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The best books on the Trump presidency

By Kobo • January 17, 2021Big Ideas

For readers prepared to look in the rearview mirror, these are the essential eBooks and audiobooks for understanding the administration of the 45th president of the United States.

While it’s tempting to say that the administration of Donald J. Trump was good for the publishing industry, the truth is that many more books were published than the most interested reader could handle.

With the benefit of hindsight we can see that the books tended to land in one of several groupings. There were the views from inside the White House, sparked by Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury. There were the personal testimonies of confidants to the president and First Lady Melania Trump. And there were the big picture analyses of what it all means, and might end up meaning. We’ve assembled the essential reads in each one to give readers a quick path to understanding what the last 5 years were all about.

Who is Donald J. Trump?

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.

In this revealing family portrait, readers get a seat at the Trump Thanksgiving table, thanks to Mary L. Trump, clinical psychologist and the president’s only niece. Here she presents a portrait of a family wracked by neglect, abuse, and a variety of traumas.

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Disloyal: A Memoir by Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen served as Trump’s personal attorney from 2006 until he was sentenced to three years in federal prison in 2018 for tax evasion and campaign finance violations connected to the 2016 campaign. Disloyal is Cohen’s score-settling account of his former boss’s scandalous behaviour behind closed doors -- and it likely cost him a presidential pardon.

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Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was a friend to First Lady Melania Trump since the early 2000s, hired to produce the president’s inauguration in 2017 -- and fired when financial irregularities surfaced. Wolkoff was no naif when it came to big splashy events: she’d produced several Met Galas as well as special events for Vogue. But Melania threw her under the bus when the inauguration threatened to become an embarrassment. Here Wolkoff shares her views on who the First Lady really is, and where she thinks the missing money went.

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Rage by Bob Woodward

When renowned Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward released Fear, his first book on Trump, the president got him on the phone to say that the book would be “bad” on account of Woodward failing to penetrate the defenses of White House staff that kept Trump out of Woodward’s reach. In Rage, Woodward takes Trump up on the offer of access, including lengthy and revealing passages of the president musing on everything from his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the day to day experience of Black Americans.

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The view from the inside the Trump White House

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

This was the first book about the Trump administration, written by journalist Michael Wolff who was seemingly allowed to roam freely through the West Wing as the newly-installed staff settled in -- when they weren’t sniping at one another. It’s a vivid portrait of a dysfunctional workplace helmed by a leader who seems more interested in returning to the campaign trail than governing. After this book’s publication (which Trump tried to block), no other journalist would be granted such access.

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A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

When it was first published, the main question readers wanted the former FBI director to answer was, “why announce a re-opening of the investigation into candidate Hilary Clinton’s emails just days before the election, and when previous investigations turned up nothing illegal?” With such electoral tactics now soaked into the fabric of history, what Comey’s book does for readers today is offer the perspective of a senior government official with a history in prosecuting high profile individuals such as mafia dons and celebrities as he gets to know his new boss, President Trump. Comey’s shock is palpable in his narration of the audiobook.

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Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward tapped dozens of sources inside the White House for this account of how the Trump administration operated in its early days -- including how the president made decisions, how he could be influenced and by whom, and how members of his senior staff were working to contain his most destructive impulses, even going so far as to hide documents from him. The president was displeased with this book and told Woodward directly that he would have liked to have been interviewed for it -- see Woodward’s second book on the administration, Rage, for what resulted.

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A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America by By Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Rucker and Leonnig take as much of a long view as is possible in this book that analyzes the principles and values that fuel activity in the Trump White House. What they find is that ideology isn’t the primary focus: personal loyalty to Trump himself trumps all else. Rather than chaos, what they observe is a clear pattern of actions that always come back to expanding the president’s power and protecting his image -- no matter the cost.

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A Warning by A Senior Trump Administration Official

Here is a first-hand account by an anonymous source who was billed only as “A Senior Trump Administration Official” at the time of publication -- who was later revealed to be Miles Taylor, the Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Homeland Security. Unlike the books above, this one comes from a single perspective formed over the seven months he served in office in 2019.

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Where did Trump come from, and where does Trumpism go from here?

The Case for Trump by Victor Davis Hanson

Published mid-way through the president’s term, this book by historian Victor Davis Hanson takes up the task of arguing in defense of Trump. While Hanson concedes that Trump’s governing style is too volatile for American democracy to tolerate several Trump-like presidents, he finds merit in the shock Trump delivered to the political establishment.

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The Madman Theory: Trump Takes On the World by Jim Sciutto

No president had been as comfortable speaking favourably of dictators, engaging openly in trade wars, or disregarding the interests of allies as president Trump was. Jim Sciutto, national security correspondent for CNN asks, was the apparent chaos actually cover for a master plan that consolidated American power? Or was it disorder all the way down? Sciutto finds that while shaking things up created some opportunities, a relentless focus on getting favourable headlines in the short term squandered just about all of them.

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The Mueller Report by The Washington Post

The most hotly anticipated government report in a generation is presented here with editorial assistance from the editors of The Washington Post. Overseen by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the report details the activities of the Trump campaign and foreign actors in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Readers are guided through the timeline laid out by the report and the key individuals involved, including the mysterious “Individual-1.”

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The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder

Historian Timothy Snyder sets out to explain one of the biggest questions looming over geopolitics over the last decade: why is Russia interested in influencing the outcomes of the electoral processes in western countries? Snyder explains how Russia exercised power in the past, how the end of the Cold War created a new set of incentives and opportunities, and what Russian oligarchs stand to gain from a world destabilized by anti-democratic populism.

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Dark Towers: Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump, and an Epic Trail of Destruction by David Enrich

To borrow wording from the Watergate era, “What does the president owe — and to whom does he owe it?” Dark Towers is the history of what is probably President Trump’s most significant lender, the global financial powerhouse Deutsche Bank. Journalist David Enrich traces the timeline of DB from its founding in the 19th century, through its ties to Nazi atrocities, up to the present day, detailing how the firm came to lend Trump (as well as his in-laws the Kushners) billions. And he suggests what it might mean for the ex-president as $900 million in loans come due.

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Why We're Polarized by Ezra Klein

Ezra Klein, co-founder of the political website Vox, offers a deeply-researched take on the social pressures pushing people to the edges of ideology. Klein offers readers a way out of the media bubbles and feedback loops and allows them to see themselves in a political context apart from the partisan vitriol, while also getting a peek at what a more productive political landscape might look like.

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