It could have been called "Sloppy Steve Spills the Beans into Michael Wolff's Recorder."
Because that's basically what Wolff's "Fire and Fury" is: an inside account of the Steve Bannon presidency. Though there are many other sources, the book is decidedly Bannon-centric.
The book could also have been called "Rich Ivy Leaguers Call Each Other Stupid." Because that's what a lot of the book is about.
Bannon calls Ivanka Trump "dumb as a brick.
Bannon calls Hope Hicks "dumb as a stone."
(Notice a pattern here?)
President Trump himself is "an idiot," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is said to have said.
Gary Cohn, who once ran Goldman Sachs, calls the president "dumb as shit," according to Wolff.
Not to be outdone Trump calls Cohn: "A complete idiot, dumber than dumb."
H.R. McMaster calls Trump "a dope."
And, of course, Rex Tillerson recently called Trump a "moron."
Meanwhile, Cohn says Trump-in-law Jared Kushner "knows nothing," while Corey Lewandowski calls him "a butler."
For the record, most of the people being called stupid here have ivy league degrees.
The vast majority of the book -- as I wrote on Facebook on the morning of January 8th, before others echoed my observation -- is a recycling of non-exclusive news reports from the past year; only a small portion is insiderish and exclusive. And few of the "revelations" are anything we didn't already know or suspect.
What Wolff has here -- in terms of exclusive material -- is enough for a long Vanity Fair article. The rest is a rehashing of recent headlines.
That said, there are some patches of vivid writing, juicy exclusive tidbits and sharp insights.
Here are some parts that few have noticed:
-- Bannon was said to be hygienically challenged, sometimes wearing the same "pants for six days straight."
-- The White House comes off as a sort of shabby residence, with a "roach and rodent" problem, a military base with an old house on top.
— Wolff writes: "[Trump] took his beauty pageant to Russia because he thought Putin was going to be his friend. But Putin couldn't have cared less, and in the end Trump found himself at the promised gala dinner seated on one side next to a guy who looked like he had never used a utensil and on the other side, Jabba the Hut in a golf shirt."
-- "'I like [Michael] Flynn. He reminds me of my uncles,'" said Bannon. "'But that's the problem. He reminds me of my uncles.'"
-- Trump eats vanilla Haagen-Daz. (Which figures.)
-- Wolff writes: "Ivanka often described the mechanics behind [president Trump's hair] to friends. 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 the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point to comical effect, was from a product called Just For Men -- the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in orange blonde hair color.
-- Hope Hicks used to date Corey Lewandowski (which is sort of like finding out that Jerry Seinfeld's date once dated Newman in that "Seinfeld" episode).
-- Wolff writes: "Bannon was the equivalent of Trump's personal talk radio. Trump could turn him on at any moment and it pleased him that Bannon's pronouncements and views would consistently be fully formed and ever available -- a bracing unified field narrative."
-- A lot of sources agree that Trump doesn't read. "Trump didn't read. He didn't even skim. If it was in print, it might as well not exits," writes Wolff.
-- And then there's this quote from Gary Cohn: "It's worse than you can imagine....Trump won't read anything -- not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers, nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he's bored. And his staff is no better. Kushner is an entitled baby who knows nothing. Bannon is an arrogant prick who thinks he's smarter than he is. Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits."
-- "I will only ever call you Mr. Trump," Kellyanne Conway is said to have said to the president.
-- Trump, who believed Nixon was wronged during Watergate, would talk to the television set when John Dean appeared.
-- "[For Trump], the on switch was full of flattery; the off switch full of calumny. The flattery was dripping, slavish... the calumny was bitter, angry."
-- Trump once greeted Egyptian leader el-Sisi by saying: "Love those shoes. Boy, those shoes, man..."
-- Reince Priebus comes off as a sort of West Wing gopher.
-- Numerous top Washington law firms have refused to work with those associated with Trump because, among other things, they were afraid they wouldn't get paid.
-- "[Anthony] Scaramucci was offered a [government] job that came with a 20-room apartment on the Seine, a full staff and absolutely no influence or responsibilities."
OK, so those are some of the nuggets.
There are also occasional errors, one chapter that awkwardly covers both "repeal and replace" AND the James Comey firing, another chapter that's just a glorified transcript of the author's interviews with Bannon, overuse of the phrase "joie de guerre" and a chronic lack of clarity about sourcing.
Also, no mention of George Papadopoulos!
As an endnote, I'm also left to wonder: did Wolff steal a small inspired bit from my Bruce Springsteen story for Spy magazine of 1988?
The similarity of the basic idea is undeniable. Also, my story was contracted by an editor Wolff worked with closely -- Graydon Carter -- so there's a good chance he might have seen my article. (For the record, my story has never been published in its entirety, though parts were used in a Spy-associated book. (Esquire beat us to the punch with its own Bruce story just as my article was being readied for publication.))
Back in '88, editors at Spy agreed that one of the best parts of my story was this paragraph:
"Entering the office of Mike Appel, the man who engineered Bruce Springsteen's rise to stardom in the 1970s, is like stepping back in time to 1975. On the walls hang ancient Bruce memorabilia: the famous Time and Newsweek covers framing a "Happy Birthday" letter from CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff; gold and platinum plaques for the first three Springsteen albums he produced or co-produced; a concert poster for Springsteen's ill-fated 1973 tour opening for Chicago. "
And here's what appears to be Wolff's knock-offish graf (from Chapter 6 of "Fire and Fury"):
"[Trump's] corner office was a time capsule from the 1980s, the same gold-lined mirrors, the same Time magazine covers fading on the wall..."
So, there's that, too.
All told, the book feels somewhat 2016ish. In 2018, the main internecine conflicts in the White House seem to be between the North Korea hawks and the doves, those who favor the bloody nose strategy and those who want "containment," the Tillerson versus Pompeo wings. Though its title quotes Trump's threat to Kim Jong un, almost none of the book is about North Korea, the big issue of ‘18.
Unfortunately, Wolff is not likely to be granted access to any West Wing insiders for any sequel to "Fire and Fury."