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on January 14, 2001
This book is a well-written book, giving unparalleled glimpses into the Nixon White house and the character of its denizens. Dean, a controversial and not very admirable character, reveals many truths in this book, some really hair-raising to a naive believer in the virtues of government. He also provides many fascinating details, such as the constant rearrangement of offices and furniture in the White House to reflect internal political standings. Though surprisingly candid about his own personal flaws, he does paint himself in a more sympathetic light than is merited. Nevertheless, the overall candor and truth of his reports stands in contrast to those of other eyewitnesses. The controversial and revealing nature of his narrative is marked by the remarkable divergence of opinion seen in reviews of this book; a hard core of Nixon ideologues will hate Dean forever.
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on March 13, 2004
In 1970 John Dean was interviewed as the next counsel to the President; a little over four years later he was in jail. He rose, and fell, by being a willing servant. Dean's office was the center of Nixon's intelligence operation (lawyers have client confidentiality). His story was recreated from documents and taped conversations. Dean was working for the Justice Dept. when he was asked about working at the White House by Bud Krogh. John Mitchell advised him that the WH "was not a healthy place" (p.12). (Was this relatively young lawyer recruited to be a future fall guy?) The expenses for the San Clemente complex had been safely buried in inconspicuous budgets (p.16). Dean joined the WH, and soon learned "to keep my mouth shut" (p.23). Dean learned how interior decorating kept political scores (pp.29-30)! He also learned how to move upwards in influence by traveling downward through power plays, corruption, and outright crimes (p.30). Just as he made it to the top, he actually touched bottom.
Dean's education began when he read the "Huston Plan", which removed most legal restraints on wiretaps, mail intercepts, and burglaries. J. Edgar hoover vetoed the plan - the risk was greater than the reward (or turf protection?). More mundane matters are listed on pages 39-40. Page 45 tells of his first liability over a burglary. Page 51 tells how Erlichman won his power struggle against Mitchell. The Dita Beard letter is discussed on pages 53-59. J. Edgar Hoover said it was genuine, another action that infuriated the Nixon WH. The next liability was hiding the Town House Operation (pp.59-62). By May 1972 the ITT scandal ended and Kleindienst was confirmed; it looked like the end of the problems. Chapter 3 tells of the Howard Hughes affair. No mention of the Wallace shooting at all; Wallace's removal from the campaign allowed Nixon to win in a landslide. Dean tells the details of political intelligence for Nixon.
Chapter 4 begins with the burglary at the Watergate. Dean was called for advice, and told to investigate the "plumbers". The most important thing in all this is the friction and conflict among Nixon's men (pp.94-95). When Dean met Liddy they went for a walk outside; was this to avoid bugs (p.96)? If Strachan knew, Haldeman knew, and so did Nixon (p.98). It went up to the top of the chain. Next Strachan came to confess to Dean that he purged Haldeman's files (p.100). Then Sloan called to confess giving "large bundles of cash" to Liddy. Colson disavowed any knowledge or responsibility for Hunt. But Hunt was still on the WH payroll and had an office there (p.103). Page 121 summarizes the problems in defending the Administration, and how Dean hid evidence by turning it over to the FBI (p.122). He then crossed the line into criminal culpability. Dean's personal rapport allowed him access to the warring factions (p.125); but this sucked him into the conspiracy.
Chapter 5 tells of his new powers: one of the top people, meeting many new women (p.127). The Press ignored the scandal. Dean was "stunned" by Nixon's "bold lies" at a press conference (p.128). Dean was dazed by Nixon's claims (p.129). Later he began to suspect being set up as a fall guy (p.131). Note how a few pawns were sacrificed to save the king (p.133). Page 136 tells about assigning a case to an Nixon appointed judge! Dean's description of Nixon on page 138 suggests a personal problem. Page 143 explains Nixon's concern for civil liberties, and campaign contributions. Page 148 tells of the massive purge planned by Nixon; "he'll regret this" (p.149). Did this plan amount to a power grab? Stans explained his fund raising: wealthy targets owed a fixed percentage of their income (p.158). When Dean looks up "obstruction of justice" he realizes they're all guilty (p.168)! Hunt's missing notebooks were destroyed by Pat Gray (p.171). Then they hear from McCord: "it will be a scorched desert" (p.177). Dean destroyed evidence (p.182). Do you see where this is heading? Dean wrote a very readable book.
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on June 7, 1999
Dean's book is hard to put down. I've read it twice and enjoyed it both times. What makes it so fascinating is the way in which it is so easy to see how a young ambitious lawyer could find himself in such a situation. Dean implicates himself as well as many others and provides a real feeling for what it must have been like in the White House during those years.
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on September 20, 2012
It may seem strange that just after ordering a new copy of "Blind Ambition" by John Dean, today, that I am writing a review.

