Following a bewildering year for the American political establishment, due to the advent the Trump administration, critics and citizenry alike faced the monumental task of piecing together the scattered and often non-sensical nature of the current U.S presidency. Michael Wolff attempts to provide some form of political explanation and insight within his newest book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump Whitehouse. Taking its title from Trump’s comments on possible retaliation against a North Korean nuclear attack, this ‘tell-all’ book provides a scathing portrayal of the actions and thought-processes behind all the major political events, within the jarring timeline of the initial Trump year. Wolff discusses Trump’s fractured relations with his wider staff, his family, and most controversially, with ex-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Since its release and condemnation by the Trump administration, 1.4 million orders were placed by readers all over the world, and it reached number one on The New York Times bestsellers list.
Initially, I purchased the book hoping for a structured political analysis, supported by a framework of well-researched evidence to back it up, however I was left (for the most-part) disappointed. Wolff begins his work, by stating a word of caution, “many of the accounts of what has happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with one another; many, in Trumpian fashion, are baldly untrue. Those conflicts, and that looseness with the truth, if not with reality itself, are an elemental thread of the book.” I find this type of journalistic manor used throughout to be very problematic, as it subtracts from the validity of his quite bold and often humorous accounts. This “looseness with the truth”, is a major flaw of his book. Wolff definitely should have attempted to overcome this problem, by (in journalistic fashion) digging deeper, and not becoming “settled on a version of events I believe to be true.”
The structure of the book also provides certain problematic elements. To its benefit, I like that each chapter deals with a new event/issue, as it allows the relatively uninformed reader to create a chronological narrative in their mind whilst reading. Wolff’s segment on the motivations behind Trump’s presidential campaign, also provides decent explanations for what Trump sought to gain from the presidential race, and is a stand out portion of the book. However, to its detriment Wolff employs a trope-ridden, fictionalised style. He often presents himself as semi-omnipresent narrator who discusses political actors as if he was developing fictional characters. This style only leads to confuse readers, who aim to differentiate between the perspective of the narrator, or that of Wolff’s almost 200 strong group of “unnamed” sources. This fictionalised style may beneficially highlight the absurdity of Trumpian politics for some, yet it does not provide much necessary evidential political analysis.
Finally, I would advise those who have never held much interest in current events, to pick this book up, as it provides an introduction to the strange world of American politics, and partially illuminates the administration that we only see on T.V. For those who seek, more in-depth analysis and evidential based political writing on U.S political institutions, than I would stick to writers like Noam Chomsky. In review, this book must be taken with a dash of salt, but most importantly it may provide inspiration for other journalists and political writers to develop greater findings on the Trump administration, and Wolff’s work will provide the basis for this inspiration in years to come.
Aaron Collier – Features Writer