on September 1, 2000
Anthony Summers setting of his decision to spend five plus years working the details of the life of Nixon is important. Along with Norman Mailer, he was pissed off at the obits cranked out in 1994 on Nixon's death, Obits written in the spirit of the cover-up. Perhaps the best way to frame this book is an obit crafted by an enemy list wanna-be. As yet another citizen still distressed at being left off that famous list -- I think Summers got Richard M. Nixon right on.
"Arrogance" is a full biography crafted around a collection of psychological insights into the subject -- it is a tale of one soul's journey through 20th century American Politics -- a tale of predictable disasters. It is so much more than Watergate, though readers knowledgable of Watergate detail will find much here that is new, and demands integration into one's Watergate fact file. But since Nixon materials are scheduled to be opened by various archives well into the second quarter of the 21st century, we probably will need more Summers-like books, books that synthesize new materials either as additions or corrections into the detailed analysis of Nixon.
But in year 2000 Summers adds it up as follows: Nixon as a kid learned telling the truth frequently led to a whipping, telling lies avoided that possibility. He learned to stuff his emotions so deep, they never really matured. He came to doubt his parents evangelical Quaker piety -- but he never explored so as to replace it with a mature value and belief system. He was ripe to be caught by that place where the American Mafia and American Business intersect, and need presentable political actors. In 1946 they needed a vet, good education, someone with a velvet fist to bust the labor movement, someone who would serve interests so long as he was well paid, (under the table mind you). Nixon got and took the offer -- and Summers details the whole long list of transactions that salt Nixon's rise...all the way to the post resignation annual visits to his secret Swiss Bank Accounts.
Much has been made in the press of the possible physical abuse of Pat Nixon at her husband's hand -- the sources are interesting, but not convicting. Nonetheless, the narrative is filled with instances of psychological abuse, a profound story of attachment disorder. One wonders why no one speculated about this during the long Nixon public career?
Summers provides the basis for raising the question needing debate -- how was it that a political party selected this flawed person for leadership? Just reading through the sources one understands Nixon's intimates knew something of the truth -- but they nominated him twice for Vice President, and three times for President -- we need to comprehend why. His own psychologist seemed to know in 1951 that he could not handle stress, but professional ethics of course kept him from speaking out. His profound problems with truth and trust were apparent to his political allies -- but they turned away from the responsibility to act. Summers does not ask these questions, but readers ought to consider them.
on August 25, 2002
If you are expecting a biography of President Nixon, you will be disappointed. The book fails to discuss any of his achievements or to talk about the problems he faced in office and how he responded to them. The book has only one purpose and that is to destroy the reputation that Nixon tried to create for himself in later years.
The book basically spends some 480 pages listing his dodgy deals and character flaws. This will if you are a democrat supporter fill you with feelings of warm, and if you are a republican supporter will strike you as unbalanced and a sneak attack. Never the less the book is readable and the list of wrongdoing is long. It includes
1. That possibly his career was supported by organised crime
2. He may have been involved in the early plots to kill Castro
3. He accepted large amounts of money from Howard Hughes in return for favours
4. He may have been part of a conspiracy to frame Alger Hiss
5. He accepted a huge campaign contribution from the Colonels who overthrew the democratic government of Greece and supported them as a result
6. He received campaign contributions from the Shah of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Marcos of the Phillipines and this led to him supporting those regimes
7. He prevented the possibility of peace in Vietnam in 1968 and sent a representative to the South Vietnamese government asking them not to participate in Johnsons peace program. Possibly this led to an lengthening of the war and loss of American lives
8. The Phoenix program in Vietnam occurred with his consent resulting in the murder of 20,000-40,000 people.
9. Extension of the war into Cambodia and Laos and the secret bombing of Cambodia
10. The destruction of a friendly regime in Chile
However the main weapon of the book is not so much in listing the wrongdoing but in the way it portrays Nixon. He is described as a wife-bashing drunk who was addicted to prescription medication. He is a person who was a pathological liar who would lie about his wives birthday to get a small advantage.
