24 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti:
Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well


Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti Headache Stencil

Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well, published last month, is the first comprehensive survey of street art in Bangkok. (Alisa Phommahaxay’s more limited Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019.) The book contrasts the insular graffiti tagging scene of the early 2000s with the emergence of more character-based street art in the early 2010s. Similar divisions persist over the increasing commercialisation of street art, and Mann addresses the nuances of these debates and places them in historical context. It is also available in a Thai edition, titled สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป.

The book’s main focus is the artistic takeover of Hopewell, the site of an abandoned elevated road and rail line. (Hopewell’s huge concrete pillars now stand as monuments to overambition, lethargy, and corruption.) The most interesting chapter covers political dissent, led by Headache Stencil’s pieces denouncing Prawit Wongsuwan (the deputy PM with a suspicious penchant for luxury watches) and Premchai Karnasuta (the head of ITD—which secured some of the country’s most lucrative infrastructure contracts—who organised an illegal hunting party), and includes a discussion of censorship and its circumvention.

20 March 2022

Bangkok Street Art:
Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise


Bangkok Street Art
Headache Stencil

Alisa Phommahaxay’s Bangkok Street Art: Regard sur la scène urbaine thaïlandaise (‘a look at the urban Thai scene’) was the first book on Bangkok street art and graffiti. It profiles seven artists, including Alex Face (“probably the most well-known Thai street artist in the world”), though it also features work by plenty of others (there are six pages devoted to Headache Stencil, for example).

The pocket-sized Bangkok Street Art was published in 2019, as part of the Opus Délits (‘criminal works’) series of monographs on urban artists. A second and more substantial book on the subject, Rupert Mann’s Bangkok Street Art and Graffiti: Hope Full, Hope Less, Hope Well (สตรีทอาร์ตกับกราฟฟิตีในกรุงเทพฯ และ ณ โฮปเวลล์ ความหวังที่หายไป), was published this year.

04 March 2022

Kleptopia:
How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World



A mining company has lost its libel case against a journalist who implied it had arranged the killings of several senior staff. In his book Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World, Tom Burgis describes the mysterious deaths of former employees of the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, which was being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office in the UK. Burgis also wrote an eight-page cover story about the case for the FT Weekend Magazine—headlined “Silent Witnesses”—published on 2nd October 2020.

In Kleptopia, Burgis alleges that two former ENRC staff died in suspicious circumstances, describing them as “the deceased bearers of ENRC’s secrets”. James Bethel and Gerrit Strydom died in their separate hotel rooms on the same night in 2015, during a road trip. Malaria was recorded as the cause of both men’s deaths, though Burgis points out that their malaria parasites had different genotypes, making it impossible that they were both infected at the same time. As he writes in his magazine piece, this begs the question: “if malaria did not kill the two men, what did?”

A third man associated with ENRC, James Bekker, died when his parked car caught fire in 2016. His body was found on the back seat. In Kleptopia, Burgis implies that he was silenced: “Bekker knew... that the valuation must have been inflated. And he had started telling people as much.” In the FT Weekend Magazine, Burgis alleges that Bekker was the victim of a contract killing: “local crime gangs claimed to have a source who said a contract on Bekker’s life had been paid out.”

ENRC sued Burgis and HarperCollins, who published Kleptopia, though the case was dismissed at yesterday’s High Court hearing in London, and any potential appeal was denied. The judge ruled that ENRC was not defamed by Burgis, as a corporation cannot be held legally responsible for murder. Speaking outside court, Burgis said: “I’m delighted that this attempt to censor Kleptopia has failed.”

23 January 2022

10 ราษฎร


Family Club

Five plainclothes police officers made an unannounced inspection of the new 1932 People Space Library at Wat Thong Noppakhun in Bangkok today. They confiscated a copy of 10 ราษฎร (‘10 people’), which features portraits by Chalermpol Junrayab of ten activists charged with lèse-majesté.

One of the officers returned the book a few hours later, claiming that he had merely taken it for his young son to read. 10 ราษฎร is part of a series of eight children’s picture books investigated by the Ministry of Education last year.

20 January 2022

The Monarchy and Thai Society



Thai police raided the offices of Same Sky Books this morning, looking for copies of Arnon Nampa’s booklet The Monarchy and Thai Society (สถาบันพระมหากษัตริย์กับสังคมไทย). (Its English title comes from an authorised online translation by PEN.) Around thirty officers searched the premises; they didn’t find any copies of the booklet, though they obtained a court order to confiscate Same Sky editor Thanapol Eawsakul’s mobile phone and computer instead.

