2 out of 4 stars
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When Kenneth Underwood opened a Twitter account in 2017, he expected to use it for sharing personal updates. As the events of the Trump presidency kept generating dramatic headlines, however, Underwood found himself using the account to save news stories. His non-fiction book Fubar is a digest of various news reports covering Trump’s election campaign and time in office so far.
The word fubar has military origins and is an acronym of “fouled up beyond all recognition”. Another word beginning with the letter F could be inserted in place of “fouled”. In this light, Underwood discusses the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections and President Trump’s relations with other leaders, particularly the autocratic ones he seems to admire. The author also considers the implications of the 2017 tax cut and the separation of immigrant children from their parents, among other events and policies pursued by the White House under Trump.
Given that news can be hard to follow as it unfolds, compilations like this are of value. I liked the way Underwood’s approach helped to shed light on the events of the past few years. For example, he provided background information implying a connection between Trump's policy on Iran and his relations with certain Middle Eastern leaders.
Perspectives like this represent the author’s best achievements in this book. I appreciated the way he avoided sensationalism and ad hominem attacks on Trump. He stuck to reported information in a grounded and realistic way. This was aided by his clear and lively style.
Writing style aside, however, the editing of this book was decidedly fubar. It didn’t look as if it had been so much as reread after it was drafted. There were typos in abundance. "Veunerable Democratic Senates seats include ..." is just one example of a mangled phrase. The frequent grammatical and punctuation errors made the book frustrating to read.
Another factor that interfered with the flow of reading was the use of a column of text set apart from the main narrative on each page. These sidebars contained supplementary information under various headings, often split across several pages. Sometimes the information expanded on the discussion in the primary text, but not necessarily, and it straddled chapters. Apparently reproduced verbatim from news stories, it contained elements that were meaningless out of context, such as “Tuesday night”. Endnotes might have worked better.
In line with that problem, the book's content was generally disorganized. While Underwood did attempt to present arguments on certain themes, these weren’t sustained or logical. One outcome of that was considerable repetition. Had the material been chronologically arranged or structured around a more coherent argument, the author could have used cross-references instead of repeating himself. Aside from those drawbacks, I was surprised that the subject of climate change wasn’t substantively addressed.
Overall, this book provides a lot of useful information and would appeal to readers with an interest in current affairs and politics. If such non-fiction topics aren’t your cup of tea, you won’t appreciate this book. It also might not appeal to those who don’t want to read anything negative about Trump. Weighing up this book's strengths and weaknesses, I rate it 2 out of 4 stars. It is worth reading for the insights it provides, but it falls down on presentation and coherence.
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