His early career is discussed in some detail. It seems that when he first ran for congress and the senate he was bankrolled by big oil and a number of other interests. They put money into a fund that not only paid for his expenses but also subsidised his living expenses. His initial campaigns were unethical, using false slurs against sitting members and full of dodgy leaks push poling and the like.
The portrait towards the end of the book (it finishes when he resigns) shows him to be an unstable drunk giving orders such as bombing Damascus and Nuking North Vietnam in regard to minor provocation. The suggestion was that Kissinger and his military advisers would generally disregard these commands to see if he would rescind them in the morning. The book also suggests that towards the end the nuclear trigger he carried was disabled because of fears about his sanity. An interesting but not dispassionate book.
on October 11, 2004
One could argue that the intention of the author was to write a negative portrait of Nixon. One could also argue that there was nothing positive to say about Nixon.
Summers gives an excellent review of Nixon as a young man. Born rather humble, he was the one we can thank for Republicans like Bush always referring to those who disagree as East Coast Liberals, or "elites." Forget that Nixon and Reagan had nothing in common with the new Republicans.
Nixon was never afraid to work for his money. He was, however, a very driven man with quite a few problems--not the least his penchant for alcohol. According to Summers, Nixon was so desperate to make it to Washington and Congress that he did not mind selling out. He also engaged in extremely underhanded smear campaigns, something raised to an art form under Karl Rove. A good example is Nixon's senate campaign against Helen Douglas, branding her "pink right down to her underwear." (page 86) And people were surprised twenty years later?
Nixon's role with psychiatrist Arnold Hutschnecker was detailed pretty well. I was surprised that Nixon copied his regal style after Charles de Gaulle. To think we owe so much to the French. I thought it was Nixon oversompensating for his humble beginnings.
The real shocker is how Nixon was so abusive. He was known to be verbally abusive, even shoving his aides around. That he basically lost his mind in the end is well detailed. Where the book shows some fraying around the edges is in the foot notes on the physical abuse stories. Evidently Nixon beat Pat a number of times, even sending her to the hospital. If you check the footnotes, however, their ain't much there. There is some fleshing out by Erlichmann and Haldeman, but nothing substantive.
Summers gives me one surprise regarding Nixon's reason for taping his conversations. Evidently Nixon was sure Kissinger was such a sneak that he would take credit for detente and other measures. Evidently these foreign policy moves came from Nixon and Nixon alone.
This is really quite a tome and I recommend it highly. Check the footnotes, though, which is why I took off one star.
on August 29, 2000
The use of second and third-hand sources in this book is shoddy history at best. Apart from the poorly-supported accusations made towards Mr. Nixon's treatment of his wife, Summers in general seems willing to force whatever facts he produces fit his desired conclusion. It appears that this is clearly not quite the book to forever define Nixon that Mr. Summers and Viking Press wanted to market. Many of the subjects discussed in the book are badly in need of more credible analysis, and Mr. Summers has done a disservice to many sincere critics of Mr. Nixon with this apparently commercially-driven work.
Indeed, the marketing of this book should give caution to anyone who considers this book a strong historical piece. First, Viking Press and Summers refused to make the book available for critical review, claiming the material was too sensitive yet making sure parts were featured in Vanity Fair, not exactly a paragon of literary interpretation. Then right before the book's release, they gave access to the New York Times, getting the story and controversy that allowed this book to become a large seller, which appears to have been more important than any other consideration with regard to this book.
Mr. Nixon's career merits more critical examination. More of his White House Tapes will likely be released, and the insights from those tapes alone may well be a better marker for historians than this work of questionable integrity. Mr. Summers, a very talented fellow, should be capable of doing better than this.
This is a very well written book that covers Nixon's birth through the aftermath of Watergate. My interest in this book bloomed when I watched Anthony Summers on Face the Nation on the 30th anniversary of Watergate. He even shared the spotlight with John Dean to the somewhat disgust of the author if body language means anything.
