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Bob Woodward (with Robert Costa) gives readers his third and final book about the Trump Presidency. As with all of these books, there are many surprising, sometimes shocking, revelations based on interviews with DC insiders. This book begins with an eye opening flashforward, describing how General Milley (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) on Jan 8, 2021 tried to assure Chinese officials that Trump was not going to launch an attack against them. Nancy Pelosi and others had talked to Milley about their concerns that Trump was dangerously unstable mentally. The first third of the book, however, focuses on the last year of Trump's Presidency, as well as Joe Biden's campaign for the Democratic nomination and later his race against Trump. I found this part of the book rather superficial, but Woodward does at times provide yet more disturbing evidence of Trump's erratic behavior. For example, Trump tries to bully the FDA Director to rush approval of a COVID vaccine regardless of the safety risks. The second part of the book I found the most interesting, as Woodward describes in detail Trump's relentless and insidious efforts to overturn the election results. Perhaps this was predictable, but it is shocking to read about the numerous Republicans who supported Trump's attempt to undermine the Constitution. Even more shocking is how close they came, much closer than I suspect most Americans realize. The last part of the book covers Biden's initial six months of his Presidency, especially his efforts to combat COVID, pass a relief funding bill through Congress, and withdraw from Afghanistan. Overall, I found this book to be often fascinating reading, even though I think that the authors tried to cover too much ground. It is unfortunate that some readers (and reviewers) see this book as a partisan attack on Trump. The primary message of this book for me concerns the dangerous future US society faces when those in power create a cascade of lies in order to undermine elections, the cornerstone of democracy.
I have followed US affairs closely for over 40 years, so the book's big picture held no surprises. On the other hand, the personality driven daily events detailed are pretty volatile. Presented in a well laid out chronology it was/is amazing Trump was able to collect so many bad and poisoned apples so quickly in a single term administration. I suspect a second term Trump administration would have ultimately ended in "executive action" and after that it's April 1861 all over again.
Bob Woodward’s latest book Peril seemed to have been sold on the idea that the transition period between President Trump and President Biden was some unique event unparallel in American history complete with military leadership talking to their counterparts in other countries and declaring that we have plans in the event somebody tries to block the transition of power. But in actually sitting down to read Peril is there really anything that remarkable in those two things? I assume we always have plans for such contingencies and the military leadership of two nations talking seems pretty standard.
The unique transition thesis is on much better ground when one factors in how public President Trump and his allies were about the election being stolen and the storming of the US Capitol. The pages of Peril covering that event were some of the hardest reading of the entire book suggesting that perhaps it’s still a raw moment for myself and perhaps other Americans? But maybe there’s also a level of Trump fatigue that has also set in which renders much of the books contents, which would be shocking if it was any other president, just another Tuesday in the Trump White House?
Peril also doesn’t just cover the transition, but President Biden’s decision to run, elements of the Democratic primary and the early days of the Biden presidency. So in this way, I might call it Transition ++. It’s certainly a well-written book as most of Woodward’s are, but I’m not seeing the bombshells that many others did.
Much has already been written already and will avoid adding more verbiage. General Milley is the main character - if one can avoid calling former-POTUS Trump - because the focus is on how General Milley views most of the events in and around the White House during the final year of Trump presidency and transitional months into Biden administration.
Everyone has focused on his discussion and assurances of security regarding POTUS ability to gain access to the nuclear codes, fearing the possibility of starting a war, for POTUS Trump to hope to remain in office - and the phone conversation with Chinese counterpart, Gen. Li. While a valid discussion and weighty in the book, there is much more to Woodward & Costa's book.
All the "bad boys" of the period are here too: Kash Patel, Christopher Miller, and Mark Meadows - and all their glowing support for POTUS Trump in those days before and after November's election - if that is your interest. But, the book is not a "tell all" by any means. The author's background's insure that this remained a measured, factual-focused attempt to cover the main, most critical events of the contentious period. In this regard, the authors have done a fine job. A worthy read.
