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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Jul-18 > Books in brief

Books in brief

The World As it Is: Inside the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes (Bodley Head, £20)

There is a biographical detail about Ben Rhodes, the former foreign affairs adviser to Barack Obama, that his critics often mention: he has an MFA in fiction writing. This fact allows those critics—who range from Fox News types to Washington’s foreign policy establishment—to dismiss Rhodes, and by extension Obama, as a mere storyteller, someone more interested in spinning a yarn than dealing with the harsh realities of a dangerous world.

But as Rhodes’s memoir of his eight years at the White House shows, storytelling plays a vital role in government. Obama used his speeches as a way of formulating his thoughts, painting the bigger picture that placed his day-to-day decisions in context. (Storytelling, it turns out, is pretty useful for authors too—this is that rare beast, an engaging and wonderfully written book on foreign policy.)

For all the discussion about America being the sole remaining superpower, Rhodes portrays a White House more often than not reacting to events, rather than leading them. He reminds us that the president is just one part of the US government’s foreign policy apparatus. Time and again, Rhodes recalls how older—supposedly wiser—heads in the Pentagon and State Department tried to box Obama into a corner on Afghanistan (more troops), Egypt (support for Mubarak) and Iran (don’t do a deal).

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In Prospect's July issue: Editor of Prospect Tom Clark tackles the major fault lines developing in the Conservative Party over Brexit, arguing that the issue could be one of those few occasions where the Tories can’t overcome a significant challenge. Alongside his lead essay, Andrew Gamble, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, examines why many European parties on the right are struggling and why the continent should be worried. Conservative MP Lee Rowley charts what some of the policy areas that the Tories will have to deal with beyond Brexit if they are to get it right. Elsewhere in the issue: Nabeelah Jaffer tries to answer one of the most difficult questions of our time: how do you de-radicalise an extremist. Using examples from both the UK and Denmark, she argues that the UK model needs more work to be effective; Philip Collins asks why Britain’s towns have fallen by the wayside while its cities have thrived; and Sam Tanenhaus profiles “the real deal-maker” in Donald Trump’s White House, Mike Pompeo, after the Secretary of State oversaw the US-North Korea summit.