Is it even possible to review a book about Donald Trump without delving into politics? Probably not, so to save anyone reading this some time I’ll just put it out there — in my opinion the last 3+ years of the Donald Trump presidency have been some of the worst this country has experienced over the last century, and he is largely at fault.
If you think this point of view renders me incapable of writing an objective review of Mary L. Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, that’s fair enough. Maybe it does. But I doubt anyone who picks up a copy of this book does so as merely a disinterested observer. Let’s face it, Trump is easily one of the most controversial and divisive figures in the world right now so not having a strong opinion about him is nearly impossible. And in any case, this is a personal blog and not a scholarly journal so here we go.
The problem with labeling any real person as a “monster” is that as tempting as it may be it leaves little room for a nuanced look at their life. Some people are so afraid of admitting that every one of us, from the most brutal serial killer to the most enlightened saint and sage, has a unique life story and set of conditions and circumstances that led them down their path. On the one hand, we don’t want to excuse someone’s bad behavior and on the other, we don’t want to write off great deeds as merely the product of luck or inborn qualities. Nevertheless, I bought this book, the first of its kind written by a Trump family member, looking for all the dirt and other support I could find to reinforce my largely negative opinions about Donald Trump.
On that front, Too Much and Never Enough doesn’t quite deliver like I thought it would. Oh sure, there are some salacious bits concerning his complete disregard for society’s norms and rules as well as for even his closest family members — not even Trump family patriarch Fred was spared from Donald’s callous indifference in the end — and his well-publicized business shortcomings. But for me, this just provided additional background to well-work themes about the current president. So if you’re looking for volumes of stories that would embarrass him or make him look awful, I don’t think there is quite as much as you might expect.
Honestly, I was left feeling somewhat sorry for Donald after reading this. As Mary Trump tells her story — and the secondhand story of other family members — the root of Donald’s worst inclinations and behaviors apparently lies at the doorstep of Fred Trump almost exclusively (so yes, daddy issues), with some blame reserved for his mother Mary Anne as well. At least a third of the book is spent detailing the rise and domination of Fred Trump and how his all-consuming ambition, combined with what Mary terms his sociopathy, came to first mold his family and eventually destroy it. Everyone became a victim of Fred Trump, even Donald, although in different ways.
What I didn’t expect was that at least another third of the book dealt with how Fred’s behaviors and attitudes impacted his oldest son, Fred Jr. (Freddy). Seeing as Mary is Fred Jr.’s daughter this isn’t surprising in retrospect but again, if you are looking for a book largely centered around Donald you may be disappointed by this. I found it to be a fascinating and — as with the rest of the book — tragic story. I won’t ruin the details here except to say that if the story Mary tells about her father (who died in 1981 at age 42) and his relationship with his family is even half true it’s a searing indictment of the whole lot.
The main things that hold this book back from being the full-on tell-all about Donald’s childhood and early adult life are the simple facts that Mary Trump a) is his niece and not a sibling so didn’t spend nearly as much time with Donald as you’d think and b) was born when Donald was already almost 19 years old. Neither of these things is her fault of course, and I have no reason to suspect that she wasn’t as truthful as possible in writing this book, but it does mean necessarily that a lot of what she shares here are not stories from her direct experience.
So what are we take make of all this? Again, I have no reason to think Mary Trump is lying about anything she experienced or was told. As she noted herself in the book she has much more to lose than gain by even saying anything about Donald or the Trump family, so why take the risk just to spread fabrications? So long as we understand that this book was likely meant to provide just one lens into the hellacious life of the Trump family and not a thorough biography written by a seasoned professional then its shortcomings are easily overlooked.
All of that said, this book was thoroughly gripping, well-paced, and a total page-turner. You can either accept what she’s written as honest or not but there’s no denying that there is a fascinating story here.