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The Last of the President's Men Hardcover – October 13, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of October 2015: Watergate junkies may think they know all there is to know about Richard Nixon and the inner circle behind Watergate and its aftermath, but journalist Bob Woodward – one half of the team that made that whole sorry business public in the first place – has one more Watergate card to play: The Last of the President’s Men is a short and riveting look into the files and memory of Alexander Butterfield, who was Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman’s deputy during that time. Probably best known to political junkies as the one who revealed that Nixon taped all conversations in the Oval Office, here Butterfield gives Woodward access to files and photos even the seasoned journalist had never seen before; while the resulting book doesn’t necessarily tell us anything we didn’t know about the foul mouthed, paranoid 37th president, it recalls his behavior with such specificity you can’t help but be upset all over again. This is more engaging, in its disturbing way (Nixon’s vulgarities and general ugliness of manner somehow shocked this usually unshockable reader), than the more wonky of Woodward’s recent tomes – and it’s plenty enlightening about an era we thought we already knew. – Sara Nelson
“An intimate but disturbing portrayal of Nixon in the Oval Office.” (The Washington Post)
“Yet another fascinating gift to history by D.C.’s most relentless reporter.” (Politico)
“This volume . . . amplifies (rather than revises) the familiar, almost Miltonian portrait of the 37th president . . . as a brooding, duplicitous despot, obsessed with enemies and score-settling and not the least bit hesitant about lying to the public and breaking the law.” (Michiko Kakutani The New York Times)
“Brisk, provocative . . . Woodward's engrossing volume gives us an Alexander Butterfield of enormous complexity.” (Stephen L. Carter BloombergView)
“A whole new Richard Nixon emerges . . . An extraordinary story.” (Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour)
“A head-shaker . . . a great read.” (John W. Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon Verdict)
"Watergate junkies may think they know all there is to know about Richard Nixon . . . but journalist Bob Woodward . . . has one more Watergate card to play: The Last of the President’s Men is a short and riveting look into the files and memory of Alexander Butterfield, who was Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman’s deputy during that time. Probably best known to political junkies as the one who revealed that Nixon taped all conversations in the Oval Office, here Butterfield gives Woodward access to files and photos even the seasoned journalist had never seen before . . . [the book] recalls his behavior with such specificity you can’t help but be upset all over again. This is more engaging, in its disturbing way (Nixon’s vulgarities and general ugliness of manner somehow shocked this usually unshockable reader), than the more wonky of Woodward’s recent tomes – and it’s plenty enlightening about an era we thought we already knew." (Sara Nelson An Amazon Best Book of October 2015)
“Hard as it maybe to believe after all this time, there is still more to the story of President Richard Nixon and Watergate. . . . It was the biggest bombshell of the biggest political scandal in American history: White House aide Alexander Butterfield revealing the existence of the White House taping system. . . . now he’s back to teach us all one of the basic lessons of journalism: there is always more to the story.” (CBS News)
“Full of new insights for the public and scholars . . . [A] largely overlooked window into the Nixon personality . . . a service to history.” (Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library)
“The best reporter in town at getting top government officials to spill their secrets . . . a cringe-worthy portrayal of the 37th president . . . Woodward puts the petty Nixon on vivid display.” (Evan Thomas The Washington Post)
“Full of revelations about the late President Richard Nixon.” (Newsmax)
“Four decades after Watergate shook America, journalist Woodward returns to the scandal to profile Alexander Butterfield, the Richard Nixon aide who revealed the existence of the Oval Office tapes and effectively toppled the presidency. . . . [the book is] pure Woodward: a visual, dialogue-heavy, blow-by-blow account of Butterfield's tenure. The author uses his long interviews with Butterfield to re-create detailed scenes, which reveal the petty power plays of America's most powerful men. . . . a close-up view of the Oval Office in its darkest hour.” (Kirkus Reviews)
Praise for ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
“The work that brought down a presidency . . . perhaps the most influential piece of journalism in history.” (Time, All-Time 100 Best Non-Fiction Books)
“Maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time.” (Gene Roberts, former managing editor of The New York Times)
“One of the greatest detective stories ever told.” (The Denver Post)
“A fast-moving mystery, a whodunit written with ease. . . . A remarkable book.” (The New York Times)
“An authentic thriller.” (Dan Rather)
“Much more than a 'hot book.' It is splendid reading . . . of enormous value. . . . A very human story.” (The New Republic) (* * *)
Praise for BUSH AT WAR
“Remarkable . . . Bush at War is akin to an unofficial transcript of 100 days of debate over war in Afghanistan.” (Thomas Powers, The New York Times Book Review)
“Human and convincing in its telling detail.” (Evan Thomas, Newsweek)
“Woodward has produced the best book yet written about the September 11 terrorist attacks on America and how Bush fought back.” (Steve Neal, Chicago Sun-Times)
