent three hours “with Trump” and that he conducted “over 200 interviews.” Pretty impressive, that. But do we have to believe him? Ah. Wolff adds that as he sat on White House “sofas,” he had available to him, well, what? Chatter, I guess. Did he have a conversational lunch every day with a civil service or selected employee? If evident in the text, I at least would hesitate to deny that basic claim. As for his explosive quotations (including those perfectly awful ones with three dots) I feel I must be slow to say he has lied about the vast Trumpisms—by and about.
A mere reviewer surely doesn’t have to go in depth into the relationship between Trump as candidate and as beginning president and that scruffy Bannon fellow who is responsible for something I don’t read called Breitbart. I understand that despite major critical words of mutual contempt exchanged between them this holiday season, that man who thinks he’s primarily responsible for the Trump victory (even though totally absent as election day neared), expects good relations between the two of them to prevail again, ‘ere long. (Both seem to have a lot to gain.) It is pretty clear that Bannon is going to be featured in a spring book about himself, and somebody (absolutely not me) will have every chance to explore him in detail and contradict—or not.
No matter what the President denies, this book seems to be rooted in a bit of contact with Trump and much with a variety of others. Clearly, there were innumerable interviews, many tape recordings are said to exist–far beyond anything normally granted biographers of those previous Presidents who have tried to run this Country and the World from an address on Pennsylvania Avenue. The alert reader who has spent years in archives studying presidents (hopefully meaning me) thinks of what is customarily prerequisite: ten or twenty years elapsed after burial, ye historian gets to read tons of Presidential Library files that are finally open (denied the very best stuff); then may come some or many interviews with aides who were “there;” then comes that endless checking of the New York Times. (I removed 500 footnotes to it just to make room, when making my dissertation into a publishable book!)
There must be many errors in this type of book. And I am quite aware that historians don’t easily forgive “errors.” But a Trump aide confronted with a pretty clearly false statement, said it was, on the President’s part, just a “flourish.” Reviewing this book, though a bit time and attention consuming, has been fun. Now, if I could use that word flourish henceforth to replace “error” and “mistake” it sounds great to little old me.
This rapidly producing book author seems to claim, essentially, that he went within a few yards of where the President “worked,” talked to anybody he felt like, ate lunch with somebody who was willing, created his own tapes (remember LBJ tapes opened for us only eventually), and, bypassing the university press crowd, got a major NYC publisher to say “yes” maybe instantly. This reader believes Wolff even got to write as he pleased and told his publisher what he wanted! Think about that, fellow historians, you out there who seldom if ever write about “the present” while it’s still the present…. Well, almost never.
I’m not quite sure how important it is that the author did or didn’t get to interview President Trump as mogul, candidate, or in office occupant. At this writing, the President says not; Wolff insists. He may have been “nearby,” and his connection to Murdock opened some doors and prevented deserved an early eviction, but I personally believe there are Trump words in this book spoken exclusively to Mr. Wolff—and used by enroute permission. (When I was well along on my LBJ book, The Presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, I detoured the opportunity to interview Lady Bird, for I could easily see that she was revealing virtually nothing to those seeking “the Story” about her complex husband. Her book Lady Bird’s Dairy was long and adequate! I am saying that a motormouth like Donald said at some point, “Quite Enough, thank you,” and returned to making history without the likes of a clever, headline-alert, income expecting Wolff.
Those scathing comments by so many that the author passes on to us about the President are gems of criticism. (Usually, however, such crude language originates with “enemies,” not long friends and chosen appointees. By now, I would think, readers of this account have read them often enough. I’ll offer a few of the alleged words, then comment centrally: “idiot,” “dumb as S…,” “dope.” (More.)
Thinking about the above: I have personally worked under and around some top-flight figures in world famous places. Take it from me, on some occasion, I’m sure I privately blurted language something like that—behind their back–when not frustrated by Authority. I would HATE to have those words picked out several months or a year later, maybe) and have anybody leave the impression that epithets were my printable and overall, considered view of that superior. I must have praised those leaders often enough in public and in private; why spread worldwide the single words of scorn I used once when frustrated about something back then?