10,000 copies of the booklet were seized from Same Sky last year, and their offices were also raided in 2020. Thanapol was one of many anti-military intellectuals subjected to ‘attitude adjustment’ in 2014, and he was also questioned by the military in connection with the distribution of Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra calendars in 2016.

The Monarchy and Thai Society is one of three booklets written by anti-government protesters, published in the colours of the Thai flag. The others are The Day the Sky Trembled (ปรากฏการณ์สะท้านฟ้า 10 สิงหา; also translated by PEN) and บทปราศรัยคัดสรรคดี 112 (‘speeches on 112’).

Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations


Familiar Quotations

John Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations was first published in 1855, with expanded editions released every ten years or so. Its chief competitor—The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, edited by Alice Mary Smyth—first appeared almost ninety years later. (My first edition copy of Smyth’s book was published with corrections in 1942.)

Bartlett’s serves as a comprehensive cultural history, covering not only literature (Hamlet: “To be, or not to be: that is the question”) but also political speeches (the Gettysburg Address: “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”), interview soundbites (Princess Diana: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”), and film dialogue (Casablanca: “Round up the usual suspects”). The eighteenth edition, edited by Geoffrey O’Brien, was published in 2012.

I have a rather niche non-transferable skill: correctly predicting the pull quotes that will be reported by news organisations after interviews and speeches. It’s also highly satisfying, when conducting interviews for publication, if the interviewee says something that makes an ideal pull quote. Effectively, Bartlett’s collects the pull quotes that stand the test of time, and a new (nineteenth) edition will be released later this year.

Many reference books have migrated online, where they can be more easily searched and updated. But print editions of dictionaries of quotations remain necessary, as online quote databases are filled with paraphrases and misattributions. (This has been parodied in an online meme: a fake quote from Abraham Lincoln warning people not to believe what they read on the internet.)

In a 1993 Quote... Unquote newsletter, Nigel Rees described the problem of “Churchillian Drift”, whereby quotations are commonly misattributed by default to either Winston Churchill or George Bernard Shaw. But even when their attributions are correct, most quotation websites provide no context whatsover: publication dates and sources are rarely cited, making annotated dictionaries such as Bartlett’s essential resources.

07 January 2022

#WhatsHappeningInThailand
และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ


#WhatsHappeningInThailand

#WhatsHappeningInThailand และแล้วความหวังก็ปรากฏ (‘and then hope appeared’) is the first book to document the anti-government protest movement that began in Bangkok two years ago. Journalist Karoonporn Chetpayark gives her reflections on covering the demonstrations, accompanied by Asadawut Boonlitsak’s photographs of the protests. The book covers a period of exactly a year, from the rally at Democracy Monument on 18th July 2020 to the first anniversary of that event last year, when protesters were met with a much more violent police response.

05 January 2022

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021:
The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats


VideoHound

VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever 2021: The Complete Guide to Movies on All Home Entertainment Formats, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus, is the final edition of the last remaining film guide in print. VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever first appeared in 1990 and was updated annually, though the 2022 edition was cancelled by the publisher. With reviews of almost 30,000 films released on video, and over 2,000 pages, the 2021 edition was approaching the physical limits of a manageable single-volume book. In fact, the total number of films in recent editions had been gradually declining, as obscure older films were deleted to make room for new releases.

The annual film guide format was pioneered in 1958 by Steven H. Scheuer, who reviewed 5,000 titles in his TV Movie Almanac and Ratings. A decade later, in 1969, came Scheuer’s first competitor, Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies, and after another decade Leslie Halliwell launched his Halliwell’s Film Guide. This triumvirate ruled the roost for another decade, until smaller guides such as Elliot’s Guide to Films on Video (by John Elliot) and The Virgin Film Guide were published in the late 1980s and early ’90s. (The Virgin guide was notable for its lengthy reviews of significant films. On the other hand, Elliot even stooped to reviewing some of the more outré ‘video nasties’.)

The next wave of film guides was dominated by major magazine publishers. The Empire Film Guide followed the Virgin formula, while the Time Out Film Guide and the Radio Times Guide to Films both aimed to be as comprehensive as possible. Time Out found room for more independent and arthouse titles, while the Radio Times adopted an even-handed reviewing style, perhaps to differentiate itself from the more opinionated Halliwell’s Film Guide. The Radio Times Film Guide also had a little-known predecessor: Derek Winnert’s Radio Times Film and Video Guide, which was pulped after a plagiarism lawsuit from the publishers of Halliwell’s.

