The book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff is the biggest literary sensation in a long time, making headlines since it was leaked earlier this week. President Trump’s lawyers tried to block its publication; in response, publisher Henry Holt decided to publish “Fire and Fury” four days early. It officially hit shelves today.
There are many questions about the book, not the least of which is how much is verifiably true. But it seems to me the simplest question is: Should I read it?
Below, I try to guide you to the answer, after spending a few short hours with the ebook.
Do you follow Donald Trump on Twitter?
If you have been reading Donald Trump’s tweets, you know that he is inclined to make loaded pronouncements with questionable grammar. So it will come as no surprise that, as Wolff describes it, Trump sees policy briefs as homework to be avoided, and that his White House agenda is driven more by personality than consideration of the issues — and you’ll probably be fascinated. Whether you follow Trump on Twitter out of devotion or outrage, the answer is simple: Yes, read it.
Do you like “Empire,” “Dallas” or “All My Children”?
There is definitely a soap-opera element to “Fire and Fury.” Wolff lays out the conflicts between Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus as each tries to be the power behind the Trump White House. Admittedly, this is Beltway drama, so there are no great songs or evil twins, but there is manipulation and betrayal. This would be the case for any White House but more so in this one — portrayed as being unmoored from ideology and policy and driven by the whims of its malleable leader. Does that sound fun to you? Then yes, read it.
Does this passage make your blood pressure rise dangerously?
“Nearly all meetings in the Oval with the president were invariably surrounded and interrupted by a long list of retainers — indeed, everybody strove to be in every meeting. Furtive people skulked around without clear purpose: Bannon invariably found some reason to study papers in the corner and then to have a last word; Priebus kept his eye on Bannon; Kushner kept constant tabs on the whereabouts of the others. Trump liked to keep Hicks, Conway, and, often, his old Apprentice sidekick Omarosa Manigault — now with a confounding White House title — in constant hovering presence. As always, Trump wanted an eager audience, encouraging as many people as possible to make as many attempts as possible to be as close to him as possible.”
If that upsets you — if, say, you have an abiding sense that running the country is a serious business that should be undertaken with humility and duty — then this book will not be good for your health. No, don’t read it.
Did you vote for Hillary Clinton?
If you voted for Hillary Clinton, chances are this book will reinforce what you concluded about Donald Trump during the campaign. It intimates that he wasn’t prepared for the White House, portraying key staffers, family and even himself as not expecting to win. Once the presidency was his, chaos ensued. Some Clinton fans will take a painful pleasure in seeing just how right they were; others will not be able to bear it. Should you read it? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Are you Gretchen Carlson?
In the opening pages, Wolff recounts a private dinner that took place during the transition at which Roger Ailes and Steve Bannon share thoughts about Trump. Wolff describes Ailes as being dismissed from Fox News after being “accused of sexual harassment … in a move engineered by the liberal sons” of Rupert Murdoch and that Trump “hardly three months later, accused of vastly more louche and abusive behavior, was elected president.” The contrast, especially to the women who accused Ailes of sexual harassment, may seem inaccurate and flip. Do not read.
Do you adore “Real Housewives” or “The Bachelor”?
Who can’t resist a good drunken argument, burst of tears or table flip? Wolff, after a long stint at Vanity Fair where he was known for spilling secrets many in New York media preferred to keep quiet, would seem to be the right guy to get and share the juiciest stories of the Trump White House. Sadly, though, the book is not as gossipy as you might hope. I read most of the chapter on Jared and Ivanka (titled “Jarvanka”) and while we briefly eavesdrop on Ivanka at a breakfast meeting at the Four Seasons, the book is lacking nasty moments (except in the words of one aide talking about another) and doesn’t have as the outrageous drama of reality TV. Do not read.
Did you vote for Donald Trump?
If you voted for Donald Trump, this book will probably entertain you. It’s not surprising, after all, that the man who came from outside Washington DC refuses to do things the way Washington typically does. The infighting between his chief aides is also nothing new — it’s just shown in close-up. Trump is not portrayed flatteringly, but Wolff isn’t attempting to criticize his modes of management and governance — just to share them. If you voted for Trump, yes, read it.
Do you like reading?
Perhaps I’m reading between the lines, but at some points Wolff appears to be exasperated with Trump’s resistance to reading. Writing, after all, is Wolff’s livelihood, so why shouldn’t he be slightly annoyed that the president decided to add more TV screens to his White House bedroom rather than, say, settle down to read a briefing folder or even a good book once in a while? “Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate,” Wolff writes. If you like reading, you can enjoy the process of reading this book, but the subject may get under your skin. But heck, you’re a reader. So yes, read it.