Actually, I have the paperback edition and have read it several times. I wanted the hardback for the larger print size.

This is an excellent book, not just for taking the reader behind the scenes of Watergate, but for displaying the true personality of Richard Nixon.
The description that Dean gives of Nixon throughout the book corroborates the statements by Bob Haldeman and John Erlichman.

Blind Ambition is a tale of a President obsessed with only one goal - to make sure he got re-elected.
Richard Nixon was a man of insecurity and self-doubt, and these traits were strongly reinforced when Nixon lost the 1962 California governorship to incumbent Edmund G. "Pat" Brown.

It was Lawrence O'Brien, who was responsible for leaking about the Howard Hughes loan to Nixon's brother, Donald, that played a part in the 1962 loss of election to Governor.

Now, O'Brien was National Chairman of the Democratic National Party. Nixon worried about what "goods" O'Brien had on him now. Thus, the DNC Headquarters at the Watergate Complex were broken into; a third-rate burglary was turned into a major cover-up along with other crimes and White House horrors.

The discouraging remark to add to the above is, after you read this excellent book, you should try to see the TV-made movie, based on the book. The movie was well done, with Rip Torn playing Nixon, and doing the best job of anyone I have seen.

Unfortunately, no commercial version of the movie was released. It was a 4-part miniseries. Once-and-awhile,
the channels of STARZ shows it. You should record it, if it is shown again, as it is a very good presentation, faithful to the book, and almost non-existant.

Two other outstanding Watergate books, in addition to "Blind Ambition" highly recommened are "Watergate-the corruption of American Politics and the Fall of Richard Nixon" by Fred Emery (a mini-series was also done on that) and "784 Days That Changed America" by Barry Sussman (with another rare television production shown only once by Nancy Dickenson and Television Broadcasting Corp.
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on July 28, 2015
Assuming you take the portrayal at face value, allowing for a small admixture of self-service and exageration, this book is a must-read. You will learn a ton about the workings of the Nixon White House in general; and in particular, the cover up in response to the Warergate scandal. There's nothing like an insider's perspective to portray the (not very attractive) human element in such large historical processes.

After I stumbled across a claim that Dean testified that most of the book is grossly inaccurate, I read a few other hostile critiques. Most of them are written by people with an axe to grind. My common sense tells me that the book is mostly plausible. I mean, Dean sets out to draw himself as a weakling, lacking in integrity and a sycophantic coward. Not sure why he would take this angle unless he just wanted to make a clean breast of things. I mean, he'd already been convicted of obstruction of justice and sent to prison. What would he have to gain by distorting events at such a late date?

