Disclaimer: I don’t know what the political boundaries are for this website, i.e. what’s appropriate to talk about and what’s not. I’m a bleeding heart liberal who makes other bleeding heart liberals look like Birchers. I also bear the scars of many a social media fight over politics and have no desire to reopen wounds here. So I’ll be reviewing the quality of this book and what Woodward is saying in its context. Please do not take this as support of an administration I find repugnant, nor an invitation to an argument I will not entertain.
Bob Woodward is most famously known for being one half of the duo that broke the series of Watergate stories for The Washington Post, the bulk of which eventually torpedoed the presidency of Richard Nixon. Since then, he’s been coasting off his reputation by being what some refer to as a “palace journo”, one who thrives on access instead of investigatory measures.
Woodward uses his rep to get people to trust him and thus is able to give first person accounts of events that have happened, perhaps with some behind-the-scenes tales that we don’t all get.
Which is to say that’s exactly what Fear is: filling in conversations around events that have already happened while also letting the reader take a peak behind the curtain.
Part of Woodward’s problem is unlike his predecessors, the Trump Administration leaks stories like their job requires them to talk to reporters off-the-record. So we already know much of what has happened. Woodward’s goal is to talk about the hows and whys. Therefore, there’s not a lot of new material in here that the reader doesn’t know, aside from the dialogue as to how it went down.
Two of the books big revelations, ones that in my opinion make it worth reading, are Trump’s behavior towards North Korea (we were closer to nuclear war than even we realized) and the actions of his aides to take important documents from him in order to avoid catastrophe in the hopes that he would forget about them later (he often did). Everything else is mostly noise, although the Lindsay Graham scenes are hilarious for reasons I don’t want to spoil (yes, this is non-fiction but you will thank me later). There’s also a revealing conversation between John Dowd, Trump’s then-attorney, and Robert Mueller which left me baffled as to the intentions of both sides more than anything.
The book’s structure is almost non-existent. Woodward lurches from scene-to-scene with no narrative. This happened then, here were the principles, here’s what was said, here was the impact, next scene. It’s kind of sloppy and it doesn’t make for the most compelling read. Woodward prides himself on being an umpire calling balls and strikes so while there are horrible moments of racism and misogyny, he’s not going to editorialize, letting the reader do it for him.
If you’ve read Michael Wolff’s Fire And Fury, think of Fear as a more competently-written companion piece with an extended focus on trade and national security. It’s not a good book on its merits but it is worth reading if you want to learn more about how the Trump Administration functions.