As much as you think you know about the arrogance, vanity and sheer incompetence of Trump’s years in the White House, Bolton’s account will still astonish you ... He seems to have collated every Trump rant, reckless phone call and muttered aside. No wonder the White House was so determined to block this book: It eviscerates Trump’s foreign policy record and exposes him, in Bolton’s words, as 'stunningly uninformed' ... The great achievement of this book is that it links the Ukraine fiasco to Trump’s other foreign policy misdeeds ... snarky literary asides scattered throughout the book ... Bolton offers a damning review of nearly every theater of Trump’s foreign policy ... Bolton dishes dirt about everyone he doesn’t like, and it’s a very long list ... Bolton is the hero of nearly every anecdote in the book. Indeed, for a memoir that is startlingly candid about many things, Bolton’s utter lack of self-criticism is one of the book’s significant shortcomings ... Many previous books have revealed Trump’s bizarre machinations and musings, but none so damagingly as this one by a conservative former supporter ... This book ought to be a wake-up call, finally, to Republicans who have slavishly defended Trump and belittled his critics.
... a White House memoir that is the most comprehensive and negative report on the Trump Administration ... The turmoil, conflicts, and egos are all there—from the upheaval in Venezuela, to the erratic and manipulative moves of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, to the showdowns at the G7 summits, the calculated warmongering by Iran, the crazy plan to bring the Taliban to Camp David, and the placating of an authoritarian China that ultimately exposed the world to its lethal lies. But this seasoned public servant also has a great eye for the Washington inside game, and his story is full of wit and wry humor about how he saw it played ... The Trump haters are going to love this book and it may sway just enough of former Trump supporters that it might cost him re-election.
Known as a fastidious note taker, Bolton has filled this book’s nearly 500 pages with minute and often extraneous details, including the time and length of routine meetings and even, at one point, a nap. Underneath it all courses a festering obsession with his enemies ... The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged ... His one shrewd storytelling choice was to leave the chapter on Ukraine for the end, as incentive for exhausted readers to stay the course ... In another book by another writer, such anecdotes might land with a stunning force, but Bolton fails to present them that way, leaving them to swim in a stew of superfluous detail ... his chapter on Ukraine is weird, circuitous and generally confounding. It’s full of his usual small-bore detail, but on the bigger, more pointed questions, the sentences get windy and conspicuously opaque ... When it comes to Bolton’s comments on impeachment, the clotted prose, the garbled argument and the sanctimonious defensiveness would seem to indicate some sort of ambivalence on his part—a feeling that he doesn’t seem to have very often.
Very few books, and certainly not a 500-page memoir about national-security policy making, could measure up to the media event that is its publication. Even so, The Room Where It Happened is a competent piece of writing. Readers looking mainly for stories about Donald Trump’s unorthodox behavior may find it tough to get through the author’s detailed discussions of U.S. policy on Venezuela and the inner workings of America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, but Mr. Bolton moves the story along quickly enough ... The book has what every good political memoir must have: a cast of believable and idiosyncratic characters ... Most of the news media, caring only about the event and not the book, will see it as just another collection of anecdotes proving Mr. Trump’s awfulness. Mr. Bolton’s memoir is more interesting than that ... I do not understand, for instance, why [Bolton] needed to publish the private comments of Secretary Pompeo, who still serves—and by Mr. Bolton’s account serves well—in the administration ... well-aimed.
Its portrayal of Trump is certainly unflattering, a damning portrait of a man totally out of his depth in the White House and unable to separate his personal interests from national ones. But the book may be equally damning in what it displays about Bolton’s worldview ... The text is peppered with the sort of ephemeral outrages that have been the sound and fury of the last four years ... The most substantive revelations in the book add new information and context to the bill of particulars that led to Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives in late 2019 and early 2020 ... For Bolton, the world is full of enemies to be overcome and threats to be defeated, largely through military force and the threat of military force ... The record is more complex, but one thing that The Room Where It Happened makes clear is that Trump thinks of himself as a critic of the war ... The much-publicized $2 million advance Bolton received for The Room Where It Happened indicates that someone may be anticipating a large audience for this book. But I have rarely read a book that made me feel worse. Bolton puts the reader in the miserable position of siding between himself and Trump ... On this, at least, Bolton is convincing: Trump cannot, at a basic level, fulfill the responsibilities of the office ... In the end, The Room Where It Happened is a powerful argument that Trump and Bolton have both been poor stewards of their respective offices.