After the boom came the bust, and—like other printed reference books—the annual film guide eventually became an endangered species. 1992 saw the final edition of Scheuer’s book (retitled Movies on TV and Videocassette). The Virgin and Empire guides ended in 2005 and 2007, respectively. The last Halliwell’s Film Guide came out—somewhat contentiously—in 2007, and the brand died an ignominious death the following year with The Movies That Matter. Maltin’s book was last updated in 2014 (retitled Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide). Time Out’s guide ceased publication in 2012, and the Radio Times’s followed suit in 2017.

31 December 2021

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli:
The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’


Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

There are six books on my shelves about the making of The Godfather: The Godfather Family Album, The Official Motion Picture Archives, The Annotated Godfather, The Godfather Notebook, The Godfather Book, and now Mark Seal’s Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: The Epic Story of the Making of ‘The Godfather’. As Seal acknowledges in his preface, “The Godfather has spawned its own massive field of study, a trove of books, articles, documentaries...” Some familiar production anecdotes are inevitably duplicated throughout these six books, though each title also provides ample original material, and each has a different approach to the making of the film.

What distinguishes Seal’s new book? Firstly, it has an extended interview with Francis Ford Coppola (who admits that, “at the root of it all, I was terrified”). Also, one chapter quotes extensively from a stenographer’s transcript of a six-hour pre-production meeting. This document is a valuable primary source, as it accurately records exactly what was said at the time, such as Coppola’s explanation of the film’s opening line: “Just starting with, ‘I believe in America,’ because it’s what the whole movie is about.” Previously, Seal wrote a Vanity Fair article on the making of the film for the magazine’s 2009 Hollywood issue, and an oral history of Pulp Fiction for the 2013 Hollywood issue.

28 December 2021

The King of Bangkok


The King of Bangkok

The King of Bangkok, the English-language edition of the Italian graphic novel Il Re di Bangkok, was published last month. A Thai edition was released last year, retitled ตาสว่าง (ta sawang). The book was written by Claudio Sopranzetti and Chiara Natalucci, with illustrations by Sara Fabbri, and is the product of meticulous ethnographic and archival research into Thai political and cultural history. The English edition features several new appendices, including a timeline of political events giving extra context to the narrative.

There is also an extensive interview with the authors, in which they discuss their goal of counteracting the ‘Teflon’ effect, whereby Thailand’s violent political climate is so successfully expunged from its international image by the Ministry of Tourism, “one of the most effective propaganda machines in the country.” The interview also touches on the book’s slightly censored Thai translation: “The solution we finally adopted in Thai was to cover three particularly sensitive sentences with a black line, a strategy used by progressive Thai filmmakers to pass state censorship while indexing its presence and effects.”

22 December 2021

Surrealism Beyond Borders


Surrealism Beyond Borders

The Surrealism Beyond Borders exhibition, currently on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will transfer to London’s Tate Modern next year. Curated by Stephanie D’Alessandro and Matthew Gale, it’s the first exhibition to consider Surrealism from a global perspective. As the foreword to the exhibition catalogue explains, it “moves away from a Paris-centered viewpoint to shed light on Surrealism’s significance around the world from the 1920s until the late 1970s.”

The 400-page catalogue, published in October, includes essays on Surrealism in Egypt, Cuba, Japan, Mexico, Syria, China, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, the Philippines, and Thailand. (Apinan Poshyananda also covered Thai Surrealism in Modern Art in Thailand.) While not as definitive as Gérard Durozoi’s monumental History of the Surrealist Movement (Histoire du mouvement surréaliste), the Surrealism Beyond Borders catalogue is unique in its extensive international coverage of Surrealist art. (Maurice Nadeau wrote the first history of Surrealism in 1944, Histoire du surréalisme, though it was not translated into English until twenty years later, as The History of Surrealism.)

With its expansion of Surrealism’s geographical boundaries, Surrealism Beyond Borders follows in the footsteps of the Futurism and Futurisms (Futurismo e futurismi) and International Pop exhibitions and catalogues, which undertook similar internationalisations of Futurism and Pop Art, respectively. Earlier, Norma Broude’s book World Impressionism examined the worldwide impact of Impressionism, and Robert Rosenblum’s Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art considered Cubism from an American and pan-European perspective. (Incidentally, the first two editions of Rosenblum’s book, published by Abrams with tipped-in colour plates, are superior to the subsequent reprints.)

