The title comes from a quote by Donald J Trump to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in March of 2016, "Real power is--I don't even want to use the word--fear." He has said so many things, but perhaps this is the core of his philosophy. First learned of this title from Fareed Zakaria.
Bob Woodward, of Watergate fame has found a style that helps to uncover interesting information. He conducts interviews as for background meaning he does not attribute quotes. His sources seem quite willing to provide some juicy details. He had also done a lot of research of media information. The book is full of details of interactions of the supporting cast who mostly tried to prevent Trump from doing a lot of what he wanted to.
You want to read this book quickly, because although it points in the direction Trump is headed it also is outdated as the live narrative is changing every day. It carries up to about March 2018. Trump continues to make inflammatory tweets and statements and Bob Mueller seems to quietly get more incriminating information. "Fear" does give a fuller understanding of the background behind the headlines.
Going back to 2010 Trump decided to explore how he might run for president. He had generally been pro choice, but agreed to publicly become pro life. He had been donating slightly more to Democrats than Republicans, but explained that was because Democrats controlled much of urban projects and he needed to grease the wheels. Steve Bannon said he needed to donate to Republican causes, but doubted he would because his donations were more related to what he wanted to buy, sell and develop to make money.
Some bits of advice he learned. Steve Bannon felt Hilary talked too much like a politician which hurt her credibility even when telling the truth. Kellyanne Conway advised to not bother with national polls, but to focus on the Electoral College where he could leverage his resources better.
As one reads of many private conversations touching on incidents we have read and heard about a couple of conclusions leap out. Trump has many preconceptions and shows little interest in understanding the complexities of many issues. He always wants to project strength and prefers to intimidate those he considers opponents. He never wants to admit he has been wrong about anything. Ultimately everything revolves around him. Lots of indications of mental instability. Some of the interesting conversations are with Lindsay Graham, Steve Bannon, Reince Preibus and John Dowd. Woodward talked to or about a lot of others.
Trump had had experience with bankrupticies and was not frightened by them. He felt his negotiating skills included risking bankruptcy even on a federal basis.
In general Trump distrusted international commitments and organizations. He genuinely felt America had been poorly treated by the rest of the world.
Gary Cohn comes out as a reasonable man trying to restrain and educate Trump. One issue was a sequence planned to deal with China. They were to seek a coalition of allies to gang up on China regarding intellectual property theft. But before that got organized Trump insisted on imposing tariffs on a wide variety of goods and countries as well as break up trade agreements. Instead of accumulating allies for the original goal he alienated the prospect of a united front. In the meantime Trump met the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping and felt he was a friend. Cohn tried to explain that trade deficits were not bad, but failed and eventually resigned partially due to his failure.
Kim Jong Un, often considered a madman is not. His father apparently executed scientists for their failures, but Kim has realized they need to learn from mistakes, thus advancing his nuclear and missile plans. We are all aware of a twitter escalation of war threats, but behind the scenes Trump was planning a tweet to order military dependents in South Korea to leave which would have been a signal to North Korea of impending military action. Fortunately he was deterred from the tweet.
Trump had made a campaign promise to repeal the "worst deal ever made" with Iran. Many argued with him, but he was adamant. Perhaps he was influenced by Israel supporters who feared Iran or maybe he was supporting Arab interests. Personally I believe Saudi Arabia is the bigger trouble maker when compared to Iran, but the phobia against Iran is crippling. As one observer pointed out Trump is friendlier towards North Korea.
The Mueller investigation according to sources is very distracting to Trump. It is often difficult to get his attention, but more so when public announcements are made. Woodward obviously talked with legal staff and recounts many conversations between Trump and John Dowd. With no legal training I would have to conclude there is no proof that Trump directly colluded with the Russians. The book closes with a fancied quote from John Dowd, "you're a fucking liar," not actually said to Trump's face.