Woodward's trilogy on the Bush administration at war is essential, and compelling, reading. The latest volume tells a depressingly familiar story of dysfunctional government: the president would rather swap jokes than ask hard questions about what is going wrong with the war he launched; the secretary of defense is more concerned with accumulating power than with thinking sensibly about what to do with it. Part of the story is Woodward himself. As court chronicler of the Bush White House, he produced a mildly flattering portrait of the administration in volume one, Bush at War, which reads curiously beside volume three. He is at times clearly being used to burnish egos and take revenge; it appears, for example, that Condoleezza Rice let slip George Tenet's "slam dunk" comment regarding the case for Iraq's having weapons of mass destruction, so Tenet reports that he warned Rice in July 2001 of al Qaeda's plans to attack the United States. We are also asked to believe that Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan single-handedly sorted out the April 2001 incident with China over a downed U.S. spy plane -- because that is the story he told Woodward, who does not seem to have checked it out with anyone else. State of Denial is a must read, but it must be read with care.