(Like most of you, I have been so very excited, gratified even, to read the Bad about this amateur leader of sorts, but, No!, I don’t think it either accurate or fair to assemble one-time words sort of out of total context and let them stand as DEFINITIVE description. Among other things, could a man so described in scut words have become rich, powerful, and President? There has to be something positive to counteract brutal negativism, really a lot, more. Right?) Here, it’s a trained historian (Me) speaking. I just have to admit, here and now however, that I say things like that about Trump almost daily! How to reconcile?
My introduction to the Sound and Fury book came by slowly reading the very long extract offered several days before publication, plus other extracts. What an easy read! How fascinating! What a collection of paragraphs designed to get national attention—and of course sell books. How the serious reader wishes he were in a position to judge whether Wolff has offered a lot of Truth. How much other Truth is missing because this non-scholar author thought it too “dull,” not “vibrant,” just “routine,” and/or revelatory of a tired, unready, President doing his job. Didn’t Donald ever work until tired, get briefed and, listening, change his mind, thank (or not bother to thank) an aide or general for educating him on “something,” tell off a relative with words like “I know better; you didn’t hear the briefing.”
Turning elsewhere, the deadline for this scathing account was, I surmise, November/early December. The time since this book was signed off on has not been kind for the deteriorating Trump image. Each day, nearly, we have the NYT and the Wall Street Journal, and later on, sharp MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell—and other worthies unnamed. I have worked long and hard on three presidents, and must say I’ve been conceding a lot to let these brilliant (but clearly Trump-hostile) reporter/authorities both entertain and inform me on one who could, almost casually, get me killed! Other sources try to own my mind, pro and con. Some like Hannity and Dobbs, I hasten to proclaim, loudly, border on absurd and silly for any watcher/listeners blessed with heavy duty educations.
Yet it is true enough that a shopping list of Changes in the economic sphere may bring additional favorable income benefits to well born and lowly alike, additionally. My limited stocks are up. Some now have unexpected jobs. Maybe some bad immigrants have been ousted. And so on. But: drilling for oil off all coasts? Kicking environmentalists in the face? Leaving the Government staffed inadequately? Appointing the clearly unqualified. And so on. The number 25,000, now bandied about, is so nice to hear; but that snow! And the inundated coastlines of the future! Enough. Mr. Wolff certainly had a gold mine of a controversial leader to write a book about….
The New Republic found some journalists who agreed they found the Wolff that was in the White House repugnant. We have a variety of remarks about other journalists, as well as chatter that helped make that “sofa” useful. So what, it seems to me. I can’t imagine him refusing the opportunity of a lifetime. A weak column by Elisabeth Drew next to all that, readable, didn’t really need the book to prepare its prose, one might say.
Publisher’s Weekly carried a review of the former Speaker’s book in June, 2017, summarizing that Dr. Gingrich viewed Trump as “an entrepreneur, pragmatist, and family man,” and a pioneering leader who can achieve the impossible. (Oh, dear.) But those editor-reviewers did find, they said, “no answers” and “little new.” There was, however, a considerable Gingrich agenda of various programs he decided to discuss rather than candidate Trump.
I’m betting that as relatively unqualified reviewers check in all over the place, once the Wolff book shows up for purchase, we are going to get a lot of prose representing Strong distaste for various “Trumps.” There will be quoting of newsy slurs against current Presidential character quoted therein. I just noted it in quantity in The Guardian.
Several things bothered me about Sound and Fury’s assembler/writer/judge. One is the plain fact that the author must have known his lucky chance to damn Trump was going to make him rich. The second is the tendency he has when interviewed to accept (apparently with little reservation) his own conversational evidence that seems stacked to document a mentally incompetent Trump, and/or indicate very indirectly that he is on the verge of becoming so. Suddenly that lucky book writer seems to view himself as competent to, yes, shoot his mouth off about a President (over his head) who is trying to perform competently in the White House and, often, overseas.
