A pres­i­dent with the con­cen­tra­tion span of a tod­dler and Bri­tain di­vided

The Guardian - Review - - Books Of The Year - Gaby Hinsliff

It’s worse than you imag­ine. An id­iot sur­rounded by clowns.” It says much for 2018 that those words could de­scribe any num­ber of po­lit­i­cal sce­nar­ios but they’re ac­tu­ally at­trib­uted to a leaked memo about Don­ald Trump, sup­pos­edly rep­re­sent­ing the views of his dis­il­lu­sioned then eco­nomic ad­viser Gary Cohn and quoted in Michael Wolff ’s best­selling book Fire and Fury (Lit­tle, Brown). The un­fold­ing car crash in­side the White House has proved fer­tile ground for pub­lish­ing, if noth­ing else, with Wolff ’s par­ti­san but highly read­able ac­count be­ing fol­lowed this au­tumn by Bob Wood­ward’s Fear: Trump in the White House (Si­mon & Schus­ter). The lat­ter is so scrupu­lous about avoid­ing ed­i­to­rial judg­ments and let­ting the facts speak for them­selves that it reads less like a book than like the notes for one, con­sist­ing of se­quences of de­tailed re­port­ing barely joined by a nar­ra­tive. But both paint a sim­i­larly ap­palling pic­ture of a dan­ger­ously thin-skinned man with the con­cen­tra­tion span of a tod­dler, whose own aides – and in Wolff ’s read­ing par­tic­u­larly, own fam­ily – still can’t quite be­lieve he man­aged to get elected.

On which note, I thought I’d waded through enough long reads on how Trump ac­tu­ally won to last a life­time, but Ben Foun­tain’s ele­giac Beau­ti­ful Coun­try Burn Again (Canongate) might be an ex­cep­tion to the rule: pitched half­way in tone be­tween po­lit­i­cal re­portage and Great Amer­i­can Novel, it breathes lit­er­ary life back into what has be­come a very fa­mil­iar story. And if all this makes you weep with nos­tal­gia for Barack Obama, try the one-time White House staffer Ben Rhodes’s fas­ci­nat­ing, per­sonal The World As It Is (Bod­ley Head), about his time as deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to the for­mer pres­i­dent.

If all had gone to plan in the UK then the big po­lit­i­cal block­buster fill­ing book­shops this Christ­mas would have been David Cameron’s mem­oirs. Yet in this, as in so much else, it seems the for­mer prime min­is­ter may have been over-op­ti­mistic about what he could de­liver. So in­stead we have a slew of books on the dis­mal state of the po­lit­i­cal land­scape he leaves be­hind, united by the broad theme that the peo­ple are not get­ting the politi­cians we would at least like to think we de­serve.

Yet po­lit­i­cal au­to­bi­ogra­phies seem to be go­ing out of fash­ion. Even the Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth David­son’s lively Yes She Can (Hodder & Stoughton), no­table for its brave ad­mis­sions about her past strug­gles with men­tal health, fo­cuses on a re­veal­ing se­ries of in­ter­views with other women in pub­lic life while mod­estly pay­ing less at­ten­tion to her own story.

West­min­ster junkies would be happy if their stock­ings were filled with a copy of Tom Hamil­ton and Aye­sha Hazarika’s Punch & Judy Pol­i­tics (Bite­back), a juicy in­sider ac­count of what hap­pens be­hind the scenes in prime min­is­ter’s ques­tions. And the cen­trist dad in your life will en­joy the for­mer Blair speech­writer turned jour­nal­ist Philip Collins’s Start Again (4th Es­tate), a with­er­ing at­tack on the in­ad­e­qua­cies of the two main par­ties. Never mind his draft man­i­festo for the po­lit­i­cally home­less, feel the depth of the ex­as­per­a­tion.

Cor­bynites of a cer­tain vin­tage would prob­a­bly rather find un­der the tree Fran­cis Beck­ett and Mark Sed­don’s Jeremy Cor­byn and the Strange Re­birth of Labour Eng­land (Bite­back). It’s more of a romp down mem­ory lane than a true anal­y­sis of the left’s re­nais­sance, since the au­thors are hon­est enough to ad­mit that they were as sur­prised as any­one by Cor­byn con­found­ing elec­toral ex­pec­ta­tions (they were orig­i­nally braced to write the story of an­other glo­ri­ous fail­ure, only to change tack after the elec­tion). A more de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion of what went right for Cor­byn can be found in Game Changer (Ac­cent), the story of Labour’s 2017 elec­tion of­fen­sive as seen by Cor­byn’s then deputy di­rec­tor of strat­egy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Steve How­ell. This is the most au­thor­i­ta­tive

The un­fold­ing car crash in­side the White House has proved fer­tile ground for pub­lish­ing if noth­ing else

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