At a moment when feverish talk of presidential impeachment dominates the political discourse, Fear is full of Nixonian echoes ... Fear is an important book, not only because it raises serious questions about the president’s basic fitness for the office but also because of who the author is...His utter devotion to 'just the facts' digging and his compulsively thorough interviews, preserved on tape for this book, make him a reliable narrator. In an age of 'alternative facts' and corrosive tweets about “fake news,” Woodward is truth’s gold standard ... these days Woodward’s flat, reportorial tone seems like the perfect antidote to the adversarial roar on Fox or Twitter. The authority of dogged reporting, utterly denuded of opinion, gives the book its credibility.
Fear depicts a White House awash in dysfunction, where Lord of the Flies is the closest thing to an owner’s manual. Woodward is not describing the usual flavors of palace intrigue that come with the turf ... Woodward’s Fear is big on facts and short on hyperventilation. It is not Fire and Fury redux or Omarosa 2.0. Rather, it is a sober account of how we reached this vertiginous point. Woodward’s words are quotidian but the story he tells is chilling. Like Trump himself, the characters that populate Woodward’s narrative are Runyonesque and foul-mouthed.
Woodward is a fantastic fact-finder who cannot and will not analyze the facts he finds ... And since he refrains from judging what his sources say, he runs the risk of becoming their prisoner, and, at worst, a stenographer to power ... Here he serves his readers almost as well as his sources until, in the end, he doesn’t ... It can test the reader’s faith in humanity to see otherwise unprincipled men depict themselves as defenders of democracy. They want to be seen as unsung heroes, but there are no heroes here ... Fear suffers from Woodward’s deference to his sources and his disrespect for Mueller. I guess that’s because he couldn’t get him to talk. The man leading the most politically charged federal investigation since Watergate is the missing element of this book. An appreciation of the breadth and depth of the special counsel’s work would have given it a counterpoint to the cacophony of crazytown. Instead, Woodward lets [Trump’s lawyer John] Dowd serve as a ventriloquist’s dummy for his own apparent antipathy toward Mueller. We are told without comment that Dowd thought Mueller had no important witnesses against Trump from inside the White House ... No known basis exists for these assertions. Woodward is wrong to accept them at face value ... We have bought the ticket for a frightening roller-coaster ride through the first fourteen months of an appalling administration, but when the ride is over we are back where we began—and we don’t fully understand where we’ve been or what we’ve seen. And that’s because, in the end, this book, like its subject, has power but lacks a moral compass.
It’s not just that Woodward’s self-consciously Serious approach to Serious People sputters and short-circuits when confronted with the ludicrously Unserious figure of Donald Trump himself ... Fear showcases Woodward in his most abject and pathetic role as what Christopher Hitchens, who also saw him for what he was, called a 'stenographer to power' ... Fear is to Woodward’s previous oeuvre of political pornography what Fifty Shades of Grey is to Twilight: vampiric fan-fiction repackaged as middlebrow smut ... Woodward proceeds with a halting, ponderous seriousness ... Woodward has never been a very good writer, but his literary failures have never been more apparent than in Fear, where the mismatch between the prose and the protagonists is almost avant-garde. Many sentences are overwrought to the point of being nonsensical ... The abundance of such mediocre writing poses more than merely aesthetic problems. Throughout the book, Woodward does not clearly or consistently distinguish between when he is quoting people, paraphrasing them, or editorializing ... It’s hard to decide what’s worse about this dialogue—its complete implausibility or its cheesiness, which would get its author banned from a fan fiction message board ... If the 'insider’s inside story' promised by Woodward’s earlier presidential books had any value, it was strictly as a response to scarcity: before social media ... But now everything is predigested, and what’s missing is precisely what Fear lacks: deep historical context, narratives that place the human costs of Trump’s actions above his rhetoric ... For now, all we have are the books we don’t need.
Nothing in Bob Woodward’s sober and grainy new book is especially surprising. This is a White House that has leaked from Day 1. We knew things were bad. Woodward is here, like a state trooper knocking on the door at 3 a.m., to update the sorry details ... Fear is a typical Woodward book in that named sources for scenes, thoughts and quotations appear only sometimes. Woodward has never been a graceful writer, but the prose here is unusually wooden. It’s as if he wants to make a statement that, at this historical juncture, simple factual pine-board competence should suffice ... If this book has a single point to drive home, it is that the president of the United States is a congenital liar. I wish Fear had other points to make. I wanted more context, more passion, a bit of irony and certainly more simple history. Surely Woodward, of all people, has worthwhile comparisons to make between Trump and Richard Nixon. But this is not Woodward’s way. Fear picks up little narrative momentum. It’s a slow tropical storm of a book, not a hurricane. You turn the pages because Woodward, as he accumulates the queasy-making details, delivers on the promise of his title.