There are things to read on Trump as businessman, actor, meddler, rich man, professional groom, and father of beautiful, now grown up, children. One to be admired (that is positive throughout) is Time’s high- class paperback publication Donald Trump: 45th President of the United States (an update of magazine content) which seems to date back to his beginning time in office. (Oddly, it says on the cover, “Display until 2/17/17.”) Gee, one wishes THAT MAN became our president, (I just had to write that.) What beautiful rendering in photographs of one who, well, apparently never entirely existed. The Wolff book, naturally, got into the hands of The New Yorker’s John Cassidy so he wrote a think piece published January 4, 2018. His space goes, however, to Comey and Mueller, and Bannon and to the many evaluative negative words that are now commonly reprinted coast to coast.
Overall, we are all indebted to Michael Wolff for helping, no matter what, in Exposing the fraud and the dangerous reality that has become the Presidency of this nation as we move forward. I mean it. Every little bit of exposure helps to derail two terms. My goal, as I wrote two evaluative pieces about Trump for History News Network in 2017, six months apart, and gave up writing a third effort after two pages, was always to reveal the sad facts I was viewing. It was back then a substandard candidacy, one unsuitable. Help save my native Country! I guess I had no effect at all, for the degradation of the USA, worldwide, is now common knowledge, requiring documentation infinitely less than this book offers..
While I don’t really want to be in the position of touting this book, ostensibly to help its sales especially, I do recommend the reading of at least part—even all–of a library copy, or piecing together Internet extracts as they emerge to comprise most of the text. (Best, if it can be achieved.) This book is going to be obsolete soon enough, I surmise, for this NYC tycoon, romancer, showoff, TV clown, persuasive one, sometime leader, and Force for both good and evil (not in that order), is one that will attract historians for decades. And why not?
I have decided that my long, yet ordinary enough, review of this one of a kind book should not detour to offer various remarks about “the President’s mental fitness.” Others have picked up on this, partly because of the existence of a publication by Yale’s professor Bandy Lee, entitled The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, one full of academic’s mental health evaluation essays. Some in a good position to know have flatly denied charges about D. T.’s repeating things, changing timing of that, etcetera. (Pretty dramatic stuff, that.) Especially, we will avoid speculation about atomic buttons and the whole North Korea thing, vitally important though it certainly is. Forgive this reviewer.
When looking forward in his NPR interview publication on availability day, the author Mr. Wolff predicted the Trump Administration’s future as: “the train will hit the wall.” Part of our upset Country hopes for that; part fears that. The worst hasn’t sunk in everywhere. Among old ladies in my retirement home, I’m sorry to say, are some who approve of “President Trump” but don’t seem quite sure why. To me, it seems there is very little indifference on that oh so basic matter for those of us quite well versed on earlier presidents. With a president there is so very much to consider. That is, their caution, leadership, respect for opposition leaders, and deserved exile far away from the Oval Office.
Any readers who absolutely deplore the presidency of Donald J. Trump have in SOUND AND FURY ample ammunition to go forth and by one means or another hasten his return to Trump Tower and the high life of yesteryear lived by him and his dear ones. Scholars seeking a restful book to read, one that will just plain soothe and relax the reader, should look elsewhere. Information in this book seems to be, here and there and perhaps a bit too often, questionable.
Finally, here is a phenomenon, one unprecedented in my view, a book that will unnerve, upset, apparently inform with new information in quantity, entertain, and provide a puzzle that is likely to last, somewhat at least, for the ages.

Review of “Mrs. Kennedy and Me” by Clint Hill

Review of Clint Hill’s and Lisa McCubbin’s
“Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir”
(Gallery Books, 2012)

Published and archived on History News Network ( on July 21, 2012. Approximately 1825 words.

Yes, Virginia, other people lead lives sometimes that are amazingly different from ours!

It will do most of us in the history profession good to read the intimate details of the lives lived by Jackie Bouvier Kennedy, on the one hand, and Clint Hill, North Dakota’s contribution to the U. S. Secret Service in the early 1960s, on the other. The lives of both are embraced in close detail in Gallery Books’ 343-page book about presidential life, Mrs. Kennedy and Me. Continue reading Review of “Mrs. Kennedy and Me” by Clint Hill