It’s a mordant, readable tell-all designed to show how Trump, simply by being Trump, has made himself the perfect wrecking ball, blasting holes through an array of institutions. There are salacious details in this book—many of which Trump’s critics will want to eat up—though with so many unnamed sources, Trump’s compulsion for hyperbole and Wolff’s own journalistic record, it’s hard to know which tidbits to trust. It makes more sense to read Siege less as a news report and more as a rhetorical gambit—a twisted bid to burnish Bannon’s anti-establishment legacy ... For anyone eager to relive the last year, Wolff tracks the scandals (or the major ones, at least—who can count?) in all their bewildering abasement ... [Jared] Kushner comes across in this account as perhaps the saddest figure of all: a hapless schemer ... Wolff...make[s] what is either a deeply ironic or inadvertently hilarious comparison of Bannon to Tolstoy. The political analysis in this book is close to nil, but that’s by design ... Siege reads like a 300-page taunt of the president—from Wolff or from Bannon, though they seem to have arrived at the kind of collaboration in which the distinction doesn’t really matter.
Michael Wolff's new book...offers many surprising stories—but its power to shock may be limited ... There may never have been a more polarizing president, nor an author less likely to be read as a neutral recorder of facts. This is regrettable, because much of Wolff's gossipy but disturbing tale is not only plausible but credibly corroborated elsewhere. Siege includes events widely observed, or present in accessible public records. Yet all of that material has been conjoined with so much else that cannot be confirmed that the reader is apt to be left in doubt ... Plausible? Believable? Perhaps, but the prejudice of the reader is not a substitute for evidence ... Bannon's idiosyncratic view of the world and raw language provide much of the color and punch in this book. But his vocabulary of imperatives and superlatives grows wearisome ... Wolff is not a policy maven, nor does he dwell on the deeper and even global political issues Trump represents—the rise of populist nationalism and the turn toward autocracy. Wolff's subject is the president as a personality, and the people in his immediate circle who observe that personality ... if nothing else, Wolff has performed a kind of service in Siege by taking us back over this rocky ground and reminding us what a long strange trip it has already been.
Siege is ultimately crippled by three flaws: Wolff’s overreliance on a single character, and one who is now more distant from the action; factual errors that mar the author’s credibility; and sourcing that is so opaque it renders the scoops highly suspicious and unreliable ... Wolff’s obsession with documenting Bannon’s every thought, while remaining uninterested in the reality of the racial politics unleashed by him and Trump, reaches peak hilarity when he earnestly quotes Bannon’s dissection of whether the president is an anti-Semite (probably not) or a racist (probably) ... the idea that Wolff is documenting some larger ideological struggle in the Trump GOP is mostly familiar Bannon spin ... Wolff’s broad conceptual error — that the real heart of Trumpism is heroically being kept alive by Bannon’s band of true-believing outsiders — would be forgivable if the book wasn’t marred by two more strikes: some cringeworthy errors, and sourcing that is so opaque it renders the extremely fun and juicy quotes sprinkled across every chapter as — sadly — difficult to trust. Wolff reports that he had two fact-checkers assigned to the book, but they apparently weren’t enough ... Wolff clearly relies on the work of dozens of other reporters on the Trump beat, but because he rarely uses any attributions, the reader never knows whether a fact he’s relaying comes from him or elsewhere.
Wolff, 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.
...this portrait of a president 'under fire' turns — almost despite itself — into a depiction of nailed down, armour-plated resilience ... filled with delicious gossip that is no less entertaining because it is of uncertain origin. Wolff no longer has a prize perch inside the White House...but he still seems to have almost unlimited access to verbatim remarks made by Trump ... Wolff has staked a lot of this book on one eye-catching scoop: the leak of legal advice commissioned by Mueller’s team on how to pursue a successful indictment against Trump for obstruction of justice ... The problem is that they no longer matter. Like a lot of journalists who have got their hands on something hot, Wolff is reluctant to admit this ... If it’s any consolation, and I strongly suspect it is, Trump’s durability is likely to provide Wolff with the material for yet another sequel...Wolff has found the perfect foil for his style of journalism. With Trump, accuracy doesn’t matter. Character is destiny.
Let’s call it the Jaws 2 problem: when we’re already so familiar with the monster, what is there to show us that will shock? ... in news depressing for the planet but no doubt happy for Mr. Wolff’s bank balance, I can report there’s plenty left ... Nobody comes out of this book well, of course, and Trump’s comedy cast of misfits, crooks and deluded grifters all struggle to cope with their boss. But God help me if you don’t start to feel sorry for some of them ... Michael Wolff’s Trump is actually even worse than you suspected ... If there’s one bright note in this utterly gripping but fundamentally dispiriting read it’s this: they’re surely too disorganized and dumb to win another term. Aren’t they?