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In a review of one the first Bob Woodward books on Bush post-9/11, I noted Woodward’s "frustratingly iterative quality," adding that "Aside from doubts about the completeness and accuracy of Woodward’s narrative, there is ample reason to doubt whether Woodward is an adequate analyst of the unfolding scene." Once you look past the reconstructed conversations and mental states he alleges to have divined, is is clear the man is a lightweight.

Now with his new book that is sure to dominate the news cycles for the next week (that is, when we aren’t pondering the seemingly hapless quality of Republican House leaders who tolerated Mark Foley in their ranks), all the same problems of Woodward’s transcript-by-clarivoyance method come heavily into play. It is a well-known rule in Washington that if you don’t cooperate with Woodward on one of his books, you will get pounded in its pages. Bush cooperated with the first two, but not this once. Funny how Woodward’s views of the war and Bush track public opinion polls on the matter so closely. A real independent mind--yeah, right.

Over 800,000 copes of Woodward’s book are already in print, with more likely to follow. But ask yourself this: It is still possible today, 40 years later, to read David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest for valuable insights into the Vietnam War. Even though Halbertsam and his book have serious flaws, it is a masterpiece of contemporary history and analysis. Will anyone, 40 years from now, read any of Woodward’s three books on Bush? Doubtful.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Will anyone ever read your book on Reagan? Doubtful.

Steve’s book on Reagan is a tour de force.

Clay: Is that really your best stuff? And you wonder why your side is losing?

Steve: Is this really your best stuff? How many people will read your book 40 years from now, let alone today?

It is really rather amazing, it seems to me, that neither you nor Clay wish to engage the serious point about how Woodward compares to Halberstam, and what such a comparison can tell us about the probity of Woodward’s work. I don’t really see what my own separate work has to do with it, but I guess it is more fun to make cheap insults than to think and argue Do you really have so few brain cells working?

For the record, by first book on Churchill made the New York Times best-seller list, and Age of Reagan" volume I has sold 15,000 copies in hardback, and will probably do more than that when it eventually comes out in paperback. I’ll leave 40 years from now to take care of itself.

Will anyone, 40 years from now, read any of Woodward’s three books on Bush? Doubtful.

Probably 99 out of every 100 books languishes on the shelves after a few years. Most books are just "stretched-limo" versions of either good or bad essays. The answer about Woodward’s books is will be forgotten. Hayward? Haven’t read it, but both books will be beating the odds if they are used as serious reference in a generation. That’s the reality, I’m afraid.


That’s my point about Woodward and Halberstam. Scholars still read Halberstam, and I think will still read him 40 years from now. Many still read All the President’s Menabout Watergate, but that’s about it from Woodward’s corpus. No legal scholar or historian, I believe, reads The Brethren, Woodward’s breathless book about the Supreme Court that seems to have spun wholly from the out-of-school tales of two or three Court clerks. Like Woody Allen and Mel Brooks movie, it has been all downhill for Woodward since Watergate. (And what has become of Bernstein, anyway?) The fuss about Woodward’s current journalism seems far out of proportion with its merit.

I agree with Steven. If you discount the current popularity and excitement about Bob Woodward, he seems like a very unpopular writer.

"For the record, by first book on Churchill made the New York Times best-seller list, and Age of Reagan" volume I has sold 15,000 copies in hardback, and will probably do more than that when it eventually comes out in paperback."

Now wait a minute; what is being argued for again? Long-term durability and across-the-spectrum respect in the scholarly realm or simply having a popular best-seller? As for the texts you brought up, I wasn’t impressed by Woodward’s book (read the 2nd one) or the Halberstam, really...

Apologies in advance for a Comment that is a bit out of place.

Dan Mahoney was right to point out that there are several Tony Judts. (Some of us were all aflutter a while back over Judt’s NYRB piece on Kolakowski.)

The September 21 issue of the London Review of Books features an article by Judt attacking “liberals” for their fawning support of the president’s foreign policy. And their opposition to its execution is, according to Judt, the opposition of eunuchs: they’ve already given up their integrity.

It is a nasty piece and it connects Judt’s opposition to the Iraq war with Judt’s opposition to a Jewish state. According to Judt, Bush is just imitating Israel’s self-defeating and cruel attempt to remake the Middle East.

Along the way, Judt makes plain that a proper “liberalism” to him is Henry Wallace. Judt thinks liberalism went off track with anti-communist liberalism, and it is no improvement now to dust it off to oppose Islamofascism (a term Judt mocks). Judt doesn’t mention it, but the liberalism of the Euston Manifesto is in thrall to Israel and indistinguishable from Bushism.

In attacking “liberals” for selling out – that is, for not being steadfast 1948 Progressives! -- Judt winds up reinforcing the convenient misconceptions of liberalism held by many conservatives.

This is a Judt that Dan Mahoney warned us about. (The piece seems to be available online to nonsubscribers.)

Dear Steve, thanks for the Judt reference/head’s up.

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