PositiveThe Financial TimesBarack Obama’s presidential memoir can be split into two narrative styles. The first chronicles his almost cinematic life story up to his January 2009 inauguration. The rest is devoted to the first two and a half years of his presidency. Though they are in the same memoir they read at times like different books ... Once he reaches the White House, however, Obama’s storytelling arc hits a plateau. Some of the life drains from the writing ... . Obama offers the truth and nothing but the truth. But his account of the White House years stops consistently short of the whole truth ... The enduring theme of A Promised Land is Obama’s inner monologue — the continual self-questioning of motives that leaves the impression of profound ambivalence ... Having self-schooled in the political need to avoid showing anger, even when he was the target of overt racism, Obama finds the habit has been learned too well. His ability to put himself in other people’s shoes — even those treating him with open contempt — is admirable ... Obama’s deficiency is that he is too reasonable, almost to the point of detachment.
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Osnos, who has been writing about Biden for years for The New Yorker, believes he could be more radical in office than people who have tracked his career might believe ... As Osnos shows in his beautifully written short volume, coronavirus has opened up a vast new political space for action. Osnos compares the conditions of Biden’s ascent to Franklin Delano Roosevelt inheriting the Great Depression.
Mary L. Trump
PositiveFinancial Times (UK)Mary Trump’s memoir is a modern-day Bleak House. Yet even in the darkest of Dickens novels, no family comes across quite as mendacious, grasping and avaricious as the Trumps. At times the reader will feel sorry for the young Donald. Who among us could cope with an upbringing like that? Then you remember that he inherited $413m and calls himself self-made.
MixedThe Financial Times...In a book that omits many credible expressions of self-doubt – and which therefore largely fails to shed much self-knowledge – such intimate disclosures come across as unearned and excessively stylised ... It is hard not to admire the sheer virtuosity of his prose, yet it is rare to mistake it for wisdom or good judgment ... From one certainty to the next, he has leapt across the stepping stones of life, only rarely dipping a toe into the murky waters of doubt. Hitch-22 has its redeeming qualities – perhaps most vividly in Hitchens’ telling of his mother’s quiet determination to turn him into an English gentleman. Yet the book mostly fails to accentuate whatever redeeming qualities its author has.
PositiveThe Financial TimesIt is a misfortune of Bob Woodward’s timing that his book is packed with shocking material that by this point fails to shock. Woodward’s advantage is his brand ... Woodward’s other advantage is his method. He persuades insiders to talk to him out of fear that other insiders will shape the narrative to their disadvantage. It is a tried and tested method. Those who refuse to co-operate tend to come off worse ... Fear does enrich our view of Trump, even if it does not change it. The sheer weight of anecdote depicts a man with no empathy and a pathological capacity to lie ... It is something of a feat that Woodward’s Trump is even more narcissistic than we might have already thought.
PositiveThe Financial Times\"Chozick, whose prose can be as lethal as that of Maureen Dowd, her newspaper’s most Clintonphobic columnist, generated oceans of anguish. The relationship between the Clintons and America’s leading newspaper was \'weighed down by old grudges and fresh grievances,\' writes Chozick ... it is Chelsea Clinton who fares worst in Chasing Hillary. Chozick writes that the former first daughter was so demanding that even her mother’s staff spoke ill of her ... Perhaps we should see it now as a funeral for how politics used to be done. Almost nobody, including Chozick, saw it coming. But her book captures the horrors of the journey. It is worth its price in stilettoed prose. Her future as a writer is strawberry-coloured.\
James B Comey
MixedThe Financial TimesTruth is always stronger than lies. Principle always trumps power. That is how Comey wants to be remembered ... A Higher Loyalty will be seen in one of two ways: as one more nail in Trump’s coffin; or as another aggrieved member of the deep state taking revenge on his former boss. America may be too polarised to take Comey’s message for what it is — an urgent clarion call from a flawed messenger. It has often been said that Winston Churchill got everything wrong except the one thing that mattered — the threat of Nazi Germany. In that sense, Comey is Churchill’s mirror image. He got everything right except the one thing that counted — Donald Trump.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
RaveThe Financial TimesWhere does it go from here? The great strength of Levitsky and Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die is that it rejects the exceptionalist account of US democracy. Their lens is comparative. The authors say America is not immune to the trends that have led to democracy’s collapse in other parts of the world ... They set out four tests for whether a democracy is in danger. Trump fulfils them all. The first is when an elected leader rejects the democratic rules of the game. Trump more than meets this test ... As these authors diligently show, and Frum eloquently argues, democracy is based on norms rather than rules. The system is only as good as the people who uphold it.
