Even with the numbing profusion of news that streams from Donald Trump’s White House daily, the demand for fresh and reliable information still outstrips the available supply. How did this happen? Why did he do that? How on earth has he survived and what the hell will he do next? And what’s the real story, anyway?

Fear not. The book-publishing industry has stepped into the void, angling to fill every last little lacuna left by the 24-7 news cycle with a flood of tell-alls, rehash-alls, and educated-guess-alls strategically timed to land in the run-up to November’s election. The collective result is a portrait of dysfunction, incompetence, malfeasance, seaminess, and cynicism every bit as head-spinning as the president who produced it. The takeaway is that oldest of Washington truisms: It’s even worse than it looks.

At least since Dwight Eisenhower’s speechwriter Emmet John Hughes shocked the capital’s sensibilities by proposing to publish a mildly critical memoir of his boss’s intellectual energies while Ike was still in office (the president pressured Doubleday to cancel the book, and it appeared only years later), presidential aides and confidants have spilled the beans to more or less damaging effect, in more or less real time.

The takeaway is that oldest of Washington truisms: It’s even worse than it looks.

But surely no counselor has ever approached the damning verdict of Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, whose 432-page Disloyal tells the president’s story from the perspective of a self-described “demented follower.” Cohen sprinkles his book with skin-crawling accounts of Trump’s crudeness (he once unwittingly referred to Cohen’s own 15-year-old daughter, whom he had not recognized, as “that piece of ass” and, when told who she was, as “so hot”), and his revelations run from the trivial to the titillating. He describes Trump’s tri-directional apricot comb-over as a “flop” up from the back, a “flip” in from the forehead, a “flap” over to the right, all cemented with Tresemmé hair spray. Together with Russian oligarchs, Cohen writes, the two men once visited a Las Vegas sex club featuring acts of the effluvial variety that, according to the infamous Steele dossier, Trump allegedly witnessed with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room (though Cohen stops just short of saying Trump actually saw the Vegas version).

Cohen’s summary judgment of Trump is high-toned and unsparing: the president and the Republican Party he has swallowed whole pose a threat to the Constitution by “following one of the worst impulses of humankind: the desire for power at all costs.”

The indictment by The New York Times’s ace scoop artist Michael Schmidt is just as devastating, and better documented. In Donald Trump v. The United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President, Schmidt tells the story of what amounts to the opposite legal case: the federal government’s multifaceted effort to hold Trump to account for his solicitation of foreign meddling in American elections and his summary firing of F.B.I. director James Comey, via special counsel Robert Mueller’s dogged inquiry. Schmidt’s narrative profits from intimate access to Comey and his unlikely quasi-ally, the former White House counsel Don McGahn, who worked tirelessly, sometimes in secret cooperation with Mueller’s team, to protect the presidency—and the Republican Party’s long-cherished goal of stacking the federal judiciary—from Trump himself.

He describes Trump’s tri-directional apricot comb-over as a “flop” up from the back, a “flip” in from the forehead, a “flap” over to the right, all cemented with Tresemmé hair spray.

Schmidt deploys nice details—he suggests persuasively, though without the confirmation of a medical diagnosis, that Mueller’s shaking hands and halting explanations in a private meeting with Attorney General William Barr meant that the prosecutor’s faculties had faded as his investigation wrapped up. But Schmidt is a better reporter than he is a storyteller. His narrative veers to and fro with discursive flashbacks that test a nonfiction writer’s best friend—chronology—and he strives for scenes of would-be Woodward-and-Bernstein drama, such as chasing McGahn to the White House gate in a gathering storm, and chauffeuring a secret source from the airport in his mother’s aged Volvo, that don’t really deliver the purported dramatic punch.

By contrast, The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin is a veteran book writer, and he shows it in his vivid account of the case, True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump. (Disclosure: Toobin is a friendly colleague and sometime competitor of many years standing.) Toobin’s story unfolds with steel-cut precision and cinematic sweep. He betrays a sly wit, noting that after Alan Dershowitz, one of Trump’s lawyers, embarrassed himself on the Senate floor by arguing in the president’s impeachment trial that a politician’s solicitation of help in his own re-election was by definition “in the public interest,” Dershowitz “left the next day for his retirement home in Florida.” Indeed, the entire investigation of Trump might have turned out very differently if only Toobin—who cut his teeth as a young lawyer on the staff of Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh—had written Mueller’s final report on the case.