Bob Woodward’s new book about the first year of the Trump administration raises [several] thorny issues, but it turns them on their head ... Almost no one in this book comes across as authentically themselves, because each source is replaying the events so as to come out of them with a minimum of dignity. Since there is no dignity to be had in Trump’s White House, this often sounds forced and fake. The one person who appears to be himself throughout is the one person whom Woodward acknowledges at the outset did not grant an interview for the book: Trump. The president emerges as a bizarre and brutish character, but his behaviour has a strong streak of consistency ... For the most part, Woodward tells his story straight and leaves the reader to draw the moral, though he also makes sure that the moral is hard to miss.
...it’s possible to look at Fear as not really a book at all, any more than a pile of court transcripts would be a book. But this would indeed be an injustice, because there’s a surprising and encouraging amount of wry, almost literary business going on in Fear, a kind of dry, mordant wit that’s likewise discernible in Woodward’s earlier books but never quite so badly needed as in this one, with its relentless anecdotes of apocalyptic incompetence and deceit. Woodward is too much of a professional to put a soft focus on that apocalypse, but his native comic sensibility prompts him often to see the humor in a free country’s slide into trivial despotism ... despite the sobering nature of what Fear describes, those little po-faced jabs happen throughout the book and are apt to be overlooked in the news-desk frenzy to decry the political calamity described on every page ... Fear isn’t the moment in the doctor’s office when the diagnosis of cancer is made; it’s the series of follow-up appointments in which the extent of the rot is clinically clarified. It has the same dead-weight momentum of those follow-up appointments, and it shares their macabre fascination.
Fear belongs in a new category. Many readers will find Woodward's depiction of this president and his presidency so devastating that it can only be described as an indictment ... Yes, he has probably talked to most of the people mentioned in the book (other than Trump and perhaps family members), and yes, he has hundreds of hours of tape recordings of his interviews. But the price of getting this kind of cooperation and supposed candor from sources is that the evidence gathered remains inadmissible—not just in a court of law but in the court of many people's opinion ... By most accounts, Woodward lives by his code and is both thorough and conscientious in pursuing his technique. But the technique is ultimately limited. At a moment such as this, fraught with consequences for the media and the nation, 'deep background' may be too frail a framework to support the enormous weight of what Woodward is alleging ... Whatever comes after this, we have Woodward's work as a point of reference. And for the time being, at least, it offers the best glimpse we have into a White House like no other.
Woodward, in this long-awaited book, does not surprise us with many heretofore unknown events... he puts the great mass of facts and anecdotes we have by now all accumulated about Trump in perspective and adds depth and meaning... Fear covers ground that others have gone over, but adds the sort of detail and perspective that only Woodward can.
It 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.
Mr. Woodward makes it plain, if anyone had doubts, that it’s no fun serving in the Trump administration ... most of Mr. Woodward’s text is indeed, as he said to Ms. Conway, about substantive issues ... Those anticipating Mr. Trump’s downfall for collusion with Russia will be disappointed by Fear ... Is the reporter who broke the Watergate scandal suggesting there’s no real scandal here?
Fear will make plain to the last optimist that, just as Republicans in Congress are unlikely to save us, neither are the relative grown-ups in the Trump administration ... Is Woodward the last optimist? He obviously believes that Trump is unfit to be president, but a reader can’t quite shake the sense that he somehow thinks maybe, just maybe, things could be different with the right coaching or incentives ... Indeed, the near-misses Woodward writes about feel particularly insubstantial, in part because very few of these aides and appointees seem to really grasp the nature of the man they are serving (no matter how much they talk about his stupidity and recklessness), and in part because Trump himself is so clueless and aimless that he rarely seems to follow through on his worst ideas anyway ... I trust Woodward’s ability to decipher whether his sources are being honest more than I do Michael Wolff’s, whose dodgy book on the Trump presidency set a very low bar for works like this, but too much of Woodward’s narrative feels reliant on the firsthand accounts of a group of very untrustworthy people.
Yet in Woodward’s meticulous account of office intrigues, the president’s men don’t seem to be trembling with fright. What they mostly feel is contempt for Trump or pity for his ignorance and the 'teenage logic' of his obsessively vented grievances. Hence their deft 'administrative coup d’état': by purloining documents from Trump’s desk or slow-walking his intemperate orders, his aides have effectively benched him ... Woodward’s book actually suggests that for Trump, power is not fear but obscenity. The discussions that Woodward’s sources have helped him to reconstruct are filthily cloacal or grossly sexual. Debates about policy are conducted in expletives ... Despite Woodward’s title, it’s Trump who seems afraid—of a job that he can’t do, of the advisers who outwit him, and of imminent legal consequences.
Believe what you read in the excerpts and, if you buy it, the book. Because Bob Woodward doesn't get things wrong. And believe the title: Fear. It's hard not to read details from Woodward's book and not feel exactly that. His book portrays President Trump as an adolescent president, managed, sort of, by beleaguered aides who steal wacky documents from his desk to prevent him from signing them and who find ways to ignore his some of his orders because they're so crazy (like assassinating Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad). Amid it all, though, the descriptions of the president stand out ... who are you going to believe...America's most storied journalist, or a president who, according to the Washington Post, made 4,713 false or misleading statements during his presidency as of Tuesday?