Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
By Michael Wolff
Published by Little, Brown, £20
(Buy at Amazon)
Fire and Fury is dominating both the bestseller charts and the headlines, and for good reason. Anybody who dislikes Donald Trump will lap up this gossipy account of a dysfunctional White House split between three factions: the “alt-right”, headed by Trump’s former political strategist Steve Bannon; “Javanka”, as Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner have been dubbed; and the Republican establishment. Overseeing these feuding groups is the volatile figure of Trump – hyperactive, thin-skinned and still coming to terms with his unexpected victory.
Wolff, a journalist who has written similar insider accounts of the media business, took advantage of the Trump administration’s inexperience to get many of the key figures to speak candidly to him, and gained a surprising level of access to the White House (he visited more than 20 times in the first eight months).
Some of the anecdotes he relays seem dubious – it’s hard to believe, as his sources claim, that Trump wanted to lose the election, while the story about Tony Blair warning Trump to be wary of surveillance from British intelligence sounds unlikely. Yet the overall message of a White House in chaos appears broadly plausible given that many of Trump’s aides are willing to go behind his back to criticise him.
Other presidents have suffered leaks and rumours, but it’s unprecedented for this to happen to such an extent and so early into an administration. That may be because Trump seems profoundly hypocritical, demanding loyalty, but not showing any in return. He isn’t the only one who comes across badly. Other writers have portrayed Bannon as a political genius, yet Wolff depicts him as a failed naval officer, mid-level banker and wannabe film producer, with delusions of grandeur. Ivanka and Kushner are portrayed as well-meaning, but naïve and out of their depth.
Given that Trump has only just completed his first year, Fire and Fury is not going to be the definitive study of his time in office. But it’s both a fun read and an exposé that has already played a part in shaping what happens next. Bannon’s comments to Wolff led last week to his exit from Breitbart, the far-right website he ran.