PanThe New RepublicCarlos Lozada’s What Were We Thinking aspires to be an omnibus volume, a mosaic composed of the best (and worst) of the myriad books about Trump’s presidency—an \'intellectual history\' (to use Lozada’s subtitle) of the last four years. What Were We Thinking is, instead, not much more than the sum of its many quotations. A mirror image of the vast majority of the 150 books under review, it is a muddled work that aspires to reckon with this strange, bewildering period but is instead swallowed up and contorted by it. What Were We Thinking is most useful as an indication of just how thoroughly our lives have been overwhelmed by the Trump presidency—and how far we still have to go to make sense of the very recent past.
MixedThe New Republic[The] revelations in Disloyal are significant. The advance hype for the book focused primarily on its depictions of Trump’s racism ... Cohen freely admits throughout Disloyal that he idolized Trump. He portrays himself as a Mini-Me, imitating Trump as he stiffed vendors and paid off porn stars on behalf of his boss ... Cohen promises that he will provide a portrait of \'the real real Donald Trump—the man very, very, very few people know.\' Cohen’s links with Trump are indeed deeper and more intimate than those of other tell-all writers ... A great many skeletons are excavated ... Disloyal is best understood as a bildungsroman, a story of Cohen’s gradual awakening to Trump’s lawlessness and selfishness and the threat he posed to the country ... Disloyal is as unsavory a book as Michael Cohen is a character. His unseemliness explains, in part, why the revelations from the book have received considerably less attention than those in the Atlantic article ... in the upside-down world of Trump’s America, sometimes clowns have more insight than everyone else.
RaveThe New RepublicNovelists, like the rest of us, can’t look away from the Trump administration. Unfortunately, they haven’t found much interesting to say about it. Carl Hiaasen’s thriller Squeeze Me is, blessedly, an exception. While the best Trump fiction has dialed up the absurdity to speculative extremes, Hiaasen is clear-eyed: He meets the president on his subterranean level ... placing our absurd president in an equally absurd setting normalizes Trump in useful ways: He becomes a product of a distinctly American environment. Hiaasen’s own fondness for vulgarity—\'nut sack\' appears roughly once every 100 pages, a variant of “fuck” every three—diminishes the usual gap between more highbrow novelists and the president ... funny, but as with Hiaasen’s best work, it’s grounded in genuine outrage over the corruption that increasingly defines American political and cultural life. And it turns out there’s no better place to invoke that outrage than the wealthy swamps of Florida.
Mary L. Trump
MixedThe New RepublicTrump’s daddy issues are nothing new. Despite Mary’s insistence that the media has failed to cover the issues she writes about in this book, the truth is that no political figure in modern history has received more negative attention or had more obvious flaws. Mary can twist the knife in describing Trump’s insecurities—describing him as someone who \'knows he has never been loved\'—but this is not a book that will likely change anyone’s mind about the character of the president ... The revelations in Too Much and Never Enough may not change our picture of the president much, but they’ve certainly unnerved him and his siblings. That counts for something.
MixedThe New RepublicWolff, aided by conversations with Steve Bannon, is sometimes a skilled analyst of Trump’s behavior ... But Wolff, despite his honeybadger-don’t-care swagger, also has a penchant for laziness. For instance, he credulously accepts Bannon’s self portrait as a puppetmaster of the global right and, most absurdly, a plausible presidential candidate. In other areas, Siege parrots dumb political narratives ... What is regarded as truth—as opposed to what is true—is what Wolff is really interested in. Siege is notable less for its analysis of Trump than for the sheer number of gossipy anecdotes it contains, ranging from the plausible to the dubious ... Forced into the political wilderness, much of Siege feels like a relevance play—Bannon using Wolff to cast himself as Trump’s pied piper ... much of the \'new\' news in Siege is just a PG-13 version of anecdotes that have already appeared in the Times—or on Trump’s own Twitter feed.
RaveFull StopShteyngart’s vision of America is chilling and hilarious, often at the same time—it is a pitch-perfect satire and grotesque exaggeration of our obsession with technology as well as just about everything that’s currently going wrong in America ... Shteyngart also shows that connection to be too often superficial: while we are able to communicate with and rank others with greater and greater precision and ease, we lose our ability to communicate ourselves with precision and empathy. Language is replaced with statistics, memes, abbreviation. In this sense, Shteyngart is an heir to Vonnegut, a humanist, an expert in the mash-up of the popular and the postmodern, the prophet as Lenny Bruce, riffing in the wilderness of the digital age. And, of \'young\' American novelists, Shteyngart is Saul Bellow’s closest relative: the guardian of both the immigrant novel and the American novel, a writer of prose as moving and precise as any currently being written ... refuses to submit to easy cynicism on the subject of love, or allow it to seem frivolous in comparison to national and geopolitical crises. In this novel, as in life, there is nothing stranger, sadder, truer.
