Thoughts on Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff


Wolff’s book has been criticized for not being a solid piece of journalism. Indeed, in the introduction, he gives a blanket explanation on his sources and how he doesn’t attribute quotes and assertions. I also heard this book critiqued as tabloid fodder, but I think it’s much better than that. Michael Wolff can write. He doesn’t come in with razor-sharp political analysis a la David Remnick, true, but he’s incredibly insightful in terms of situating Trump within the insider-y media landscape, both as subject and active participant. On a purely human level, too, he provides deft, vivid sketches of all of the players. They are visual and precise in terms of situating each of the “characters” in their particular political, media or show business context.

Wolff doesn’t turn away in disgust. He dives in. Steve Bannon is the anti-hero of the book, while Trump is the mythological beast, the oracle, monster and idiot savant of its universe. What sticks with me is the default deference he’s given by those around him, no matter how irrational, mean or stupid he gets (particularly in the beginning), for having pulled off that feat, pulling the sword from the stone: winning the presidency. It must mean something about him, they think, that he knows something or senses something or has a plan.

I was particularly taken with Wolff’s description of Trump’s hair. It’s indicative of his particular skills as a writer:

An absolutely clean pate – a contained island after scalp reduction surgery – surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray.

In a recent “By the Book” New York Times mini-interview, Joyce Carol Oates described this book as comforting. That’s exactly how I felt about it, though I’m still figuring out why. Maybe it’s the simple fact of having a direct and up-close record of a chaotic, upsetting and incredible time we’re all still trying to fathom, the confirmation of someone else having lived through it, confirmation that it was indeed unbelievable, kind of stupid at the same time, that the people at the top have no experience and are fumbling along.

So much has happened already since the book was published. I wanted it to keep going and going up until the present moment, to help keep making sense of reality.