“Woodward . . . is the best pure reporter of his generation, perhaps ever. He uncovers more things than anyone else.” (Fred Barnes, The Weekly Standard )
Praise for PLAN OF ATTACK
“A remarkable book, one that fulfills the too often ephemeral promise of what has come to be called investigative journalism . . . .The American people seldom have been given this clear a window on their government’s most sensitive deliberations.” (Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times)
“Engrossing . . . Woodward uses myriad details to chart the Bush administration’s march to war against Iraq. His often harrowing narrative not only illuminates the fateful interplay of personality and policy . . . but underscores the role that fuzzy intelligence, Pentagon timetables and aggressive ideas about the military and foreign policy had in creating momentum for war.” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)
“Instantly essential . . . By far the most intimate glimpse we have been granted of the Bush White House, and the administration’s defining moment.” (Ted Widmer, The New York Times)
Praise for STATE OF DENIAL
“Woodward’s trilogy on the Bush administration at war is essential, and compelling, reading.” (Foreign Affairs)
“Serious, densely, even exhaustively reported, and a real contribution to history in that it gives history what it most requires, first-person testimony. . . . This is a primer on how the executive branch of the United States works, or rather doesn’t work, in the early years of the 21st century.” (Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal)
“The most revealing in-the-room glimpse of the Bush administration that we have so far.” (Walter Shapiro, Salon.com)
Praise for THE PRICE OF POLITICS
“A highly detailed dissection of the debt-limit negotiations. . . . A remarkable achievement. . . . Woodward, being Woodward, digs deeper and draws more out of the protagonists than anyone else has.” (Jeff Shesol, The Washington Post)
“Required Reading” (Elizabeth Titus, Politico)
“A book everyone is talking about.” (Diane Sawyer, ABC) (* * *)
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Top Customer Reviews
By his own admission Alexander P. Butterfield joined the Nixon administration through an unlikely confluence of circumstances. Butterfield had been classmates with Bob Haldeman at UCLA in the mid-1940s. Though Alex and Bob had lost touch their girlfriends, who would ultimately become their wives, were sorority sisters at the college and still exchanged Christmas cards. In late November 1968 Butterfield, one of the top fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force, was serving a gig in Australia and desperately seeking a more challenging assignment. When Alex discovered that his old college chum was running Richard Nixon’s transition team the wheels began to turn. Perhaps there was a spot in the administration for a man with his credentials. Little did he know that in less than eight weeks he would begin a new chapter in his life as Deputy Assistant to the President of the United States. Bob Woodward chronicles the improbable relationship between Butterfield and Richard Nixon in his marvelous new book “The Last of the President’s Men.” Culling new information from Mr. Butterfield’s stash of documents and files, Woodward sheds new light on the Nixon administration. I could not put this one down.
More than four decades after these events took place Alexander Butterfield recalls in painstaking detail his interactions with the President. He confirms what we have learned from so many other friends and colleagues of Richard Nixon—he was an odd and complex man. According to Woodward “In the first months he was finding some things to admire in Nixon—the work ethic, snatches of empathy, the determined, focused effort so evident in nearly everything he did. The humanity barely emerged, and Nixon was quickly becoming the oddest man he had ever known.” Among other things we learn of a fiendish plot hatched by Nixon to spy on Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and of the origins of the White House taping system that would ultimately come back to bite him. Needless to say the President’s motivation was anything but noble. But even more disturbing than all of that the Butterfield documents reveal that both the President and Secretary of State Kissinger had been lying about the effectiveness of our bombing raids in Vietnam over the course of the war. The appendix at the end of the book includes more than 75 pages of documents, files and memos from Butterfield’s archive. They prove to be a real eye-opener.
“The Last of the President’s Men” is a well-written and meticulously documented book that is an extremely important addition to the historical record. By making these documents public for the very first time Alexander Butterfield has performed a tremendous public service. In addition, Woodward conducted more than 46 hours of taped interviews with Butterfield in order to add detail and context to the written record. I thought that Bob Woodward’s presentation was thorough, fair and balanced. This is a must read for history buffs, political junkies and general readers alike. Recommended.
In his opening chapters, Woodward repeatedly characterizes Nixon's personality as 'weird' after winning his first presidential election. What's also weird is obsessing about the personality quirks of a leader who has been dead for nearly twenty years. Why shouldn't Nixon's mood be a bit off? He's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. After being told for eight years that he wasn't good enough to be president (or governor of California), RN finally saw all his dreams come true. That would be an understandable strain on anyone. But Woodward seeks to psychoanalyze RN, one of the late leader's perennial complaints about the biased press. They didn't do that to JFK, Nixon would grumble.
