From Publishers Weekly
A history professor at Chapman College in Orange, Calif., Gellman, author of a revisionist biography of FDR (Secret Affairs), now turns to Nixon. Always interesting, sometimes downright compelling, this is revisionist biography with a capital R, as Gellman criticizes previous biographers from all parts of the political spectrum. Gellman takes special aim at Roger Morris, whose 1990 biography concentrating on Nixon's congressional years (Richard Milhous Nixon) topped 1000 pages. Some of Gellman's debunking comes in the text, some in the endnotes, most in a section titled "Nixon and His Detractors: Whom Should We Believe?" Those who have read the Morris biography will perhaps find themselves returning to it. Those who have not might need to do so to fully evaluate Gellman's much more charitable interpretations of Nixon's character and motives. Gellman's use of primary documents is impressive: there is no question that he has turned up some new evidence. Unlike Morris, who tends to judge Nixon as opportunistic at best, dishonest at worst, Gellman views the president-to-be as a skilled, often warm congressman who spoke and voted his conscience. Gellman concedes that Nixon was no saint, "but neither was he an outrageous Red-baiter, nor a crooked fund-raiser, nor a smarmy politician who smeared his opponents." Because Gellman's revisionism is the key to the book, it will be of special interest to professional historians. The writing is accessible, though, to anybody interested in post-WWII American history.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
A meticulously researched revisionist account (the first volume of a projected three) of Richard Nixon's public career, from a Putitzer-winning author (Secret Affairs, not reviewed). After Nixons resignation from the presidency in 1974, it was popular to argue that the character flaws that emerged in the Watergate crisis were evident in his first political campaigns and his tenure as a congressman and senator. Not so, contends Gellman (Modern American History/Chapman Coll.). Basing his conclusions on Nixon's recently declassified personal papers, Gellman concludes that the popular image of Nixon as a ruthless liar and conniver who rose to national prominence through irresponsible Red-baiting is actually a myth. Instead, Gellman argues, Nixon was ``a success story in a troubled era, one who steered a sensible anticommunist course against the excess of McCarthy and other extreme right-wingers.'' Charges, still widely believed, that Nixon smeared Jerry Voorhis in his 1946 congressional campaign and Helen Gahagan Douglas in his 1950 Senate campaign are false, Gellman asserts, born of partisanship and unfairness. Instead, both campaigns were divisive but ``hard-fought and deeply emotional'' on both sides. Gellman traces Nixon's involvement in the Hiss-Chambers case, which first brought him national prominence, his rapid rise in the national GOP organization as a senator who focused on the issues of communism and the Korean War, and the 1952 nominating convention in which he suddenly emerged as a dark horse vice-presidential candidate. Arguing that Nixon's nomination was the culmination of several political forces, including the high profile Nixon earned in the Hiss case, Gellman counters the widespread notion that Nixon manipulated his way to the 1952 nomination. Nixon had no managers, he points out, and Dwight Eisenhower had expressed interest in capturing the vote of young people with a youthful running mate. The 39-year-old Nixon seemed to fit the billhe was ``young, patriotic, articulate, and dependable,'' and in Ike's view became the logical choice for the ticket. A substantial contribution to Nixon scholarship. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.