Fire And Fury: Inside the Trump White House Michael Wolff Henry Holt Company 312 pages; $30 He is a New Yorker in Washington, far more consumed with the news media and personalities than policy issues. He elides facts, fudges the specifics and dispenses with professional norms in the service of success and status. And while affecting a contempt for the mainstream press, he cannot help dropping the mask to reveal the double game he is playing. I am talking, of course, of the writer Michael Wolff, who with Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has delivered an altogether fitting, if ultimately unsatisfying, book on the chaotic first nine months of President Trump, another media-obsessed Manhattanite. Wolff is, to borrow a recent phrase in the news, a sort of perfectly grotesque Boswell to Trump’s Johnson. The duo are a match made in heaven, or perhaps due south. Fire and Fury has detonated as few contemporaneous political books ever have, gripping an angry president’s attention for days, reigniting questions about his mental stability and prompting the excommunication of Stephen K Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. Yet what makes Wolff’s account at once undeniably entertaining and lamentably unrewarding is precisely what makes covering this administration so frustrating. While the accounts can be sublime, at least to a scoop-hungry reporter, they can also leave one unsatisfied. Wolff addresses the inherent challenge of reporting on this White House in an introductory author’s note, explaining that the recollections of sources can collide with one another and in some cases be untrue entirely. To confront his problem, Wolff notes that there are times he lets “the players offer their versions, in turn allowing the reader to judge them.” Unfortunately for the reader, he throws up his hands when dealing with three of the most pivotal moments of the Trump campaign and presidency. In recounting the 2016 gathering at Trump Tower among Donald Trump Jr, the campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and close adviser, and a group of Russians promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton, Wolff offers several “why-and-how theories of this imbecilic meeting.” But he does not settle on any one of them. Second, in recalling the moment on Air Force One a year later when now-President Trump worked to produce a statement for his son minimising the meeting, Wolff does not attempt to assess the veracity of the declarations of Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, that they were not part of any cover-up. Wolff turns to the same device, only from the voice of the opposing camp, in recounting Trump’s fateful decision to fire the FBI director James Comey. “It was Jared, in the version told by those outside the Jarvanka circle, that pushed for action,” he writes. (“Jarvanka” is Wolff’s shorthand, borrowed from Bannon, for Jared and Ivanka.) Wolff’s caution may be explained in his acknowledgments, where he gives a glowing tribute to his trusted libel lawyer.
It is that sort of book.