Summers has done quite a bit of research and links quite well the major partners in Nixon's campaigns and in addition the men that eventually help run the country. There is so much about Nixon's personal flaws and self gain obsession there is a question of balance. On the one hand I am amazed at the amount of detail that links Nixon to win at all costs campaign men, illegal money contributions even from mobsters, a long association with Howard Hughes, money laundering through Beebe Rebozo's bank, Swiss bank accounts, Nixon's plan to screw Johnson's peace initiative to win the election, his over compulsion with dirty tricks. It's hard to conclude otherwise that Nixon was a bad man more caught up with his own style of government. However, at times when the author goes back to Nixon's HS days its almost seems impossible for anyone retrospectively to say anything nice about Nixon other than his earnest desire to succeed. You almost expect someone to say "I remember Nixon when he was in diapers, even my dog didn't like him!" A question to be explored upon a broader canvas is how bad was Nixon compared to other politicians. Was illegal fund raising rampant and typical of the candidates in that era? Is it still happening today? After all, Nixon even on tape seems to say the other guys are doing it too. And the author concludes that Robert Kennedy was bugging Nixon while he served as his brother's Attorney General which Nixon discovers.
During the presidency, Nixon finds out the Joint Chief are spying on Kissinger (The Radford Affair).
Besides the illegal contributions, the most devastating part of the book deals with not so much Nixon's development of the plumbers but in his post Watergate obsession to deal with Watergate instead of running the country. Summers does a great job of accounting of Nixon's whereabouts in the final 18 months of his presidency where according to the logs, Nixon spends a great deal of time on the California coast or Florida with Beebe. In addition, the critical tapes show Nixon totally focused on Watergate In addition, Summers states quite emphatically that Nixon without his secret psychotherapist was unstable due to the use of Dilantin, alcohol and sleeping pills. The latter part almost sounds like Elvis' final hours as Nixon is portrayed as a mentally compromised man who could no longer govern. It's a pretty frightening portrayal and if the Nixon Summers describes is accurate, then Al Haig and Henry Kissinger did a disservice to the country in not working to ease Nixon out of power. In Summers' portrayal, the final period of Nixon's presidency almost reminds me of the movie "Dave" where the Chief of Staff tries to take over the government by not disclosing that the president had a stroke. While reading these parts of the book I was hoping that this was overstated because if not, Nixon was not lucid over the final 12 months of his presidency.
A book worth reading but a little more balance on how Nixon compared to his political adversaries would have been helpful, gosh Tom Dewey supported Nixon and he appeared to have similar fund raising issues. And didn't Nixon do more than just break down the cold war barriers a bit with Russia and China? Did he have any interest in domestic issues at all?
Now if Summers would do a book on John Dean. Dean acts extra clean since he bailed out first. Is a hit man any nicer because he cut a deal?
on March 9, 2002
The recent release of taped conversations of President Lyndon Johnson along with other reference sources, such as Richard Goodwin's excellent chronicle of his years in the John Administration, reveal a man who went over the brink. The Vietnam War caused Johnson to lose mental and emotional control, becoming a troubled man in a most dangerous position. In the case of Richard Nixon, his successor in the Oval Office, a pattern of instability had been recognizably long afoot prior to assuming office.
Anthony Summers is a prodigious researcher, a former BBC operative who has used his voracious capacity for research to generate a successful career in biography. He previously wrote a massively researched work on former F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Summers reveals the almost total career long involvement of Nixon with Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, a highly acclaimed psychotherapist, who attempted to steer Nixon past his mercurial mood swings, particularly his bouts with depression. Summers recounts Hutschnecker's comment to then Senator Nixon about his dislike for Joseph McCarthy, upon which Nixon responded with the look of a sad-eyed boy, replying, "But he's my friend."
Summers cites his research and does not editorialize in situations where the facts lead in a particular direction but cannot be conclusively established. Such is the case with Nixon's relationship with his long suffering wife Pat. Summers cites evidence of the possibility that Nixon on two occasions physically abused his wife to the point where she required hospitalization, using interviews with former Nixon aides to reach this possible conclusion, which he concedes rests on entirely circumstantial evidence.
