The book includes substantive and brilliant chapters on the major challenges facing the country: racial strife, the dominance of tech companies, drug cartels, predatory crime, religious pluralism in public schools. In the end, though, the narrative comes back to the subject of Donald Trump. Is he capable of taking on these challenges? His 'political persona,' writes Mr. Barr on the book’s final page, 'is too negative for the task ahead.' He’s right.
Barr's memoir spans seven decades but is inevitably dominated by his two years as attorney general under former President Donald Trump. His account of those years will be read hungrily by Trump's fiercest defenders and harshest detractors. It is unlikely to satisfy either ... It is just as unlikely to win over Barr's own critics, including those who were angered by the way he left his job with the Trump administration (late in 2020) and those appalled by the way he got it in the first place (nominated late in 2018) ... Barr alternates between castigating and exonerating, between sounding sympathetic and exasperated. He catalogs Trump's offenses yet casts him as the latest victim of dishonest media and 'the radical Left' ... Throughout his book, Barr walks the line between the various warring factions with the moves of highly skilled lawyer. He is a master of reading the law, finding what he needs in it, and presenting his interpretation as the obviously correct one...We also see him often as the legal rhetorician, parsing words carefully to fit his purpose...Of course, this mindset, this show of lawyerly care and precision, will only further infuriate the partisans on either side who simply want him to smite the enemy ... Taking a step back, this is not merely 'another Trump book,' although Trump is a recurring and animating presence. Nor is it merely a screed against Barr's own adversaries (although large portions of it are) ... This is, rather, a Barr book. It is an autobiography with facets, including his recollections of the immigrant hardships of his grandparents, the academic careers of his parents and his own childhood devotion to the bagpipes. Barr clearly regards it as an American success story.
It’s a rare Washington memoir that makes you gasp in the very second sentence ... Throughout, Barr affects a quasi-paternal tone when discussing Trump, as if the president were a naughty but good-hearted adolescent ... Overall, his views reflect the party line at Fox News, which, curiously, he does not mention in several jeremiads about left-wing domination of the news media.
Barr can tell a good yarn and has a penchant for deadpan punchlines ... Barr’s account of Trump’s obsession with arresting his perceived political enemies is often told with a sense of humor that is more than a little unsettling, as if he is describing not the commander in chief but a cranky sitcom dad whose declarations prompt head shakes, eye rolls and a laugh track ... Barr engaged in some of the same conduct he now decries ... By comparison, the chapters Barr devotes to more conventional issues like school vouchers come as a kind of relief, even if they often read as an airing of grievances for conservative lawyers — a Festivus for the Federalist Society ... His book is not for those prosecutors, nor is it for those eager for shocking details about Trump’s conduct behind closed doors. Barr’s book is really a defense of his tenure to fellow conservatives — and a call to dump Trump in 2024.
Barr takes care in this book to present his childhood as more hardscrabble than a rarefied prep school education and an apartment on New York City’s Riverside Drive would have anyone believe ... an intemperate culture-war treatise smuggled into a lawyer’s memoir: a seemingly sober recitation of events that’s periodically interrupted by seething tirades about 'militant secularism' and a 'Maoist' American left ... Barr doesn’t make much of an effort in this book to counter assertions by his critics that even before reading the Mueller report he had mostly made up his mind ... This is a pattern in Barr’s book: He nitpicks his way to desired conclusions by carefully navigating a lawyerly path around finely drawn distinctions, all the while lobbing bomblets at anyone he defines as an enemy ... Making room for such intricate rhetorical contortions is partly why this book is nearly 600 pages long ... There are also numerous places where Barr offers what looks at first to be a blizzard of detail but nevertheless makes some strange omissions.