The Madman's Library:
The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History



The Madman’s Library: The Strangest Books, Manuscripts and Other Literary Curiosities from History includes hundreds of examples of odd, unusual, and unconventional books. There are fascinating and lavishly illustrated chapters on, for example, microbooks and elephant folios, literary hoaxes, and texts written on 3D objects. The highlight is a chapter on books bound in human skin (anthropodermic bibliopegy) and written in blood, which is the first illustrated survey of the subject. Author Edward Brooke-Hitching is one of the ‘elves’ (researchers) from the excellent TV series QI.

21 December 2021

แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย



แบบเรียนพยัญชนะไทย ฉบับการเมืองไทยร่วมสมัย (‘Thai consonant textbook: contemporary politics edition’), PrachathipaType’s parody of an alphabet picture book, was launched at the Bangkok Art Book Fair last month. (In an installation at CityCity Gallery, people sat at wooden desks and posed as students reading copies of the book.) The project is a collaboration with Rap Against Dictatorship, who released a song—กอ เอ๋ย กอ กราบ (‘k is for krap [prostration]’)—and animated video based on PrachathipaType’s illustrations. (The song’s lyrics are printed at the back of the book.)

Each of the forty-four Thai consonants is represented by images satirising the government, the monarchy, and the justice system. Specific themes include mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic, state budget allocations, and the Constitutional Court’s dissolution of popular political parties. The cover, featuring twenty women, is especially provocative. Thammanat Prompao, surely the most disreputable Thai politician in recent memory, is namechecked for his insistence that the 3kg of heroin he was convicted of smuggling into Australia was actually flour. (Incredibly, the Constitutional Court ruled that he could still serve as a cabinet minister, as his crime was committed outside Thailand.)

30 November 2021

Gothic:
An Illustrated History


Gothic

Roger Luckhurst’s Gothic begins with the pointed arch, the archetypal element of the Gothic style, though the book explores the Gothic influence far beyond its architectural and literary origins. As Luckhurst writes in his introduction: “Gothic: An Illustrated History takes up the challenge of building a global history of the Gothic, attempting to glimpse this protean creature as it shape-shifts.”

This is a guide to Gothic geography and cryptozoology, organised thematically rather than chronologically. Gothic motifs and settings are explored, and the book is truly international in scope. Unlike previous histories of the subject, popular culture—especially Gothic cinema—is given serious consideration, and there are around 350 superb historical illustrations.

Famously, Giorgio Vasari described Gothic architecture as “monstrous”, and Luckhurst’s book features a comprehensive bestiary of monsters of all kinds. Like the chapters on monsters, the collection of extended essays on the “Gothic Compass” (southern, western, eastern, and northern Gothic) could stand as a separate book in its own right.

With its shadowy subject matter and the sheer range of material under discussion—from medieval churches to computer games—Luckhurst’s book is similar to Marina Warner’s equally impressive No Go the Bogeyman. Music and fashion are surprising omissions, though: the goth subculture and bands such as the Cure really deserve to be included.

Henri Focillon’s The Art of the West in the Middle Ages (Art d’Occident) was the first comprehensive history of Gothic architecture. More recently, Rolf Toman’s Gothic: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting is a lavishly illustrated history of the subject.

28 November 2021

If We Burn:
Before


If We Burn

The first issue of the journal If We BurnBefore, edited by Wassachol Sirichanthanun—is an anthology of short stories, poetry, art, and photography created since the 2014 coup. The title, If We Burn (“...you burn with us”), is a quote from The Hunger Games, the series that also inspired the three-finger salute adopted by anti-coup activists.

The collection includes new writings from Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa and Dawut Sassanapitax, amongst others. Artworks include an infographic documenting the casualties of the 2010 military massacre. The grey cover image is described as “ด้านหลังของภาพขนาดใหญ่ภาพหนึ่ง ณสวนสัตว์เขาดิน” (‘the back of a large portrait at Dusit Zoo’), a similar concept to Wittawat Tongkeaw, who exhibited the back of a painting of that person’s husband—The Masterpiece (มาสเตอร์พีซ)—earlier this year.

