My last review of an Woodward book was exactly a year ago and I wondered at the time how he can write a sequel that would rival it in terms of thrilling realpolitik, once again. His latest book, Peril, is all that and more.
Bob Woodward, a Pulitzer prize winner twice over and the man who brought down Richard Nixon’s Presidency down along with Carl Bernstein forty six years ago, is the author of the book along with fellow journalist Robert Costa. Woodward’s impeccable journalistic credentials and his deeply sourced sound bites add an entire bell (and not just a ring) of truth to the book as usual.
Democracy in action and Insurrection
As is wont with other Woodward books, Peril generated considerable pre-publicity shock and awe in terms of its political revelations. The careful story like narrative once again grips the reader as the authors take us through the seismic political events in 2020 and 2021; whether it is Trump conspiring to tarnish Biden as a presidential candidate or it’s Biden who catapulted to the democratic presidential candidacy and later the presidency itself. The behind the scenes story of Biden’s uphill and under-resourced campaign overcoming 4th and 5th place finishes in early primaries before moving on to capture the presidential nomination as well as presidency itself, is the stuff that legends are made of. At display is also his famed affability that played a key role in winning over intra-party rivals such as Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg.
The book also covers in breathtaking detail, the events that preceded the January 6 Capitol insurrection by Trump supporters, starting right from the election date. The fraying of the democratic principles, as a sitting president of the US subverted election process results in falsely claiming widespread vote fraud and the constitutional pushback that resulted from various elected officials as well as election processes is definitely a text book case study of how a strong democracy in action works.
Realpolitik and an administration in chaos
The chaos surrounding the fading days of the Trump administration detailed, the controversies pre-publication, around the role played by General Milley in unilaterally reaching out to his Chinese counterpart without President Trump’s knowledge all add to generating the usual mystique around a Woodward book.
Also noteworthy, was the tit bits around how legislative process works in the US with different branches of governance such as executive (the president’s administration) and the legislative (the congress) exerting different levers of powers and persuasion over different pieces of legislation, notably the Covid-19 stimulus bill totally $1.9 trillion.
The decision making process around the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, much discussed in news recently, is also encapsulated with differing viewpoints of all the key stakeholders in the US administration.
A tale of two men
The book is ultimately intended and comes across as a tale of two old white men, two presidencies and two widely variant approaches to governance and people relationships.
Trump, hugely successful in creating an alternative, fake political reality for millions of his supporters comes across as a master of his own personal universe that sweeps up everyone else in the nexus. Delusional, paranoid yet nonetheless, a shrewd political tactician, Trump succeeds in holding unparalleled political power even out of office.
Joe Biden, the affable grandfather, endearing in his interactions with the political world and the common man alike, is less sure of himself and favours building relationships across the aisle as well as within his own party to accomplish his objectives. He doesn’t lack the power of his own convictions though, on critical issues.
If you are an amateur student of history like me, there is plenty in this book that will set your nerves racing similar to other Woodward books. So, a definite yay!
You can buy the book on Amazon here.