John Bolton’s damning indictment of the Trump presidency is soaring up online charts in the US a week before its release, despite withering reviews describing it as “bloated with self-importance”, as the Trump administration makes a last-ditch attempt to prevent its publication.
In the teeth of a series of critical assessments from papers including the New York Times and the Washington Post, Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened is currently No 1 on Amazon’s US charts. Its sales are just ahead of another scathing take on Donald Trump, this time his niece Mary Trump’s forthcoming Too Much and Never Enough, which is subtitled How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. Bolton’s book, which is out on 23 June, and Mary Trump’s, scheduled for 28 July, have knocked anti-racism titles by authors including Ibram X Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo and Robin DiAngelo off the top spots.
As the US justice department on Wednesday sought an emergency order to block publication of Bolton’s memoir, copies of the book were leaked to news outlets which revealed a series of explosive claims from the former national security adviser. According to Bolton, Trump pleaded with China to help him with his 2020 re-election campaign, praised China’s president Xi Jinping for his country’s internment camps, and was willing to halt criminal investigations to “give personal favours to dictators he liked”. Trump also weighed in, claiming on Twitter that the book is “made up of lies & fake stories”.
Early reviews of the book have not been favourable. The New York Times said the memoir was “bloated with self-importance, even though what it mostly recounts is Bolton not being able to accomplish very much”. Filled with “minute and often extraneous details”, the review continued, it “toggles between two discordant registers: exceedingly tedious and slightly unhinged”.
The Washington Post said that “for a memoir that is startlingly candid about many things, Bolton’s utter lack of self-criticism is one of the book’s significant shortcomings”, while NPR found that Bolton “clearly does not expect to attract the casual reader, or anyone else unable to digest sentences such as this one on the third page: ‘Constant personnel turnover obviously didn’t help, nor did the White House’s Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all)’.”
Reviews were united in criticising Bolton’s refusal to testify at the Trump impeachment hearings last year. The New York Times called his chapter on Ukraine “weird, circuitous and generally confounding”. Bolton argues that “because of the House’s impeachment malpractice”, testifying would have made “no significant difference”.
“It’s a self-righteous and self-serving sort of fatalism that sounds remarkably similar to the explanation he gave years ago for pre-emptively signing up for the National Guard in 1970 and thereby avoiding service in Vietnam,” writes the NYT.
For NPR, “what might have been blockbuster testimony in January or February seems more historical than contemporary today”. The Washington Post also considers him too late: “Bolton took his time in telling us the truth, and he should have done more when it was his duty during the impeachment inquiry. But it’s all here. In boxing, you’d call it a knockout punch.”
Whether the blow will land is still unclear. The emergency order from the justice department follows a civil suit filed by the Trump administration on Tuesday. Simon & Schuster, the book’s publisher, called the restraining order “a frivolous, politically motivated exercise in futility”, adding that “hundreds of thousands” of copies of The Room Where It Happened have already been distributed.