On ‘The Twentieth Day of January’, by Ted Allbeury

Obscure 1980s spy novel oddly parallels Trump's rise


Via Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything podcast, here’s the most entertaining interview you’ll hear today. It’s with Josh Glenn, a semiotician and editor of the culture website Hilobrow, who introduces us to the 1981 British spy novel, The Twentieth Day of January, by Ted Allbeury. Just in time for Donald Trump’s takeover of the USA.

A few excerpts:

Glenn: The plot is ridiculous. A Republican — Logan Powell — has just been elected president. This guy has never been in politics before, but he beats a crowded field of experienced politicians to become first a senator, then president. He’s from a wealthy East Coast family, but he sells himself as a populist. And his big idea is — he wants the US and Russia to be friends. And despite opposition from within his own party, this guy wins the election.

Walker: This is kind of a weirdly prescient novel!

Glenn: I’m just getting started! With only a month to go before the inauguration — on the 20th day of January — an officer in Britain’s intelligence service (!) who’d spent years under diplomatic cover working for the agency, MI6, in Russia and Paris and London, gets wind of a plot by the Kremlin to influence the US election.

Walker: Whoa!

Glenn: The FBI is too political and can’t be trusted with this intel. So the CIA get involved. But they’re reluctant to investigate — because they don’t want to meddle in the electoral process. And because this guy is about to be their boss. It turns out that nobody, not even the Democrats, wants to reveal the truth about this guy’s ties to Russia. They don’t even want to know the truth.

Walker: So you’re saying this predicts, like, how the Russians would get their — I guess, in this case — commie stooge elected?

Glenn: No, no. He’s a capitalist. But he’s also a narcissist who desperately wants power and recognition. So he keeps dancing to Moscow’s tune, because he knows he can’t win without them. Besides, the KGB has the goods on him, thanks to the art of kompromat, which — as we all now know — means the collection of compromising material as a source of leverage.

Walker: Oh my God.

Glenn: Yeah. Old-school Soviet sexual blackmail. They have photos of our man with a prostitute.

Then it gets weirder still. According to Glenn, it’s said to be Trump’s favorite spy novel.

Your time investment? Just under 20 minutes.



The BBC also has a brief report which includes archive interviews with Allbeury and an interview with daughter.



  • 8
  1. gardeninacity says

    Did you know that Trump has proclaimed January 20th to be a “Day of Patriotic Devotion”?

    1. Bob R says

      Yes, I read that. Cute, no? Was before or after he gagged thousands of federal employees?

  2. paula graham says

    Well, I never. We still wait and see.

  3. Carol A. Hand says

    Fascinating story! It has been incredibly difficult for me to imagine how any one could present himself as such a crude, offensive buffoon. The book certainly provides a plausible explanation, although the presidential election might have turned out differently if the democratic party had behaved ethically and honored the popular choice. But I’m not convinced that anyone person, popular or not, could muster enough power to actually change an entrenched, corrupt corporately-puppeteered system.

    1. Bob R says

      It’s plausible only insofar as its fiction. Truth can be much more strange. To be clear: I see this as just a brief break for some comic relief.

  4. emilievardaman says

    Can only find one copy, on Amason for a small fortune. We need a reprint and Kindle version of this!

    1. Bob R says

      Yup, became an instant collectors’ item.

  5. Les Petits Pas de Juls says

    Intriguing… On my Kindle, right now…

    1. Bob R says

      If you don’t mind my asking, where did you find a kindle version?

      1. Les Petits Pas de Juls says

        Kindle is on my phone, directly conneted to amazon.fr Found it at 0,99€… hopefully it’s the correct version, although it mentions it’s a new edition, dated 2014.
        Hope that helps…

        1. Bob R says

          Very interesting. On Amazon.com the only items that appear are very expensive early editions, and no kindle version.

          1. Les Petits Pas de Juls says

            the version on amazon.fr is in English so maybe people can try that way to get it… Weird, though, that there would be a difference…

  6. Jon Goldstein says

    The story of this being Trump’s favorite spy novel must be fake because we all know that Trump can’t read.

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