Bob Woodward books to me are like big bags of potato chips. I can't resist them, I can finish them off in a few sittings, they're satisfying in the moment, and once opened, they have a short shelf life so are better enjoyed while fresh - you can't pull them off your shelf in a year or two and expect them to be anywhere near as good.
As a result, I avoid buying potato chips altogether, otherwise I will binge on them. I lack such self control when it comes to Bob Woodward books.
Fear and Rage took us inside the Trump presidency as it was happening. "Peril" invites us to look back at the administration's waning days and the beginning of the Biden administration. It seems a little early to want to relive this in book form - didn’t all of this just happen? The past year-plus has already been news overload, with the pandemic, the election and the insurrection, so if you’ve been paying any attention, much of what’s recounted here will be familiar.
But there are plenty of unique nuggets, most of which have already been revealed in pre-publication news articles about the book - such as Gen. Mark Milley’s efforts to prevent Trump from instigating a “Wag the Dog” style armed conflict, the John Eastman “coup memo,” Mike Pence’s call to Dan Quayle for advice, and so on. Reading these spoilers in advance blunts their impact when read in the context of the book, but it shouldn’t detract from the impressiveness of the reporting that uncovered them.
The rest of the book is vintage Woodward, in that it takes you inside the rooms where conversations were happening, allowing you to relive now-familiar events with a different, fly-on-the-wall perspective. Even though you know what happened next and how it all turned out in the end, it’s still an engrossing read.
Woodward's co-writing partnership with Robert Costa seemingly helped get this book out just a year after the previous one, cutting in half the two-year interval between the first two books. But the dual authorship never shows any seams, so it still reads like a Woodward book. The narrative goes back and forth between Trump and Biden - the chapters on Trump are both surprising and entirely unsurprising at this point, while the chapters on Biden mostly read like a straightforward recounting of well-reported events. About ¾ of the way through, the book loses some steam as the story progresses to Biden’s first few months in office, and wonkish discussions of the efforts to get his coronavirus relief package through Congress.
As is Woodward’s style, all interviews for the book were conducted on background, so it’s left to the reader to deduce who spoke with the authors. But it’s not at all difficult to figure out. The problem is that you end up with a lot of stories designed to make the teller look good. Bill Barr, for example, comes across looking like a principled, irreproachable, calming influence in the chaotic final days of the Trump administration - according, apparently, to Bill Barr. And Lindsey Graham never comes across quite so good as when Lindsey Graham is telling the story.
It will be decades before the events of this past year or so can be properly analyzed as history. If you just can’t wait, this book - which neatly concludes the trilogy in its final few sentences - will serve its purpose as the first draft of that history. And it will undoubtedly prove useful for future authors and historians to build upon. It’s not something I’m likely to pull off the shelf in a year or two or three to reread, but like that bag of chips I just can’t resist - it may not provide lasting nutritional value, but it sure tasted good.
As with most books of this nature, most of the really interesting bits are revealed by the authors as they hit the TV book promotion circuit. Bob Woodward's previous two books about the former administration were pretty disappointing in writing and organization. I thought that was why he brought Robert Costa on board, to lift this last of the trilogy to a standard I remember when he wrote with Carl Bernstein. I respect Costa's work at WaPo and his gig on Washington Week on PBS. But I didn't see much of an improvement. There is clearer organization, which seems to keep returning to the thoughts and actions of General Milley as an anchor. Also, the book is called Peril, but the peril to democracy and the country isn't all that clear after the events of January 6. I still give the book 4 stars because there *is* a lot of information here, and if you haven't read any books like this (and the first two - Fear and Rage), it is very eye-opening.
The book doesn't read as well as the prior tRump books but three voices are represented and it reads like it. Sometimes disjointed and frequently factually repetitive. Barr had to collaborate on this book because the detail of one on one conversations between Barr and 45 are quoted and tRump did not sit for interviews. Content wise, I wasn't surprised but shocked at the complete lack of character of the whole crew: Agent Orange (aka tRump), Barr, Lindsay the psychopath, and spineless Mike Pence. This is the real ME generation.