Another area where Summers unleashes controversial research is with what was considered Nixon's greatest triumph as a Congressman, his role in the conviction of former State Department aide Alger Hiss of perjury, leading to the conclusion that Hiss was a Communist spy. The result boosted Nixon's stock and he was able to shortly thereafter be elected to the Senate. The typewriter allegedly owned by Hiss was produced to prove that letters written to government witness and former Communist Whittaker Chambers must have been typed on it. After Hiss' conviction for perjury he alleged that it rested on "forgery by typewriter." Nixon scoffed at the charge, contending that it was impossible to forge a typewriter, a claim he repeated as late as 1976. Summers reveals evidence that American and British intelligence operatives had developed as early as 1941 machines that "could reproduce faultlessly the imprint of any typewriter on earth."
Summers also delves into Nixon's pathological obsession with the Kennedys, and how it drove him to excesses in his political career, covering ground also recently traversed by Chris Matthews. He also cites Nixon's sellouts to big business early in his career, as well as presenting evidence that he became involved with the mob through his association with his close Florida banker friend Bebe Rebozo long before he became president.
Nixon's ultimate breakdown during the Watergate period is also covered in detail, along with his pathological obsession over political groups he considered his natural enemies, notably Jewish liberals. Summers focuses on Nixon's heavy drinking during the burdensome Watergate period, in which he would make comments to Secretary State Henry Kissinger regarding the Vietnamese Communists such as, "Let's nuke 'em, Henry." His ultimate mental and emotional instability during this troubling period prompted Kissinger along with Chief of Staff Alexander Hague to alert the Armed Forces Chief of Staff to ignore critical military orders given by Nixon.
"The Arrogance of Power" displays the shocking potential consequences of the tragedies that could result from an emotionally unstable president in a nuclear world. During Nixon's worst period, less than a year before he would become the first chief executive in U.S. history to resign, the nation stood on the possible brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union during the October 1973 Israeli-Arab conflict.
on February 1, 2001
This is what a lot of people consider a throw-away book; the subject of the book is dead and, as a result, defenseless; the others in the book have either remained mum on the topics contained therein by choice, or have fairly much said all that they want to say. But still, after having lived through most of his political career, having watched as much of the Watergate testimonies live that I could stomach, having experienced the way the political landscape has changed as a result of his touch, I still didn't know what made Nixon tick.
After reading this book, the first answer that comes leaping to mind was the fact that Nixon simply didn't have the love and acceptance from his mother that a child needs. Simplistic, probably Freudian, but in those few words you have the thrust of the entire book. Now, obviously this sort of theory is realistically unprovable and far from original (remember Churchill's memoirs?) but the anecdotal evidence and other behind-the-scenes eyewitness accounts of Nixon's many ups and downs are riveting reading.
I found the hundred or so references to his aloof, almost cold attitude towards his long-suffering wife, Pat, particularly unsettling. Not only in the later years, when Nixon was absorbed with the idea of himself as president (both during and after his term), but also shortly after the courtship had begun, Nixon appeared to have shunned all of Pat's attempts to show, and receive, affection. There are times when you want to reach into the pages and shake the hell out of the guy. By all appearances through these observations, Nixon was a very sad man from the moment he came out of the womb.
How this spilled into his political life is evident; the moments of back-stabbing, gorging himself on the very idea of power are spelled out in living color. His sole apologist, and the closest thing Nixon had to having a true friend, Henry Kissinger, provides the counterweight to each argument; he provides his own excellent and sharply focused views on what, in the big picture, could have motivated Nixon in his daily attempts to overcome life's obstacles. Vietnam was no picnic for anyone involved, but Nixon and Johnson were far more alike than anyone at the time even hoped to fathom. Kissinger himself, through the words of the author, appears to simply sigh at the end of Nixon's life, when all is said and done.