Anyways read it and decide for yourself.
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on November 21, 2014
This is one of the few non-fiction books I've read (I'm almost done with it) that kept my attention. It's written in novel form with dialogue (I don't know how he remembers the details as they are written). I struggle with remembering the players - that's an idiosyncrasy of mine regardless of the book - but the index at the back makes it easy to find the information. I find myself fairly emotionally drawn in - a difficult thing to do for a non-fiction book. Overall, I like it, and believe I have a much better insight into the Watergate mess than before.
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on February 27, 2002
This story is quite interesting. When I first read it, during the 1970s, I bought Mr. Dean's version of events hook, line and sinker -- and boy did he suck me in. He postured himself as someone involved way over his head who ended up being, in effect, a victim. I have concluded that some of the presented details are true, and some are not. The presentation, however, is uniformly riveting.
Read additional Watergate material for a broader view and better picture. The lesson here is that you can't always believe the story which appears, at first glance, to be the most convincing.
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on June 21, 2014
Having just finished 3 books (Dean, Haldemann, and Ehrlichman), I would say that John Dean's is the most honest and forthcoming. He provides constant conversation between himself and high level officials involved in the White House and Watergate. It is very interesting conversation, and also enjoy Dean's commentary after comments were made by someone else. He provides the meaning between the words; which to me seems highly believable.

Highlights from the book:
1. Referring to Wright Patman who was planning an investigation into Watergate, Dean calls John Connally (you know JFK fame) who then replies that he has some ideas to find "dirt" on Patman. Haldemann even suggests that pressure be put on "Jerry Ford's a-- (you know JFK fame) to produce on this one". Later in the conversation Jerry Ford says this is a bad idea, and someone suggests because Ford will have problems as well if an investigation into Patman is opened up. Politics is a dirty game!
2. Howard Hunt's wife calling Chuck Colson's secretary at home demanding "committments" be honored. Sounds like Howard and his wife were "two peas in a pod". Corrupt to the core!
3. Bud Krogh a lawyer working for Nixon is described by Dean. Krogh tells him how he carried gold bullion in CIA planes and bargained with drug chieftains, bombing poppy fields, and even asked Dean to resolve a dispute between the Pentagon, the State Dept. and the Bureau of Narcotics over the legality of kidnapping drug traffickers abroad. In fairness, it seems Krogh may have turned his life around now, but it just shows you how corrupt our government has become. Just more evidence of CIA drug running.

In my opinion John Dean; a good looking ambitious lawyer (described by Ehrichman as a playboy) when he got to the White House was excited and probably thought he had hit the big time. Unfortunately before long; being in the midst of people involved in shady dealings, finds himself as President's counsel becoming involved in a conspiracy with people who have been involved in criminal activities. As I read one comment from one person, if the majority of these people had never met Richard Nixon, they probably would have been fine, outstanding individuals.

...evil communications corrupt good manners. (1 Corinthians 15:33 KJV)
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on September 2, 2014
A first-rate account by a man who was at the center of the storm called Watergate and who acknowledges his participation in it. This is a fascinating glimpse of a corrupted world leader holding great power.
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on May 11, 2015
A cautionary tale about paranoia and lust for power.
John Dean was the "poster boy" for Watergate. When he testified in front of the Senate Select Committee, he electrified the nation with his opening speech, which was 32 pages long in the transcripts of the hearings. The man must have had a photographic memory because he seemed to know everything (except that Nixon was taping every word spoken in his office), and he laid it out for the Committee in excruciating detail, point by point and name by name. This book covers the story in greater detail and comments on the moral dimension of what Dean and others were doing. He was White House Counsel to RMN, and seemingly in charge of both the cover up and the investigation into the burglary at the DNC (there had been a previous burglary of the offices of Lewis Fielding, Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, also by the Plumbers). A bit of an awkward position to investigate the crime, while helping to cover it up. He is a bit slippery about his role in the cover up and keeps saying "don't do this" while helping others do it.
There was a reason Dean's testimony was so complete and detailed: he had drafted the limited immunity statue that he was testifying under, and knew that nothing he said could be used against him, but anything he didn't say could be. It was his advantage to detail every crime he had committed. He eventually served 4 months in prison for "fraudulent conversion", based on his taking $4,800 from his safe at work, which held part of Howard Hunt's cash for expenses incurred in burglarizing the Democratic National Committee's headquarters, and replacing it later. Ironically, the reason he needed the money was that he'd been so busy with Watergate he'd forgotten to get money out of the bank to cover his own wedding!
The best of all the "tell-all" books about Watergate.
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