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Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 27, 2000
This was one of Safire's first books after leaving the government and setting up shop at the New York Times. It's a massive but highly readable memoir of his service as speechwriter at the Nixon White House. His view of the president is highly nuanced but ultimately sympathetic. He unloads on Henry Kissinger for having Safire's phone tapped; writes a revealing portrait of Pat Moynihan and how that administration became more "progressive" than either liberal critics or conservative allies could admit; writes admiringly about Julie Eisenhower as "a glimpse of what her father could have been if he hadn't listened so often to the dark side of his personality." He touches on Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and the dirty tricksters and puts them in context of the domestic civil war that was produced by Vietnam--Safire was ahead of his time in giving Nixon more mercy and judging his adversaries as hypocritical (and disasterously wrong about the consequences of a Communist takeover in Southeast Asia.) Highly entertaining and informative--also see his novel of about the same time, "Full Disclosure", for a "roman a' clef" about his Nixon experience.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon February 17, 2006
The Watergate break-in was terrible for President Richard Nixon and great for William Safire's Nixon memoir. Because the worst of what went on was already out in public view, it allowed Safire's 1975 account of his time as a speechwriter in the Nixon administration to be brutally frank, a luxury he puts to good use.

Safire had more reason to be disappointed than most of Nixon's former aides: he had had his home phone tapped by his boss, apparently because he had friends in the press. Safire's sharp narrative eye picks out weeds in the Rose Garden, like top Nixon aide Jeb Magruder, "a man of mirrors" Safire writes, for whom "buck-passing and back-stabbing was standard procedure."

But the overall sense of "Before The Fall" is of a man who likes Nixon, warts and all, determined to record the good as well as the bad. This was an unfashionable take in 1975: The book's original publisher-to-be, William Morrow & Co., rejected it on the grounds, Safire claims in his introduction, that it "did not join in the general revulsion."

Because of that, "Before The Fall" may have never gotten the due it deserves as one of the best books ever written by a White House observer. Nixon was one of his nation's most flawed and most interesting leaders, and Safire's book, in nearly 900 pages, keeps a running account of his unique complexities.

"Nixon's Dr. Jeckyl worried about Nixon's Mr. Hyde, and usually tried to suppress him, but mostly only tried to conceal him," he writes of his boss's duality.

Safire, who became best known in his subsequent job as the right-leaning columnist for the New York Times, displays a seeming photographic ability to take it all in. Because he writes about so many aspects of Nixon's presidency in focused chapters (such as his relations with Catholics, his friendship with Bebe Rebozo, his trip to China), you feel a fuller sense of what goes on in a presidency, its many facets and challenges.

Safire augments his eyewitness account with a fondness for historic lore and frequent wit (a footnote notes Cambodian leader Lon Nol's place in the pantheon of famous palindromic names.) The engaged nature of Safire's commentary, its lack of pretense and moralizing, its understanding treatment of human frailty, makes this very long book a very easy read.

Give Safire credit also for not slamming the usual suspects. Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman get much of the blame for Watergate and did go to prison for it, but the two top Nixon aides are seen by Safire in a kinder light. Chief of staff Haldeman is an office ramrod, but stands by Safire when a televised Nixon speech goes awry and encourages open discussion around the President. Ehrlichman, receiving an apology from a magazine for misspelling his name, writes back to say he likes it better the way they had it.

Liberals may howl at his supportive depiction of the Christmas bombing of Cambodia, while conservatives may find themselves fuming at his happy recounting of Nixon's domestic policy, which matched LBJ's Great Society for largesse. Too bad for them. Safire's account is middle-of-the-road, but never lukewarm.

As political commentators go, Safire is one of the best. He enjoys ideas and has a way of relating them elegantly but plainly. One gets the feeling that Nixon's hall of mirrors served him well, a training ground that taught him the intricacies of politics and the dangers of excess, and provided material for a very fine book with which to begin his path to Pulitzer-prizewinning punditry.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2007
Content aside, whether or not you are interested in the Nixon administration, this is a wondeful memoir written in a very readable yet elegant style. I suspect that Safire had the Earl of Clarendon leaning over his shoulder when he wrote this.

It's full of wonderful character studies of the major and minor players in the administration. Safire is not enitirely candid in what he writes and he does pull his punches, but if you are good at reading between the lines, it's all there.

A very enjoyable read. Each chapter focuses on a person or key event during the years. Watergate is covered but only tangentally.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 19, 2013
"Before The Fall" provides an inside view of the Nixon White House from the perspective of one of the President's speechwriters. It introduces the reader to the interior workings and personalities that made the Administration.