27 November 2021

A Life of Picasso:
The Minotaur Years, 1933-1943


Guernica

A Life of Picasso: The Minotaur Years, the fourth and final volume of John Richardson’s definitive Picasso biography, was published posthumously this month, some fourteen years after volume III. (Richardson died in 2019, aged ninety-five.) The Minotaur Years covers the decade from 1933 to 1943, during which Picasso created some of his greatest works, most notably the vast anti-war painting Guernica.

Richardson writes that “Guernica would establish Picasso as the world’s most celebrated modern artist.” It has its own chapter in The Minotaur Years, as do Pêche de nuit à Antibes (‘night fishing at Antibes’), the satirical etching Sueño y menitra de Franco (‘dream and lie of Franco’), and—“unquestionably his most celebrated engraving”—La Minotauromachie (‘minotauromachy’).

A Life of Picasso ends in 1943, thirty years before the artist’s death, though one of Richardson’s earlier essays, published in the exhibition catalogue The Mediterranean Years, is effectively a continuation of the biography. The Mediterranean Years covers Picasso’s life from 1945 to 1962, so its chronology matches almost perfectly with The Minotaur Years, leaving a gap of only a single year (1944).

The first three volumes of A Life of Picasso are: The Early Years, 1881-1906; The Cubist Rebel, 1907-1916; and The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932. Richardson also wrote and presented the excellent three-part Channel 4 documentary Picasso: Magic, Sex, and Death.

Of the hundreds of monographs on Picasso’s art, Picasso (by Wilhelm Boeck and Jaime Sabartes) stands out as the first extensive survey, though it was never reprinted after its original publication in 1955. Pablo Picasso (by Carsten-Peter Warncke) and The Ultimate Picasso (by Brigitte Leal, Christine Piot, and Marie-Laure Bernadac) are the most comprehensive books on Picasso, and have both been reprinted in various editions.

The Art of Destruction:
The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt


The Art of Destruction

The Art of Destruction: The Vienna Action Group in Film, Performance and Revolt is the most comprehensive English-language study of the Vienna Action Group, the transgressive performance artists whose work explored “the body’s determinedly expelled elements: semen, excrement, urine and blood.” The book was first published in 2004, as Art of Destruction: The Films of the Vienna Action Group; the second edition was published last year.

Author Stephen Barber profiles each artist—Otto Muehl, Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler—individually, and analyses the films they made with experimental filmmakers including Kurt Kren. Amusingly, he claims that Brus was “habitually shy and polite,” which is, to put it mildly, inconsistent with the artist’s role in Kunst und Revolution (‘art and revolution’): “Before several hundred spectators, he undressed completely, incised his chest with a razor, urinated into a cup and drank it... he then reclined on his side, coated in excrement, and sang the Austrian national anthem.”

Muehl’s performances were equally provocative, and he was jailed alongside Brus after Kunst und Revolution. In Oh Sensibility, which Barber describes as “Muehl’s most notorious film”, a goose is decapitated. After initially filming various performances (or ‘actions’), rendered semi-abstract by rapid editing, Kren’s role became increasingly participatory, and he appeared with Muehl in orgiastic performances such as Scheißkerl (whose title is a German pejorative).

The book includes a complete filmography, which is essential as most Vienna Action Group films—aside from Kren’s Action Films DVD—remain unavailable. When they were screened at Warwick University twenty years ago, my partner and I were the only ones in attendance, so the projectionist played the 16mm reels in the order we requested, starting with Kren’s notorious 20. September. (That film inspired Vasan Sitthiket’s equally scatological video There Must Be Something Happen [sic].)

EBB



The new photobook EBB features the work of nineteen photographers, documenting the recent anti-government and monarchy-reform protests in Thailand. The title refers both to ‘ebbing away’ (of support for the establishment) and ‘ebb and flow’ (the sense that receding waves—like persecuted protesters—will eventually return).

There are some stunning images, including a phalanx of riot police (photographed by Adsadang Satsadee); a sea of protesters, with a solitary ‘I here too’ placard (Panasann Pattanakulchai); and a lone protester, arms outstretched, on the front line (Asadawut Boonlitsak). In many photographs, fireworks, tear gas, and surreal props add to the phantasmagorical nature of the protests in Bangkok. There are also images of the Calmer Rouge performance event in Chiang Mai.

The book was launched yesterday, on the opening day of the Bangkok Art Book Fair at CityCity Gallery. It’s available in a limited edition of 300 copies, and the photos—selected by Kanrapee Chokpaiboon—are accompanied by anti-government graffiti by street artist BEKOS. The Art Book Fair (making a welcome return after being held online last year due to the coronavirus lockdown) continues until tomorrow.

