Saturday, February 24, 2018

How Paul Fussell and Samuel Johnson Helped Me Write a Review of Michael Wolff's Book, Fire and Fury

When I review a book, the words sometimes seem to flow onto the page directly from my mind.  That was not the case with Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House.  The words for my review of this book literally came to me from the writings of Paul Fussell and Samuel Johnson.

The original idea of Michael Wolff's book was to provide an account of the first one hundred days of the Trump Presidency, as seen through the eyes of the people closest to Trump.  And Wolff had open access to the White House––in his words, "something quite close to a fly on the wall."  The events Wolff describes are based on conversations he reportedly had with members of Trump's family and his White House staff.  Wolff himself readily admits that some of the accounts of what happened in the Trump White House are in conflict with each other.  But Wolff reasoned that he would let the readers judge for themselves.

When I finished reading Wolff's book, I sat in front of my computer, and contemplated what to say in my review about the book.  Believe me, I believed every word that was written!  But, at the moment, I was at a temporary loss of words to emphasize that the dastardly things "he said-she said" really could have happened in the White House of the United States of America.  So I put Fire and Fury aside for the time being.

A few days later, I was researching the web on some unrelated matter and came across Paul Fussell's January 1982 Harper's Magazine article, My War:  How I got irony in the infantry –– I will wait here if you want to read his article now; or you can read it later...

After reading his article, I wanted to read more by Paul Fussell.  So I went to Abebooks.  And that's when I discovered that Paul Fussell wrote a book about Samuel Johnson:  Samuel Johnson and the Life of Writing.  Being a Samuel Johnson collector, I immediately ordered a copy of Fussell's book.

And when I received it, and got to page 12 of the book, the idea of the review of Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury, was staring at me smack in the face.  Fussell was talking about Johnson's writing and was referring to Samuel Johnson's Preface to Father Jerome Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia, first published in 1735Johnson translated this book from the French.  But both Fussell and Johnson could have been talking about Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury:  Inside the Trump White House.

That first marked sentence is all the more relevant and powerful when it is written in its entirety––as it was first written by Samuel Johnson in 1735:

The Portuguese traveler, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his readers with no romantic absurdities or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable; and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability has a right to demand that they believe him who cannot contradict him.

Judging by the leaks that came out almost daily from the White House,  Micheal Wolff's account of what went on in the White House is all the more believable....