E.J. Dionne Jr. & Norman J. Ornstein & Thomas E. Mann
PositiveThe Financial TimesIt is because things look so bleak that they feel moved to offer their own vision — ‘a hopeful and unifying alternative to his [Mr Trump’s] dark and divisive assessment of our country’s prospects.’ They succeed up to a point. The book starts with a by now familiar tale of how we arrived here. Mr Trump neither invented the fake news genre, nor the habit of finding conspiracies behind every rock. He just took it to another level. The establishment has always been out to get us … Can America take back control of its politics (to borrow a phrase)? The authors pray the answer is yes. It is hard to dispute what they recommend … At times, it feels they are offering an Asterix-like magic potion. They are not cramped by realism. But nor are they blinded by idealism. Their sense of possibility offers a refreshing and very American contrast to today’s dystopia.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
PositiveThe Financial Times...there is an element that was glaringly absent from her last two books: it is a compelling read. To anyone who waded through the formulaic prose of Living History (2003) or Hard Choices (2014), this may come as a shock. Having curated her image for so long, Clinton has finally given vent to her feelings ... Clinton still does not grasp the extent of her campaign’s shortcomings. Even her friends complained that it was devoid of spark. Her book offers much evidence of the spark and biting sarcasm she so carefully excised from her public appearances. Her prose is often acute. Marrying Bill was like 'hitching a ride on a comet.' Putin is a 'former KGB spy with a taste for over-the-top macho theatrics and baroque violence.' The media’s lack of curiosity about Trump officials’ use of private email is 'almost as if they never really cared about the proper maintenance of government records or the finer points of retroactive classification.' There is plenty of humour in What Happened. There is also pathos. 'What makes me such a lightning rod for people’s fury?' Clinton asks. 'I’m really asking. I’m at a loss.' That, too, is a question to which there is no cathartic answer.
PositiveThe Financial TimesOne of the virtues of Green’s book is that he allows Bannon to tell much of the story himself through extensive interviews ... were Bannon’s insights the elixir for Trump’s victory? It is hard for Green to prove his case beyond doubt. But he reminds us that the last three weeks of Trump’s campaign were undiluted Bannon. It followed the leak of the notorious Access Hollywood tape where Trump talked of grabbing women 'by the pussy.' After that, Trump went full Kali Yuga. He talked of dark plots against America and global banking conspiracies. It hardly matters whether these borderline anti-Semitic rants tipped Trump over the finishing line. The point is that they did not kill his campaign — as they should have. For that, and much else, history will credit Bannon.
RaveThe Financial TimesTyler Cowen is not the first observer to spot the digital world’s spirit of conformism — and he will not be the last. But he is among the most incisive ... One of Cowen’s strengths is his willingness to look beyond economics. Cowen is a polymath, who writes as passionately about ethnic food and foreign movies as he does about patent applications or labour market trends. He does not wait for the data before offering an opinion. That is what makes Cowen’s books so readable. But it also gives fellow academics an excuse to downplay what he is arguing. Much of Cowen’s latest thesis is highly speculative ... Cowen does a marvellous job of turning his Tocquevillian eye to today’s America. His book is captivating precisely because it roves beyond the confines of his discipline. In Cowen’s world, the future is not what it used to be. Let us hope he is wrong. The less complacent we are, the likelier we are to disprove him.
RaveThe Financial TimesDonald Trump’s name appears nowhere in this book. Yet what he stands for — a proud, know-nothing middle finger at the urban elites — haunts these pages. These are Vance’s people. He loves them. He is also deeply ashamed ... Vance holds up a painfully honest mirror to America that offers no succour to left or right. Every group is a victim. No one is taking ownership. Others are always to blame.