It's a big book and well worth the read.
on March 29, 2003
I approached this book gingerly. After all, how many biographies of Richard Nixon are enough? And yet, I found myself taking this off the library shelf for reading on the train. As I suspected, it's a hatchet job. In Summer's book, Nixon is utterly without redeeming qualities; he's a heavy drinker, a pill-popper, a possible wife abuser, and so on. He is his own best friend and his own worst enemy. There are funny moments here, some too scatological or obscene for me to include in this little review. Summers uses the usual cautious adverbs (witnesses "reportedly said..." "allegedly saw..." etc), and includes an impressive appendix that lists his sources. It appears he is not making this stuff up. But it is not, by any means, balanced; the only way, probably, to get a handle of this bizarre, tortured man is to read all the biographies and memoirs, if you have the endurance. If all of Summer's book this is true, or even if HALF of it is true, then the Constitution is indeed a marvelous document: it survived the onslaught of one of the strangest men in American history. If he was, as Tom Wicker claims, "One of Us," then we are a sad lot indeed.
on February 7, 2001
I remember vividly as a young teen watching this man announce his resignation. My father was devastated, my mother was jumping for joy. My Republican father (god rest his soul) just did not know what Nixon and his henchmen were all about. I have since read many books on Nixon, this is by far the best researched expose of the Nixon that was hidden from the public.
The only hatchet job I have seen are some of the flagrantly biased previous reviews here. Nixon was crooked from the get-go, from his dubious campaign tactics in '46 & '48 straight on through to his deserved humiliation in '74. Hundreds if not over a thousand people were interviewed, many of them insiders. The Nixon Tapes have already struck a devastating blow to his supposed "rehabilitation", and that's with only the small fraction which have been released. As an example a previous reviewer touched on Nixon and Colson's totally lowlife reaction to the shooting of George Wallace.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in recent American history.
on May 21, 2006
Right or wrong, Richard Nixon has been singularly defined in biographies, commentaries, TV and film productions and, yes, even an opera, by his resignation in 1974 of the presidency of the United States. Not here. Just as author Anthony Summers did in his definitive analysis of another 20th century icon ("Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe"), he lays out more than 600 pages of incredibly minute attributions in a relentlessly negative yet saucy treatment of the nation's 37th president. Although not scandal, Summers' final product is, if nothing else, racily relentless and throughly negative. Through it all, we get more of Nixon's alleged misbehaviors and unethical and illegal acts than a truly defining psycho-profile of this truly dark - even scary - figure. This isn't to say that Summers' work isn't a contribution to the continuing Nixon saga. It is. If nothing else, Summers' "challenge" to other writers might be to throttle them out of 1974 - and for most Nixon commentators, if not all, it still is and always will be 1974 - to probe the man capable of orchestrating the alleged events that Summers lays out in this book. Among them: Nixon's only Senate campaign in 1950 against Helen Gahagan Douglas, she who was "pink right down to her underwear" and was ravaged by Nixon's defamatory and anti-Semitic and trademark smear ideology, was funded in part by mob money from Mickey Cohen. Just a few years earlier, as a junior member of Congress' obscene Communist witchhunt committee, Nixon stooped to the illegal altering of evidence to condemn his dogged nemisis, Alger Hiss, to four years in a federal prison. Another unethical, if outright illegal plot after another in a supposed link between Howard Hughes, Fidel Castro and - yes - Watergate is laid out. And while there's never been any direct evidence that Nixon ordered the break-in that led to his presidential self-destruction (although he clearly authorized its cover-up), Summers claims here Nixon okay'ed more than 100 other break-ins throughout his political career. While the reader gets more of Nixon's alleged but previously unknown examples of illegal and unethical conduct, we get fewer explanations of what has been elusive to virtually everyone studying the man: what drove him. But we do get some glimpses into the Nixon psyche that could account for what made the total man: an ambition with no goal that started as early as age six but whose goal targeted politics a few years later; a never-satisfied thirst for power that was abused to "punish" Nixon's "enemies" and for the purpose of holding onto that power; a descent into experimentation with Seconals, Dilantin, speed and Scotch; having as his favorite limo the SS110X which, coincidentally, was the one in which JFK was killed; and, maybe in a brief concession to his dark side, an attempt with "Paviovian technique" to become "a better person." By book's end, Summers makes one thing "perfectly clear:" there was definitely something wrong with Richard Nixon. What exactly is elusive. But Summers' bio is still an important and compelling contribution to the written body of the Nixon library, and we can only hope that post-Watergate writers and researchers will carry Summers' work further and do what any few Nixon-ites have: to try to define the man by his totality rather than by his single act of being the only president in U.S. history to resign the world's most powerful seat.