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The Room Where it Happened Reviews

The Room Where it Happened by John Bolton

The Room Where It Happened

A White House Memoir

John Bolton

2.75 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 23 Jun 2020
ISBN: 9781982148034

As President Trump's National Security Advisor, John Bolton spent many of his 453 days in the room where it happened, and the facts speak for themselves. The result is a White House memoir that is the most comprehensive and substantial account of the Trump Administration, and one of the few to date by a top-level official.

4 stars out of 5
Peter Spiegel
19 Jul 2020

"some of Bolton’s bitterest venom is directed at those in his own party"

Bolton’s memoirs have made headlines because of tales of cravenness and ineptitude by a self-absorbed president. Yet, taken as a whole, Bolton’s book is less a personal harangue against Trump than a highly detailed account of the multiple betrayals of what Republicans until recently held dear: eager backing of pro-American insurgents, be they Kurdish or Venezuelan; unwavering support of democratic allies in Berlin, Tokyo and Seoul; ruthless hostility towards authoritarians and Islamists. 

Reviews

3 stars out of 5
Peter Conrad
28 Jun 2020

"a punchy but self-aggrandising memoir"

When it’s not tallying Trump’s offences, Bolton’s book is a monument to his own grandiosity. One chapter title quotes Antony’s threatening prediction about “the dogs of war” in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and the Caesarism of Trump and his authoritarian buddies in Turkey, Brazil, Russia and China is a recurrent theme. Institutionally and even architecturally, Washington DC models itself on republican Rome, where right-minded senators reined in or struck down aspiring emperors. We get a glimpse of this latter-day Roman ethos when General John Kelly, enraged by a tiff with Trump, says: “I’m going out to Arlington.”

3 stars out of 5
Josh Glancy
28 Jun 2020

"revenge on Trump, delivered with relish"

What really radiates from this memoir is just how much Bolton loves the game of politics, being in the bloodstained arena and suiting up for battle. He entered the administration, he argues, to further his belligerent agenda and views his effort as a qualified success, stymied only by the absurdity of Trump and the incompetence of his acolytes.

At one point he quotes a jarring line from Joseph Addison’s play Cato, a Tragedy: “When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway, the post of honour is a private station.” Bolton certainly did not take Cato’s advice. There is no honour here and there are no heroes in this book. Just boundless ambition, lust for power and yet another damning portrait of a reckless and mercurial president.

3 stars out of 5
Gerard Baker
27 Jun 2020

"Former national security adviser John Bolton fires barb after barb at Donald Trump in this White House memoir"

Bolton has faced heavy criticism for not testifying in Trump’s impeachment trial this year with what he knew about the president’s alleged efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in exchange for official US military assistance. Bolton defends himself, saying that the impeachment was misbegotten and mishandled, but here, in his doubtless lucrative book, he leaves no doubt that he thinks Trump’s behaviour was improper.

Much of the picture Bolton paints of this singular presidency is a very familiar one: the turmoil, turbulence and turpitude. But the overwhelming impression Bolton leaves is a peevishness that he didn’t get his hawkish way on most issues he cared about.

2 stars out of 5
Gerard Baker
25 Jun 2020

"the overwhelming impression Bolton leaves is a peevishness that he didn’t get his hawkish way on most issues he cared about."

This memoir in fact reads like a long list of Bolton’s frustrations at his epic failure to pursue the kind of hardline approach to foreign policy for which his entire career seemed to have been a preparation... 

Much of the picture Bolton paints of this singular presidency is a very familiar one: the turmoil, turbulence and turpitude. But the overwhelming impression Bolton leaves is a peevishness that he didn’t get his hawkish way on most issues he cared about.

There’s an irony here. Early in the book Bolton quotes approvingly an observation of James Baker, his early boss in the first Bush administration, who used to tell him when he was pressing for something the president was sceptical about. “John, the guy who got elected doesn’t want to do it.”

It’s odd that a seasoned conservative should seem to have forgotten that central lesson of government.

4 stars out of 5
Tim Stanley
22 Jun 2020

"Even Trump haters might be surprised by the President portrayed in his former National Security Advisor's warts-and-all memoir"

The limits of the Trump style were apparent in Singapore, at the 2018 meeting between the President and Kim Jong-un, leader of North Korea. Bolton is clearly an avid diarist and has kept detailed notes, and his intricate accounts of these tense, historical moments are absolutely fascinating to read. By sitting down with Kim, Trump assumed he had not only got the ball rolling on denuclearisation but already won world peace; Kim, however, played the President beautifully, first, by praising him and, then, by asking Trump what he thought of Kim, forcing the President to praise him in return.

1 stars out of 5
Jennifer Szalai
18 Jun 2020

"a lavishly bewhiskered figure whose wonkishness and warmongering can make him seem like an unlikely hybrid of Ned Flanders and Yosemite Sam"

Known as a fastidious note taker, Bolton has filled this book’s nearly 500 pages with minute and often extraneous details, including the time and length of routine meetings and even, at one point, a nap. Underneath it all courses a festering obsession with his enemies, both abroad (Iran, North Korea) and at home (the media, “the High-Minded,” the former defense secretary Jim Mattis). The book is bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much. It toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged.

Still, it’s maybe a fitting combination for a lavishly bewhiskered figure whose wonkishness and warmongering can make him seem like an unlikely hybrid of Ned Flanders and Yosemite Sam.