The president portrayed here is not only self-involved but single-minded about pursuing and preserving his own starkly personal interests ... Bolton's account often reads as though torn from pages of his daily planner, rife with references to the time he rose and arrived at the White House or the details of his travel and the heads of state with whom he shared a tête-à-tête ... Bolton sets out to describe Trump's ego and narcissism and also reveals a good deal about his own. If not right about everything, he is at least right about a great many things. Like Trump, he finds others to blame when his predictions or wagers go awry ... What sets this book apart is implied in its title ... Beyond that, his attitude and language are light years removed from that of other Trump chroniclers. The overall tone suggests the diary of a tutor who has endured many frustrating months with a spoiled and inattentive pupil who ignores his lessons and regards his tutor as expendable ... his ego is intellectual, even academic. He clearly does not expect to attract the casual reader, or anyone else unable to digest sentences such as this one on the third page: 'Constant personnel turnover obviously didn't help, nor did the White House's Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes ('war of all against all').'
... the most damning written account by a Trump administration alumnus, the one that stands to haunt the president come November ... laden with proximity and credibility, which makes it a book to be believed ... Bolton’s prose is lackluster. But that’s a relatively minor shortcoming. More egregious is the book’s title, which is lazy and self-aggrandizing. Bolton has ripped-off Lin-Manuel Miranda and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton, founding father and first treasury secretary. Talk about overreach ... the best opposition research dump. Ever.
Former national security advisor Bolton...harps on his foreign policy pet peeves...critiques former colleagues (Jim Mattis, Nikki Haley), and defends his decision not to testify in the House impeachment inquiry in this lacerating yet tiresome slog through his time in the Trump administration ... The book's most serious allegations...are buried within the avalanche of details. The bombshell to chaff ratio in this well-informed yet self-serving account is tilted punishingly in the wrong direction.
Granted that Bolton’s account is self-serving and fragmentary, his memoir is valuable. Bolton shows the reader how one highly intelligent and experienced adviser to the president viewed hot spots around the globe—from China, Russia, and Iran to Venezuela. His description of debates within the administration gives clues as to how other officials saw these critical areas. In these respects, Bolton’s book performs a service for concerned citizens and policy analysts parallel to that of No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice ... Bolton’s book casts a dark light on himself as well as on the president. Bolton reveals himself as an egotistical opportunist, one who is now breaking his pledge to keep quiet about what he observed or heard inside the White House.
If you’ve been paying attention, there aren’t a lot of surprises in former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book, at least as far as headline stories go ... Still, it’s enlightening to read about these shocking decisions with voice-over commentary from an eyewitness. In addition, though, there are a few depressing surprises ... When it comes to Trump, Bolton barely needs to point out the inconsistencies and inadequacies; he mostly just reports. Yet Bolton himself hardly comes off well ... He clearly admires his own prose, writing in drill-down detail past the point most readers need or want to go. Yet one place where he’s woefully short on detail is the epilogue, which discusses why he didn’t testify during the impeachment trial. His primary excuse, that the House’s inquiry was too narrow in scope and limited in time because of the election calendar, seems weak at best ... Bolton obviously fancies himself as a truth teller. He should know that it’s never too early to tell truth to power, especially if you’re in the room where it happened.
Bolton is not a graceful writer, but he’s a clear, competent one and, occasionally, a witty one. Of course, the telling is slanted toward what Bolton thinks should have happened, and oh the pity it didn’t. No sin in that. Such defines the genre ... Although Bolton’s exasperation often is obvious, there’s relatively little of the score-settling almost requisite to political memoirs ... He is a master at pointing out inadvertently funny or ironic situations without saying, 'Can you believe this? ... Bolton is wicked smart and blessed with a prodigious memory. Unfortunately for readers, he also is like the storytelling uncle who drifts off into so much backstory and trivia that you want to hurl the gravy boat at his head ... But all those layers do pack a wallop. What is most striking about The Room Where It Happened is how the weight and volume of what he tells us, the names of people present, what they said, what President Trump and his highest-ranking minions said and did, what happened as a result — witness multiple reports here and abroad — eventually outrun Bolton’s own bona fides ... Whether or not Bolton is motivated by self-justification, and whether you were a hawk or a dove when you picked up the book, become irrelevant ... can be riveting. Most often, it is not. With the sad weight of the content, plus no 'he said' and 'she observed' quotations to give the eye relief as long, grey paragraphs march across the pages, there were times I pushed myself to keep reading ... But worth it? You bet. Of all the Trump-era tell-alls to date, this one is a gut punch.