Author William Safire's association with goes back to 1959 when, in his capacity as press agent representing the homebuilder who put up the "typical American house" at the American Exhibition in Moscow he hosted the Kitchen Debate between Vice-President Nixon Premier Khrushchev. It was he arranged the meeting and the pictures that recorded it. As of this writing he was complaining about the bulky Soviet bureaucrat, whom nobody had heard of, who pushed his way to the front and was caught with his eyes closed on the photo. The bureaucrat's name was Leonid Brezhnev. Having worked with the Nixon campaign in 1960 he got the call for the comeback that culminated in election in 1968. On these pages the reader follows Safire through the campaign, the transition, the White House years and the beginnings of Watergate.

Because of Safire's role as a speechwriter much of this work focuses on the policy decisions and crafting of the speeches that are the record of the Nixon presidency. Here we read of about what went into the speeches that announced the Cambodian incursion, the ill-fated Haynesworth and Caswell Supreme Court appointments and the greeting of the Apollo IX astronauts. Here we learn about the night time visit to the Vietnam protestors at the Lincoln Memorial, the Philadelphia plan to bring more minorities into the building trades and other programs and crisis management. We are taken to working sessions in the White House, Camp David and Nixon homes in Key Biscayne and San Clemente. It appears that Safire was involved in many of the policy discussions that shaped the administration. This book contains no shocking tell-alls but does provide fascinating assessments of the main personae dramatae including Nixon, Pat and Julie, Spiro Agnew, Henry Kissinger, William Rogers, John Mitchell and Pat Buchanan, just to name a few. He tells humorous anecdotes, such as when candidate Nixon, after a lackluster airport reception ordered: "No more landings at airports" and how Safire's wife came to be sworn in as a citizen by Judge John Sirica in the Vice-President's office. Safire presents an interesting take on Watergate. He sees it as a natural step in a pattern of illegal intelligence gathering that Nixon had encouraged from the start. I found his evaluation of Nixon to be fair and middle of the road. He gives credit where it is due, and much credit is due, but does not cover Nixon's faults and failings.

Safire is a writer by profession and it shows. Although "Before The Fall" lacks the perspective of history it does provide a near real time record from a perspective that historians lack. It gives us a feel for Nixon the real Richard Nixon, the man, the husband and father, politician and president. For this it is a worthwhile testimony of the Nixon Administration before it was consumed in the firestorm of Watergate.
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on December 29, 2014
Those who enjoyed Pat Buchanan's THE GREATEST COMEBACK, should read this. In his very different way, Safire was as useful to Nixon as Buchanan, Not surprisingly, as one far to Buchanan's left, he had a sharper sense of self-promotion and preservation. He got out at near the top of the market, and had a fine career after that. But a funny thing happened: despite working for the New York TIMES, Safire didn't become a liberal bigot. His post Watergate writing must have infuriated TIMES management, even while it gave said management cover for its own liberal bigotry. Today, Safire would never be hired by the TIMES.

This book shows the heartbreak that came to so many who worked for Nixon, were used and often discarded. it also has great deal of detail that gives a sense of participation. How for example, does a President veto a bill? What needs to be signed, what messages need to be written? Safire shows you, and you are there.

This truly is a "second draft of history" miles better than the ghost-written get-a-contract-make-a-buck-stick-the-opposition-time-for-my-next-appointment writing that passes for political memoirs these days. I claim it is Safire's best book.
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on July 18, 2014
As one intrigued by William Safire, it was interesting to learn from his own words his involvement inside the White House prior to the Watergate era.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2013
people have been led to believe that Robert Bork was the first one to get Borked. Those of us old enough to remember the man and
remember the way the media attacked him, as I, are sickened by the way that it is 'given' that Nixon set the standard for corruption. I am reminded of a show when Glenn Beck had Ben Stein as a guest, and Ben dared to object to Beck's slanderous words about Nixon. Mr. Stein knew and worked for Nixon...as did Mr Safire, and yet Beck could not accept Mr. Stein's first hand knowledge of the man, and insisted that he had the superior knowledge, because he could regurgitate all the b.s. he had been fed over the years. This book shows the true side of Pres. Nixon that our MSM would never allow to be heard in public. Yes, he swore!!! but he was a saint compared to the doings of LBJ, Bill Clinton, and our current disaster, B.H.O.
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