Bolton’s Blather: The decline and fall of political biographies


When Dean Acheson wrote “Present at the Creation,”  a memoir of his years at the State Department, he was hailed as “probably the most consequential American diplomat of the twentieth century” and his book was applauded as  “…a must-read book not only for historians, but also for anyone interested in national policy, diplomacy, or military strategy.”

“As Truman’s Secretary of State from 1949 to 1953, he became the primary spokesman for America’s leadership in the world and for the creation of the post-World War II international system that exists today, a reviewer wrote in Foreign Policy.  “Present at the Creation is an insightful, absorbing and even occasionally humorous insider’s guide to how that system was created.”

Compare that with the reception of “The Room Where It Happened,” a memoir by John Bolton, who spent 453 days as President Trump’s national-security adviser. “John Bolton’s Epic Score-Settling – a scathing account of the President’s ‘stunning ignorance,’ incompetence, and corruption,” announced the New Yorker. “Bolton Spills the Beans,” declared the Dispatch. “John Bolton Dumps His Notes and Smites His Enemies,” wrote the New York Times.

How times have changed.

Bolton was apparently appalled by what he observed, but not appalled enough to go public with his concerns and resign in disgust. And certainly not appalled enough to forego a lucrative book advance.

Instead of offering readers a sweeping perspective of momentous occurrences, too many of the Trump books are just hatchet jobs, spiteful tell-alls written by peevish, self-aggrandizing, hangers-on. And too often they commit the cardinal sin of not even being well written.

 “The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much,” Jennifer Szalai wrote of Bolton’s book in the New York Times. “It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged….(The account) has been written with so little discernible attention to style and narrative form that he apparently presumes an audience that is hanging on his every word.”

A librarian noted last year that she had found no less than 51 books about the Trump presidency, excluding self-published works, if you start counting with The Truth About Trump in May 2016.

Former press secretary Sean Spicer wrote just one Trump book, The Briefing: Politics, the Press, and the President. Cory Lewandowsi, Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, and David Cay Johnston have each written two Trump books.

“Eventually, perhaps there will be nothing more to say about the President’s competence or lack thereof,” the librarian said. “At that point, it’s unclear what will happen to this ballooning literary phenomenon. A bubble bust situation seems possible.”

And unlike Present at the Creation, most of the Trump screeds will likely be soon forgotten. Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House by Omarosa Manigault-Newman is surely one of those, as is Full Disclosure by Stormy Daniels and Michal Avenatti.

That will also likely be the fate of many Trump books still to come, including one by Trump’s niece, Mary L. Trump. Her book, “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” is set to come out on July 28.

This book is being pitched as a revealing missive that, according to Amazon, “shines a bright light on the dark history of their family in order to explain how her uncle became the man who now threatens the world’s health, economic security, and social fabric.”

I can’t wait.

I suppose the next book after Mary Trump’s will be “Life with me and mine,” by Arabella Rose Kushner. Put your order in now.

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