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The best books on the Trump presidency

By Kobo • January 06, 2022Recommended Reading

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 on his presidency 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. There were the big picture analyses of what it all means—and might end up meaning. And in the months following the events of January 6, 2021, there were books that attempted to sum up Trump’s political and cultural influence through the 2020 election, through to the inauguration of his successor Joe Biden.

We’ve assembled the essential reads in each of these categories to give readers a quick path to understanding what this era was 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 courtesy of 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 when the 2017 inauguration threatened to become an embarrassment, the soon-to-be First Lady threw Wolkoff under the bus. Here she 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 immediately 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 the reporter's reach. In Rage, Woodward takes up Trump's offer of access; this book includes 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 absorbed 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 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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I’ll Take Your Questions Now: What I Saw at the Trump White House by Stephanie Grisham

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham resigned from her post on January 6, 2021 in response to the president’s response, or lack thereof, to the attempted insurrection. Well-known for restricting access and taking no questions in the nine months she held the top communications job in the White House, Grisham purports here to be telling it like it is about the administration, the Trump family, and the goings on during her tenure. While readers should take all of this with a grain of salt, it’s remarkable testimony nonetheless.

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The waning days of the Trump administration

I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Catastrophic Final Year by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker

From the reporting team that delivered A Very Stable Genius here is a portrait of how the Trump White House handled the COVID pandemic and the protests of summer 2020. From the earliest whispers of something concerning happening Wuhan, to the president’s promise that everyone will be able to attend Easter church services safely, to his desire to send the military to squash civil unrest, to the launch of the campaign to deny the outcome of the 2020 election, Leonnig and Rucker paint a damning portrait of an administration lashing out blindly and those who enabled it.

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The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid by Lawrence Wright

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright tells the story of COVID-19 in America, covering the early days of the CDC’s troubled test kit development, as well as the researchers whose foundational work allowed for the rapid development of vaccines. This is a broad view of the pandemic that includes the perspectives of scientists and healthcare professionals as well as small business operators and financial prognosticators. Wright shows the impact of the White House’s action and inaction throughout this historic year.

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Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost by Michael C. Bender

Wall Street Journal reporter Michael C. Bender covers the period spanning Trump’s two impeachments, which includes the 2020 election that resulted in Trump’s loss and the ensuing fight to overturn the results. Bender combines interviews campaign advisors and senior administration officials with memos and emails from the campaign to illustrate how the president and is campaign staff were thinking about the electorate and their competition. And Bender connects the dots from key campaign messaging to the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

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

Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

For his third book on Trump, Bob Woodward enlisted the help of his Washington Post colleague Robert Costa. The pair conducted interviews with more than 200 people and collected confidential documents and emails to give readers a view into the final days of the Trump administration and the first 100 days of the Biden presidency. Readers of Fear and Rage will want to hear this final word from Woodward.

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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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The Reckoning: Our Nation's Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal by Mary L. Trump

Mary Trump follows her book about growing up as the niece of Donald Trump with a heady analysis of the American psyche. As a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma, she sees American society as a widespread case of complex PTSD dating back to the Civil War. Dr Trump sees slavery and the racism that underpinned it as the foundation for a society stratified along several lines which ensure the persistence of inequality and injustice. In this brief volume, she explains how she arrives at her diagnosis and what actual healing might look like.

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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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The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical Assessment by Julian E. Zelizer

Princeton University historian Julian E. Zelizer has published a "first historical assessment" of every president since George W. Bush, assembling writing by scholars working in a variety of fields and from different political leanings to provide a balanced and critical view (in the most serious sense) of these presidents' terms. This book contains some of the first analysis of the Trump presidency written by scholars after he left office in January 2021.

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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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