In this feature of the Washington Watch, WW will primarily recommend books you may find interesting but may also now and then mention a TV program or other things. I welcome your suggestions and your input. What have you been reading or watching that you think WW readers might like?
Dinners with Ruth
A Memoir on the Power of Friendships
Celebrated NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg delivers an extraordinary memoir of her personal successes, struggles, and life-affirming relationships, including her beautiful friendship of nearly fifty years with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Four years before Nina Totenberg was hired at NPR, where she cemented her legacy as a prizewinning reporter, and nearly twenty-two years before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court, Nina called Ruth. A reporter for The National Observer, Nina was curious about Ruth’s legal brief, asking the Supreme Court to do something revolutionary: declare a law that discriminated “on the basis of sex” to be unconstitutional. In a time when women were fired for becoming pregnant, often could not apply for credit cards or get a mortgage in their own names, Ruth patiently explained her argument. That call launched a remarkable, nearly fifty-year friendship.
Dinners with Ruth is an extraordinary account of two women who paved the way for future generations by tearing down professional and legal barriers. It is also an intimate memoir of the power of friendships as women began to pry open career doors and transform the workplace. At the story’s heart is one special relationship: Ruth and Nina saw each other not only through personal joys, but also illness, loss, and widowhood. During the devastating illness and eventual death of Nina’s first husband, Ruth drew her out of grief; twelve years later, Nina would reciprocate when Ruth’s beloved husband died. They shared not only a love of opera, but also of shopping, as they instinctively understood that clothes were armor for women who wanted to be taken seriously in a workplace dominated by men. During Ruth’s last year, they shared so many small dinners that Saturdays were “reserved for Ruth” in Nina’s house.
Dinners with Ruth also weaves together compelling, personal portraits of other fascinating women and men from Nina’s life, including her cherished NPR colleagues Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer; her beloved husbands; her friendships with multiple Supreme Court Justices, including Lewis Powell, William Brennan, and Antonin Scalia, and Nina’s own family—her father, the legendary violinist Roman Totenberg, and her “best friends,” her sisters. Inspiring and revelatory, Dinners with Ruth is a moving story of the joy and true meaning of friendship.
Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America
From the Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times reporter who has defined Donald J. Trump’s presidency like no other journalist: a magnificent and disturbing reckoning that chronicles his life and its meaning from his rise in New York City to his tortured post-presidency.
Few journalists working today have covered Donald Trump more extensively than Maggie Haberman. And few understand him and his motivations better. Now, demonstrating her majestic command of this story, Haberman reveals in full the depth of her understanding of the 45th president himself, and of what the Trump phenomenon means.
Interviews with hundreds of sources and numerous interviews over the years with Trump himself portray a complicated and often contradictory historical figure: capable of kindness but relying on casual cruelty as it suits his purposes. Pugnacious. Insecure. Lonely. Vindictive. Menacing. Smarter than his critics contend and colder and more calculating than his allies believe. A man who embedded himself in popular culture, galvanizing support for a run for high office that he began preliminary spadework for 30 years ago, to ultimately become a president who pushed American democracy to the brink.
The through-line of Trump’s life and his presidency is the enduring question of what is in it for him or what he needs to say to survive short increments of time in the pursuit of his own interests.
Confidence Man is also, inevitably, about the world that produced such a singular character, giving rise to his career and becoming his first stage. It is also about a series of relentlessly transactional relationships. The ones that shaped him most were with girlfriends and wives, with Roy Cohn, with George Steinbrenner, with Mike Tyson and Don King and Roger Stone, with city and state politicians like Robert Morgenthau and Rudy Giuliani, with business partners, with prosecutors, with the media, and with the employees who toiled inside what they commonly called amongst themselves the “Trump Disorganization.”
That world informed the one that Trump tried to recreate while in the White House. All of Trump’s behavior as President had echoes in what came before. In this revelatory and newsmaking book, Haberman brings together the events of his life into a single mesmerizing work. It is the definitive account of one of the most norms-shattering and consequential eras in American political history.
For You When I am Gone
Twelve Essential Questions to Tell a Life Story
Writing an ethical will, a document that includes stories and reflections about your past, is an ancient tradition. It can include joy and regrets, and ultimately becomes both a way to remember a loved one who is gone and a primer on how to live a better, happier life. Beloved Rabbi Steve Leder has helped thousands of people to write their own ethical wills, and in this intimate book helps us write our own.
Because our culture privileges the material over the spiritual, we sometimes forget that our words carry greater value than any physical thing we can bequeath to our loved ones. Rabbi Leder provides all the right questions and prompts, including: What was your most painful regret and how can your loved ones avoid repeating it? When was a time you led with your heart instead of your head? What did you learn from your biggest failure?
Including examples of ethical wills from a broad range of voices—old and young, with and without children, famous and unknown—For You When I Am Gone inspires readers to examine their own lives and turn them into something beautiful and meaningful for generations to come.
Thank you for your Servitude
Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission
From the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller This Town, the eyewitness account of how the GOP collaborated with Donald Trump to transform Washington’s “swamp” into a gold-plated hot tub—and a onetime party of rugged individualists into a sycophantic personality cult.
In the early months of Trump’s candidacy, the Republican Party’s most important figures, people such as Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham, were united—and loud—in their scorn and contempt. Even more, in their outrage: Trump was a menace and an affront to our democracy. Then, awkwardly, Trump won.
Thank You for Your Servitude is Mark Leibovich’s unflinching account of the moral rout of a major American political party, tracking the transformation of Rubio, Cruz, Graham, and their ilk into the administration’s chief enablers, and the swamp’s lesser lights into frantic chasers of the grift. What would these politicos do to preserve their place in the sun, or at least the orbit of the spray tan? What would they do to preserve their “relevance”? Almost anything, it turns out. Trump’s savage bullying of everyone in his circle, along with his singular command of his political base, created a dangerous culture of submission in the Republican Party. Meanwhile, many of the most alpha of the lapdogs happily conceded to Mark Leibovich that they were “in on the joke.” As Lindsey Graham told the author, his supporters in South Carolina generally don’t read The New York Times, and they won’t read this book, either. All that cynicism, shading into nihilism, led to a country truly unhinged from reality, and to the events of January 6, 2021. It’s a vista that makes the Washington of This Town seem like a comedy of manners in comparison.
Thank You for Your Servitude isn’t another view from the Oval Office: it’s the view from the Trump Hotel. We can check out any time we want, but only time will tell if we can ever leave.