This book is a fascinating study into the mindset of journalists and journalism during the late sixties. Reporters like Woodward revered President Kennedy to almost the point of worship. JFK was a regular guy that journalists could pal around with, share a beer, and talk about hot women. Nixon was always suspicious that these elitist reporters wouldn't want to share a drink with him. For this, they called him paranoid. But Nixon was right, and it's confirmed in the biased tone of Woodward in this work. It's informative (and fun) to contrast how people like Woodward choose to describe similar behavior between JFK and RN.
When JFK snapped at aides, it was excusable because of his bad back pain. When RN did the same, it's because he was a really mean guy. When Nixon tapped a woman on her thigh, it was because he was a disgusting opportunistic pervert, abusing his position. When JFK would actually penetrate numerous women during his presidency, it showed what a great guy he was. (By some accounts, not all such encounters were consensual, such as the female pool reporter targeted by the rascally Camelot president). When RN tape recorded people without their knowledge or consent, it was because he was a despicable devil. When JFK (and Johnson) tape recorded people without their knowledge or consent, it was because they were really great guys. When RN wiretapped people to use something against them, it was nothing like the happy and wonderful wiretapping that JFK had Hoover perform against the Reverend Martin Luther King, jr. Being a Democrat is like a get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to the "watchdogs" from our nation's fourth estate.
In every case, reporters like Woodward could have won Pulitzers investigating the political and personal failings of Democrat presidents, but chose not to. They didn't want to earn careers and money at the expense of their personal heroes. No such journalistic compunction protected RN. Indeed, it is puzzling that Woodward has such a vindictive tone towards Nixon, even after all these years. Woodward and Bernstein would have been stuck covering the local sports news without Richard Nixon. He made them rich and famous, honored through the end of their days.
Woodward also fails in his analysis when he thinks he has uncovered nefarious scheming between Nixon and Kissinger on the Vietnam war. W thinks that he has a new smoking gun memo from RN, where RN notes that the result of three years of bombing North Vietnam has been 'zilch'. But that is in perfect keeping with the political goal of bombing the North Vietnamese 'back to the negotiating table'. As every history of the Vietnam war relates, Nixon's goal was to force the North Vietnamese to sign a peace treaty with the United States, return our prisoners of war, and allow the U.S. to withdraw from Vietnam 'with honor'. Mission accomplished, Woodward, but your bias blinds you to the obvious. The day that the North Vietnamese signed that peace deal, Nixon started the long process of drawing down our troops and turning the war over to South Vietnamese president Thiew.
W conveniently fails to remind the reader that the post-Watergate Democrat-controlled congress slashed funds to support South Vietnam, dooming them to the precise Communist invasion that the 'Domino theory' warned would happen. They doomed the war effort, and got to pin all the blame on RN for a war he didn't start. That's what happens when Democrats get to write all the history books. Here, Woodward tries to raise the possibility of some unstated dark motive between Nixon and Kissinger, when all signs pointed to them trying to get to that goal of a peace treaty and an eventual withdrawal from Vietnam. They desired a political victory, not a military one, which they achieved and history reflects.
It's a small distinction, to not see the difference between a clear political goal to the bombings, and confuse it was some definitive military effect. Again, by assuming the worst interpretation and worst possible motive of RN, W misses an opportunity for true closure. W also expresses outrage over Nixon hoping for an election advantage from increased bombings. Gee, like how President Johnson sought a clear political advantage for Hubert Humphrey by announcing a bombing pause right before the Democrat primaries? W won't tell his readers this, because it is assumed the reader will also consider RN evil personified for governing largely the same as his predecessors.
Now the preceding really sounds bad and it is, but it's not the meat of the book. By and large it's an enjoyable account as Woodward and his interview subject Butterfield take us back to the heady days of the new administration and their agenda. Butterfield had a difficult job (be careful what you wish for), supporting Chief of Staff Haldeman and anticipating RN's moods. It makes for great reading.
Woodward really tries to dislike his subject. But look at the circles that Woodward now travels: In 2015, W called up Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on his speed dial to confirm a hand written RN memo that Butterfield had in his possession. Which Kissinger helpfully did! Who else could do that? Despite his biases, Woodward is always compelling as an author and an investigator. This book is as exciting as anything starring Robert Redford (what non-truthful movie is he stuck doing these days?)
I listed the above failings because I want to be clear in my enthusiasm for this work. Woodward won't be around to kick Dick Nixon around forever, and I'm glad that his final investigation into the last of the President's men (Butterfield) has given him some sort of closure. Nixon destroyed himself even while knowing there were men like Woodward out there waiting to get him. Read this book and see history come alive, before all those involved are gone and forgotten. I hope Woodward will induce you to think for yourself, and in that his final Nixon investigation is a pleasing read and literary success.