PanThe New RepublicSchultz argues that America’s political instability is driven by the government’s lack of fiscal discipline (just as his family’s instability was driven by his spendthrift father). What the country needs, then, is the same approach that made him rich: to pull itself up by the bootstraps, and tighten its belt. But Schultz has taken the wrong lessons from his childhood. If anything, From the Ground Up is an argument for the government to do more, not less, to help its most vulnerable people—exactly the argument being made by the Democrats whom Schultz has spent the past week mocking ... Looking back at his childhood, Schultz doesn’t see missing social programs that could have helped unskilled laborers like his father; he sees missing companies like Starbucks that could have given him an identity ... Schultz’s perspective of his childhood is hopelessly clouded by his subsequent professional success and extravagant wealth.
James B Comey
MixedThe New Republic\"Without a doubt, A Higher Loyalty gives greater credibility to the idea that Trump obstructed justice when he fired Comey, bolstering one of the possible planks in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. But Comey’s own credibility has undergone some damage in the process, and it’s unclear whether the book and its accompanying media blitz have moved the needle of public opinion in his favor ... Perhaps the most unsatisfactory aspect of Comey’s book, from the perspective of the left, is his explanation for this poor, ill-timed [Clinton emails] decision; but it’s telling that Republicans are so interested in one form of election meddling but not another ... But with no new information, Comey’s book may end up entrenching the two narratives surrounding his firing into a familiar pattern of gridlock.\
PositiveThe New RepublicGrant is a stirring defense of an underrated general and unfairly maligned president. Its great contribution to the popular understanding of the Civil War and its aftermath is to expose the roots of the longstanding bias against Grant: White southerners and their allies wanted to portray Reconstruction as a tragic folly, rather than a radical and unfinished revolution. To be sure, a sympathetic treatment was to be expected: Chernow is enormously defensive of his subjects … Grant’s real strength: its treatment of Reconstruction. It is portrayed as a continuation of the divisions that led to the Civil War, rather than a grace note, a national embarrassment, or a well-intentioned failure … Chernow has given us a rare kind of popular history: one that forces readers to confront hard truths, not just revel in America’s all too fleeting triumphs.
PositiveThe New RepublicLitt’s memoir is structured as a collection of speeches, with each chapter built on a central anecdote or metaphor...It’s a clever meta-schtick, and he gets away with it because of the book’s greatest strength: its detailed and entertaining look at how presidential speeches are written. But it also means that each chapter is dependent on the strength of its anecdotes. When they work, it’s a limber, funny and illuminating book. This is especially true near the end, when Litt reckons with the importance of public service, his boss’s legacy, and feeling like an old man in a young White House. (He’s 30 years old.) When they don’t, Litt’s overeager style can grate, giving the book the feel of a 300-page Shouts & Murmurs article.
PanThe New RepublicFlake’s book sacrifices an actual philosophy of conservatism for a sentimental and often disingenuous plea to make America decent again ... At its best, Conscience of a Conservative is both solemn and fiery, an excoriation of Flake’s own party and president. He describes his party’s embrace of Trump as a 'Faustian bargain' that 'wasn’t worth it,' because Republicans deluded themselves about Trump’s true nature ... But what the reader may not know about Jeff Flake, and which he certainly doesn’t reveal in his short book, is that he has voted with Donald Trump 95 percent of the time ... Flake’s conservatism is mostly a mix of worn cliches about self-reliance (learned, as they so often are, on a rugged Arizona ranch) and freedom ... There is no serious diagnosis of the historical trends that led to the Republican Party becoming a vehicle for corporate libertarian extremists like the Koch Brothers ... As far as words go, Conscience of a Conservative is as good a takedown of Donald Trump as has been written by a conservative. But words aren’t what matter now.
PositiveThe New RepublicThe spotlight may be on Bannon, but Devil’s Bargain is really about how a bunch of sinister Bannon-esque forces aligned not just to win Trump the presidency, but to ensure that Hillary Clinton lost it ... There are reasons to doubt that Bannon’s role was as central as Green sometimes makes it—Michael Flynn was leading 'lock her up chants' at the Republican National Convention a month before Bannon took over the campaign—but the most salient takeaway from Devil’s Bargain is that Trump didn’t build that. It was fortuitous alliances with dark figures like Bannon and the Mercers, and decades of anti-Clinton work, that ultimately paved the road to victory.
RaveThe New RepublicAl Franken’s political memoir does what so many outsider politicians have failed to do: It demystifies politics while making a surprisingly strong—and surprisingly moving—case on behalf of political engagement. Partly masquerading as a satire of the political memoir (easily the worst genre publishing has to offer), it’s a clear-eyed look at how things work in Washington and, most importantly, how frustrating it is when they don’t. It’s also funny, the surest sign that Franken may actually be a regular person ... Franken’s first campaign is fascinating. It’s about the incredible indignities of running for office, which are only tempered by the connections he makes with voters and the dedicated staffers who work to get him elected ... Franken’s treatment of Ted Cruz, which has already been much-discussed online, is a truly great addition to the ever-growing body of literature about how much Ted Cruz sucks.