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Being Nixon: A Man Divided Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 16, 2015
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“A biography of eloquence and breadth . . . No single volume about Nixon’s long and interesting life could be so comprehensive.”—Chicago Tribune
“Terrifically engaging . . . a fair, insightful and highly entertaining portrait of the thirty-seventh president . . . Being Nixon should be read by anyone with a more open mind about the oddest man ever to occupy the Oval Office.”—Max Boot, The Wall Street Journal
“[A] fully rounded portrait, carefully pairing each indictment of Nixon with a mitigating perspective . . . Thomas has a fine eye for the telling quote and the funny vignette, and his style is eminently readable.”—The New York Times Book Review
“From Nixon’s hardscrabble California childhood to his post-presidential exile, Thomas proves an amiable and fair-minded tour guide. . . . The result, in Thomas’s rendering, is a man of intertwined threads, in some ways the personification of the contending passions of American life of the period.”—The Boston Globe
“How self-aware are the great men of history? That’s the fascinating question at the heart of Evan Thomas’s new book on Richard Nixon. . . . Here in one sharp and briskly written volume is what you really want to know about the great and horrible thirty-seventh President: How could someone so wise about the world be so utterly clueless about himself? . . . [Nixon] is revealed in Thomas’s hands as awkward, striving, victimized and alone—strange habits for a man who opted for such a public life, and traits that carried the seeds of his destruction.”—Time
“Ambitious . . . Thomas’s book is filled with anecdotes that humanize Nixon. There are pages suggesting real insight and, especially, how the president was seen by those around him. . . . There are well-crafted word-pictures of Nixon throughout the narrative, from his legendary awkwardness to his catastrophic frustration and vindictive rage.”—Carl Bernstein, The Washington Post
“A well-written and balanced account . . . gracefully written and highly readable . . . [Thomas’s] interest goes to the man himself, like most of us a man of contradictions, a man with a dark and light side, with the dark side often leading to disastrous decisions, encouraged by his increasingly tight circle of self-serving advisers.”—The Washington Times
“[Nixon’s] oddity, more than any policy choices or impeachable crimes, is the subject of this book, which is marked by unexpected and startling empathy. . . . One feels for Nixon.”—The New Yorker
“[A] glossy, armchair-ready biography . . . [a] book in tune with our time. It’s a trick of fate that Nixon, a sitting president who experienced a version of supersize public shaming, might have appreciated for its futuristic appeal. Instead of being passively read, Being Nixon invites argument.”—The New York Times
“What was it really like to be Richard Nixon? Evan Thomas tackles this fascinating question by peeling back the layers of a man driven by a poignant mix of optimism and fear. The result is both insightful history and an astonishingly compelling psychological portrait of an anxious introvert who struggled to be a transformative statesman.”—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
“An infamous, polarizing, and enigmatic political figure—President Richard Nixon—comes to life in a surprising and engaging look at a man capable of great bravery and extraordinary deviousness.”—Publishers Weekly
“As Thomas’s biographical—and sometimes psychobiographical—study builds, it becomes ever more unlikely that Nixon, a loner in the constituency-pleasing game of politics, could ever have succeeded. . . . This is one of the better books on Nixon in the recent crop.”—Kirkus Reviews
“The great Evan Thomas has brought us a measured, concise, and important American biography. Now that the shouting and tumult have faded and Richard Nixon moves from our contemporary politics toward history, Thomas offers wise insights, based on many new sources, achieving what might have seemed impossible: He has rendered a new Nixon who, in vital and unexpected ways, is very different from the character about whom, for the past seventy years, so much has been said and written.”—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789–1989
“Richard Nixon is one of the most complex and fascinating characters in American history. In this poignant, revealing, and compellingly readable book, Evan Thomas makes him human.”—Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval
“In the sprawling literature surrounding the only American president to resign from office, Being Nixon stands apart. For while many have praised or damned Richard Nixon from afar, poked and prodded at his psyche and tapes, struggled to understand the mysterious sources of his enduring communion with the American spirit, Evan Thomas is the first writer daring enough to aspire to be Nixon. The result is a supremely rewarding portrait, refined yet readable, unsparing and generous, rich in history with fresh research and evidence: a ‘new Nixon’ for the twenty-first century, innovative and invaluable.”—James Rosen, Fox News chief Washington correspondent and author of The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate
About the Author
Evan Thomas is the author of nine books: The Wise Men (with Walter Isaacson), The Man to See, The Very Best Men, Robert Kennedy, John Paul Jones, Sea of Thunder, The War Lovers, Ike’s Bluff, and Being Nixon. John Paul Jones and Sea of Thunder were New York Times bestsellers. Thomas was a writer, correspondent, and editor for thirty-three years at Time and Newsweek, including ten years (1986–96) as Washington bureau chief at Newsweek, where, at the time of his retirement in 2010, he was editor at large. He wrote more than one hundred cover stories and in 1999 won a National Magazine Award. He wrote Newsweek’s fifty-thousand-word election specials in 1996, 2000, 2004 (winner of a National Magazine Award), and 2008. He has appeared on many TV and radio talk shows, including Meet the Press and The Colbert Report, and has been a guest on PBS’s Charlie Rose more than forty times. The author of dozens of book reviews for The New York Times and The Washington Post, Thomas has taught writing and journalism at Harvard and Princeton, where, from 2007 to 2014, he was Ferris Professor of Journalism.