28 October 2021

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

The 2021 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die was published this month, with a revised list of recommended films. The first edition, edited by Steven Jay Schneider in 2003, was reprinted with minor revisions in 2004, and the book has been updated annually ever since (in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020).

Eleven new films have been added to year’s edition, representing only 1% of the total list. With a single exception, the new entries were all released in the last few years: Tenet, The Vast of Night, The Assistant, Rocks, Saint Maud, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Soul, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Lovers Rock, and Nomadland. Again, with one exception, the corresponding deletions are all from the past decade: Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers Endgame (combined into a single entry), Birdman, Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, The Handmaiden (아가씨), 13th, Blade Runner 2049, The Favourite, Hereditary, Sorry to Bother You, and Monos.

The exceptions are Lamerica from 1994 and The Blue Kite (藍風箏) from 1993. In last year’s edition, The Blue Kite was mysteriously deleted and replaced by Lamerica. This year, that decision has been reversed: Lamerica is out, and The Blue Kite is back in. Ian Haydn Smith, editor of recent editions, notes in his preface that the coronavirus pandemic resulted in “a multitude of smaller titles from around the world” gaining releases on streaming platforms, though the new entries in this edition are all English-language films (with The Blue Kite again being the only anomaly).

27 October 2021

Peril


Peril

Peril, by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, completes a trilogy of Woodward’s books on Donald Trump, following Fear and Rage. Peril examines Trump’s final year in office and the first few months of Joe Biden’s presidency, and its title is taken from Biden’s inaugural address, in which he described a “winter of peril.”

I Alone Can Fix It, by fellow Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, also covers the end of the Trump administration, and shares some of the same sources: William Barr and Mark Milley clearly spoke to the authors of both books. Milley confirmed as much to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, though his description of the 6th January insurrection as a “Reichstag moment”—the standout quote from I Alone Can Fix It—is merely an hors-d’œuvre in Peril.

How to convey the madness of the Trump White House in its final months? Woodward and Costa opt for a cinematic comparison: “The scenes of a screaming Trump in the Oval Office resembled Full Metal Jacket,” and Trump reminded Barr of another Kubrick classic, “the character in the 1964 dark comedy Dr. Strangelove who ruminates about withholding his “essence” from women.”

Barr told Trump the unvarnished truth, that potential voters “think you’re a fucking asshole.” (Biden concurred, in a private White House conversation: “What a fucking asshole”.) Lyndsey Graham was equally blunt, telling Trump: “You fucked your presidency up.” After his election defeat, Trump ignored all such dissenting voices, and embraced Rudy Giuliani’s wild conspiracy theories, clinging desperately to data that Giuliani literally made up out of thin air.

One of Peril’s most extraordinary chapters reveals, for the first time, an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Mike Pence on the evening before the insurrection. This was Trump’s last-ditch attempt to convince Pence to decertify the election results. Trump offers Pence a Faustian pact: “wouldn’t it almost be cool to have that power?” When that fails, he turns into a petulent child: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this.”

Peril includes equally dramatic material on the Biden administration, revealing an intelligence briefing that warned Biden of the disastrous consequences of a sudden withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Woodward and Costa summarise the briefing, which now seems remarkably prescient: “The capital, Kabul, and other cities ultimately fall and the Taliban take over, amounting to a collapse of the Afghan state in months to years.” As they demonstrate, “Biden was abandoning Afghanistan to civil war and potential collapse,” contradicting Biden’s claim that he had not received such warnings.

The book also quotes extensively from a phone call between Biden and Vladimir Putin. Rather than the usual diplomatic readout, we see how direct Putin can be when he tells Biden: “I’m upset you called me a killer”. In a later call, Biden warns Putin that Russia is vulnerable to US cyber espionage: “great countries have great responsibilities. They also have great vulnerabilities.” (Trump’s views on Putin are not mentioned in Peril, though he is quoted referring to Angela Merkel, with his usual charm, as a “bitch kraut”.)

Peril is the fifteenth Trump book reviewed here. The others are: Fear, Rage, I Alone Can Fix It, A Very Stable Genius, Fire and Fury, Inside Trump’s White House, The United States of Trump, Trump’s Enemies, The Trump White House, Too Much and Never Enough, The Room Where It Happened, Team of Five, American Carnage, and The Cost.