Book review: Commander in Cheat

Book cover for Commander in Cheat by Rick Reilly

Many years ago, a good friend of mine had me read the Michael Murphy classic, Golf in the Kingdom. I knew how to play the game, but Murphy’s book helped me understand it. On the surface, golf is a silly game. You try to hit a little white ball into a small hole with a bunch of crooked sticks. But at a deeper level, the game can teach you a lot about yourself, people around you, and the world in general. Golf in the Kingdom helped me grasp the depth of the game.

That same friend recently gave me a copy of Rick Reilly’s book, Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump. The book is a collection of stories and anecdotes detailing Trump’s involvement and interest in golf, both on and off the course. I thought it would be an interesting read to test my theories about golf being a generally good indicator of a person’s character.

I’m going to lead into this review by saying that this is not in any away nor should it be construed as a political post. This was a tough review to write because I want to stay focused on the book and not get caught up taking political sides. I have my political opinions, but they aren’t relevant as it relates to the book.

With that out of the way, I do feel strongly that a person’s actions on the course says a lot about their character. A person who cheats regularly at golf tends to live life loosely by the rules and isn’t afraid to bend them. A person who counts every stroke and “plays it as it lies” tends to live by higher moral and ethical standards. See someone throwing and smashing clubs? They will generally have a short temper and be quick to blow their stack. A person who is encouraging and gracious towards others will generally be someone who is always willing to lend a hand and help out. And it’s not just me. This blog post by writer Bill Pennington that is appropriately titled, “Not Just a Sport, But a Window to the Soul,” shows how golf can reveal a lot about a person’s character and behaviors.

Thus, given my impressions of President Trump, the nature of the stories in Reilly’s book did not surprise me. They weren’t a particularly flattering depiction of Trump, but it fits with and explains some of what I’ve seen of him throughout his career, which includes times before, during and after his presidency.

Overall, I liked the book, found it humorous at times, and disturbing at others. Unfortunately, it’s a one-sided book where Reilly is making his case by pointing out all of Trump’s questionable and negative golf behaviors. While I don’t doubt the veracity of the stories, I am sure there are a least a few that would show a different side of Trump’s character and personality. Basically, what I’m saying is that the book felt a little over done. After a while, it felt as through Reilly had an axe to grind against the former President. I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have went through all the stories, I’m just suggesting that it could have done in half to two-thirds of the pages and still gotten his point across.

For the record, what I took away from the whole thing is that President Trump is a very competitive person when it comes to golf. So competitive in fact, that he will do anything and whatever it takes to win, even if it involves bending or breaking the rules. Does the way he play and treat the game of golf reveal anything about his character? Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide, after you’ve read the book.

Should you read Commander in Cheat and will you enjoy it? Well, that depends. If you take you’re politics seriously, then it might be a tough read depending on what side of the political spectrum you lean towards. On the other hand, if you don’t take your politics or yourself to seriously and are willing to keep an open mind, then you will find Commander in Cheat to be a light, fun read. You’ll be entertained, have a few laughs along the way, and may even get to see how the game of golf can explain the nature of one’s personality, their behaviors, and even significant portions of their character.

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