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On the other hand, Nixon was an outrageously abrasive personality who inflamed animosities in the press and in Congress when he could easily have soothed them. So, a fair portion of the animosity was his own doing.
Author Evan Thomas makes plain that Nixon set the table for his Watergate downfall both by callous stupidity and malignant contempt for those he perceived were persecuting him in the press, academia, and Congress. But Thomas gets beyond the war between Nixon and his enemies that climaxed in Watergate. He fairly portrays Nixon the Statesman who very possibly saved the world from a three-way nuclear confrontation between the USA, USSR, and China.
He shows the Nixon who saved Israel from destruction when it was on the knife-edge of defeat in the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. He shows the Nixon who was cheered by six million Egyptians a few months later for "brokering an honest peace” between Israel and Egypt. The world today, which competes economically instead of militarily, is largely the world that Nixon envisioned in his inaugural speech of 1969. His grandeur as a peacemaker is brought to life.
I’ve studied Nixon for much of my life. My father campaigned for him in 1960, so I grew up in a family friendly towards him. I’ve read every book he has written, plus the books by his detractors. I came of age during his term. One of the first televised news stories I remember was his announcement of his presidential campaign in 1968. I lived through the trauma of Vietnam and the domestic riots, and the escalating investigation of Watergate. This book portrays Nixon’s most important years as president exactly the way I remember them --- with objectivity neither apologizing or denigrating Nixon or his opponents.
The book succeeds in making the reader “a fly on the wall” who lives every day of Nixon’s life, from his birth to his death. It is packed with both meaningful history and interesting gossip about the power struggle shenanigans between Nixon and his staff. Many of Nixon's staffers --- Kissinger Haldeman, Erlichman, Mitchell, and Rosemary Woods --- were almost as fascinating as Nixon himself. I would normally take only about 48 hours to read a book like this, but I savored it so much that I stretched out the reading to three weeks.
The book is thunderous in what it DOESN’T say. Author Evan Thomas doesn’t have any axes to grind for Nixon or against him. He lets the facts of Nixon’s life speak for themselves. His objective focus on the man’s psychology as well as his deeds and misdeeds makes this book a unique work, more than 40 years after Nixon’s resignation. It is essential reading for those who want to understand who Nixon was a person as well as a president.
There are two kind of political biographies. The first are those that are written with an "agenda" - either partisan or personal - and the second are those written to be non-partisan. The first kind of biographies may be more "fun" to read - particularly if you agree with the "agenda" - than the second, but "Being Nixon" is an excellent example of a fact-based, opinion-free book. I recently read and reviewed "Mormon Rivals: The Romneys, the Huntsmans, and the Pursuit of Power", and found it to also be free of political ideology.
Evan Thomas - an author with an impeccable East Coast/Ivy League pedigree - would be the kind of person Richard Nixon would find very little kinship with. Nixon was raised in a small rural town - Whittier - outside Los Angeles, the son of struggling parents. His father was an unsuccessful business man but his mother, Hannah, urged her sons to succeed in life. She was a fervent Quaker, and was a life-long inspiration to Richard. After graduating from Whittier College, Nixon was offered a free ride in law school from Duke University. After law school, Nixon applied to "white shoe" law firms but was turned down. He joined the US Navy after Pearl Harbor and was sent to the South Pacific. When he returned to California, he was "noted" by the local Republican power broker and offered a chance to run for US Congress. He campaigned hard, won the election, and then four years later to the US Senate, after a fairly dirty campaign. He joined Dwight Eisenhower on the national ticket for Vice-President in 1952, but was laid low by rumors of a slush fund. Most everyone reading this review will have heard of Nixon's famous "Checkers" speech, which saved his place on the ticket. The book - and Nixon's life - continue from there.
Evan Thomas writes about Richard Nixon with a good mix of the private and public man. He doesn't shirk in pointing out Nixon's weaknesses, but also talks about his strengths. Thomas looks at those people who surrounded Nixon - from his wife and daughters who faithfully supported him in his public life - to his political friend and cronies who Nixon leaned on for advice and support. But what Evan Thomas does so well in his biography of Richard Nixon is to define the man and give context to his decisions. "Being Nixon" is well-worth reading.