Rage by Bob Woodward is the combination of rage-inducing, all the rage, and full of rage. Woodward’s on every interview show (at least on the channels I watch). He’s getting his message out and selling books, for gosh sakes. Plus of course, time is short before November 3.
In this book, Woodward encapsulates the Trump presidency, focusing more on 2019 and 2020 than the previous two years. His reporting style is professional and detached, as compared with Michael Wolff, for example.
Given his respected position in journalism for decades, Woodward had access to a variety of people. He digs in with Mattis, Tillerson, and Coats, both during and after their time in the White House. He talks with Jared Kushner and Lindsey Graham. And many other unnamed sources share their own experiences in the administration.
In addition to focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodward discusses administration policy towards North Korea, China, and Russia. He digs into the Mueller investigation and lightly into impeachment. The coverage of the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic starts in earnest at the 50% mark.
To me, Rage feels like a balanced discussion of the most newsworthy parts of this administration. Not counting the last few months, much less the last few days.
Still, the question remains, what is new in this book? Especially if, like me, you’ve read a few books about the current administration. What’s new is Donald Trump’s participation. This book is full of his words. Not third-party interpretation of comments or attitudes. Trump and Woodward had 17 interviews on the record.
In every interview, Trump repeats himself. And Woodward tries like hell to tease out solid answers. But getting any is like catching a greased pig racing down a hill. Everybody fails and the pig gets away. From interview to interview, Woodward has a list. He asks Trump to focus on the list (well, not usually in those words). But he tries. And Trump just uses all the same talking points we’ve heard in rallies, briefings, press conferences, and the quick questions near Marine One.
What also feels new is the unguarded tone coming from Trump. Occasionally, Woodward gets a moment of unvarnished attitude. No buffing and polishing for the camera. Just straight up Trump for 30-90 seconds. And some of that is pretty chilling, as you’ve probably heard on all the news shows and podcasts.
Woodward knows how to build the story, balance the pacing, and everything else that goes into making this a highly readable book. That’s why he’s been at the top of his game since the Nixon administration. On top of all that, Trump gave him significant time, even though his inner circle discouraged it. With the combination of all these elements, I think this book is priceless.
As an aside, I planned to wait until after the 29 September debate to write this review, despite finishing the book some days earlier. Then it took me a day or two to recover from the craziness. Now we have all the positive COVID-19 diagnoses among the upper levels of the administration. I wish them all full and speedy recoveries, no matter what I may think of their politics.
Pair this excellent book with something light and fun. It’s better for your mental health.