Well over 20 years ago, author David Cay Johnson took an interest in the man who would become the Republican Party’s standard bearer going into the 2016 election. Across the ensuing two decades, Johnson carefully catalogued his subject’s comings and goings,  deals and patterns of speaking and behaving that brought him to national attention. This year, when it matters, the author has sought to share what he has learned about the man through keen observation, research and study. The result is  The Making of Donald Trump.

The book has an Introduction, 24 relatively short chapters, an Epilogue and wraps up with Acknowledgements and End Notes. The story that unfolds is of a person born into wealth, who was launched into adulthood with a one million dollar gift from his father. There is no question that by means of some shrewd business deals, Trump has parlayed that start-up money into a corpus of several billions of dollars. How much is the man really worth? Only Primadonald and his accountant know for sure, but Johnson forthrightly states that it is probably a good bit less than what his subject has repeatedly claimed.

As the author documents, Trump has added to his wealth through conniving, the use of cheap, illegal workers (2), and chiseling (3). All these tactics have been employed to improve Trump’s bottom line  without regard for the ethical lapses and pain inflicted on others in the process. .

Johnson notes that his subject’s projection of himself as a powerhouse businessman has required some glossy re-writing of his history with bankruptcies; six in actual number (4). As the author elucidates, most of these failures involved casino operations at which Trump proved to be very inept, and his “chummy” business relationships with convicted felons.

What the author is able to trace through his 20-odd years of tailing Trump, is the man’s insatiable appetite for self-promotion, all in the service of making himself a mythical figure. There are imaginary friends and lovers, the taking on of a different persona (5) to plant favorable stories with the media, and a willingness to lie when needed to enhance his status. Johnson calls it “Myth maintenance” in one chapter.

The Making of Donald Trump is a solid piece of reporting by a man who already has one Pulitzer Prize under his belt. He is very readable and writes with conviction but not animus. It should be a required text for anyone still wondering if all the media accounts of Trump are to be believed. Johnson sets the record straight and for that he deserves our thanks.


  1. Johnson, David Cay; The Making of Donald Trump. New York:  First Melville House Printing; August 2016.
  2. Contrast that bit of history against the candidate’s disdain for the undocumented.
  3.  Contractors who performed work from Trump would be accused of shoddy workmanship and told that they would not be paid in full. These providers found themselves in the unenviable position of having to sue to secure all money owed them, or accept seven cents on the dollar. They typically chose the latter.
  4. Trump was directly involved in four of the six. In the remaining two, he had managed to extricate himself from business ventures before the bankruptcies were filed.
  5. There is no question that Trump has used the name and persona of “John Baron” who identified himself over the phone as a “spokesman” for the billionaire.