Toobin’s summary of Mueller’s old-school WASP reticence to reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice in the firing of Comey and its aftermath is bracing, and worth quoting verbatim: “In Mueller’s reasoning, a federal prosecutor could neither prosecute the president nor say whether he should be prosecuted, which in this case placed Trump effectively above the law. And Mueller expressed this tortured, overthought conclusion in such confusing language that most mortals could not understand what he had done at all. Sadly, the bewildering denouement undermined the extraordinary, meticulous, and fair-minded work of his staff in building the obstruction of justice case against Trump in the first place.”

“Following one of the worst impulses of humankind: the desire for power at all costs.”

Yet another forthcoming book, by one of the lawyers on Mueller’s own team, Andrew Weissmann, makes a similar argument, according to the latest reports. “We could have done more,” Weissmann writes in Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation.

For their part, Nina Burleigh, a veteran magazine journalist and author, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a longtime event planner at Vogue who once fancied herself among Melania Trump’s B.F.F.’s, set themselves a different task: examining the distaff side of the Trump clan. In The Trump Women: Part of the Deal (a paperback update of Golden Handcuffs, her title from 2018 on the same topic), Burleigh studies Trump’s mother, Mary, whose near death from obstetric complications when Donald was a toddler deprived him of maternal love and affirmation at a crucial time in his emotional development. (Disclosure: Burleigh is my wife’s cousin and a close family friend.) Her book is a brisk, readable, but depressing catalogue of Trump’s long history of exploiting and objectifying women, including his own wives and daughters.

Winston Wolkoff’s Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady is a similar but much stranger tale, an emoji-laden cri de coeur from a presumed confidante and aide-de-camp who realized, too late, that she was just an enabler. It is ultimately a scathing portrait of Trump’s third wife as just as transactional and in-on-the-deal as he is. Winston Wolkoff, who, she writes, over the years volunteered endless hours to help Melania Trump burnish her image, organize Trump’s inaugural festivities, and outline an agenda for the First Lady in office, was summarily dismissed in a bitter (and, it would seem, still emotionally unresolved) dispute over inaugural spending. “I’d been there for her,” Winston Wolkoff writes. “Whatever she asked for, whatever she needed, I supplied.” But “when it really counted,” she adds, “Melania wasn’t there for me. She wasn’t really my friend. In fact, I wish I had never met her.”

Her book is a brisk, readable, but depressing catalogue of Trump’s long history of exploiting and objectifying women, including his own wives and daughters.

It’s hard to read Winston Wolkoff’s book—replete with verbatim text exchanges and, perhaps, recorded telephone conversations with its subject—as anything other than the rawest expression of that inviolable law of interaction with the Trumps: Recline with canines, arise with—well, you know. Perhaps the sole exception to this immutable maxim is Bob Woodward, for nearly 50 years the reigning medium for presidents’ innermost secrets, self-confessed or strategically leaked. Woodward’s accouchement with Trump, in the form of 18 recorded interviews, produced not vermin but volumes of blaring headlines disclosing the president’s deliberate decision to downplay the threat of the coronavirus, though he well knew its dangers early on.

The first half of Woodward’s book is a conventional, somewhat credulous narrative of the highlights (or lowlights) of Trump’s term, seen through the patented perspective of Woodward’s always-unnamed-but-usually-pretty-obvious cooperative sources, in this case apparently including Dan Coats, the former director of national intelligence, and former defense secretary James Mattis. The second half is a seriatim stroll through Woodward’s on-the-record interviews with Trump, in which the author strives in vain to press the president toward mild introspection while Trump remains the resolutely untroubled hero of his own life. “My whole life has been flexible strategy and I’ve done very well,” Trump says at one point, in what Woodward is too polite to point out reads like a euphemism for “My whole life is a tissue of lies.” For anyone who has ever labored in Washington journalism in Woodward’s shadow (and, let’s face it, who has not?), the book prompts the tantalizing question “What might I have made of such incredible access?” and the rueful answer “But look at what Bob did.

Woodward, ever the flat-footed narrator, concludes his book with an observation that poses as oracular but ranks as merely obvious: “When his performance as president is taken in its entirety, I can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job.” You can thank Woodward for that pronouncement, but don’t take his word for it. The proof is all there, in paragraph after paragraph on page after page, hot off the presses in Trump’s own inimitable, unintentionally revealing voice.

Todd S. Purdum is the author of several books, most recently Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution