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Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full Hardcover – October 23, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Recently convicted of mail fraud and obstruction of justice, former Hollinger International chairman and newspaper magnate Black (Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom) is better positioned than most men to chronicle the power and disgrace experienced by Richard Nixon. Black is a versatile and thorough biographer who brings not only sympathy but eloquent clarity to his task. The result is a vibrant narrative of personal and political accomplishment that, though great and heroically achieved, was often marred by self-inflicted wounds springing from personal paranoia. Black is at his best portraying the many contradictions in Nixon's personal makeup and political history. The Nixon who most fascinates Black is the firebrand cold warrior who (in partnership with Henry Kissinger) went on to invent the notion of detente and eventually opened relations with China. As Black shows, Nixon's duality followed him into his postpresidential years. The tireless son of Quakers methodically sought after Watergate to rebuild his reputation as a statesman by issuing carefully crafted publications and granting strategically timed interviews. Black's superb volume, incorporating much new research, is an important and worthy addition to the literature. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
In the thousand and fifty pages of this biography by a fallen media baron of a fallen President, few events are neglected and many are well told. But Black, attempting a reconsideration of his subject, merely provides an exculpatory gloss for seemingly every grimy facet of Nixons career. He presents the 1968 "Southern strategy" as a principled stand against Northern hypocrisy. On Vietnam, his invocations of "insolent" Communists, their "witless dupes," and "child grenade carriers" (as he refers to those murdered at My Lai) take on a deranged air; he unwittingly provides an object lesson in the kind of thinking that mired America there. Interestingly, given what Black refers to in the acknowledgments as his own "serious judicial problems," he argues that Nixons best move in Watergate would have been to surreptitiously delete damaging parts of the tapes and then make up a cover story"whatever he wanted." Hoping to be Nixons redeemer, Black comes off as his apologist.
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Top Customer Reviews
The writer, Conrad Black, has had his own problems with the justice system, but is a talented writer. I was impressed with his Bio on Franklin Roosevelt, and his somewhat political commentary book, Flight of the Eagle, published after the Nixon book.
In reading this book, you understand how Nixon grew up in a Quaker household in California while the whole family worked the family store selling produce and groceries and surviving the Great Depression. He had two brothers that died young of TB. His mother was a dominant force in his life. He was the epitome of the great lower middle class of America at this time, hard working, extremely careful with money and striving to get by. Through a scholarship, he was able to travel east to Duke University to attend law school.
After the war, he entered politics in California and made a name for himself by capitalizing on the fear of Communism in the country at that time. He won a seat in the US House of Representatives and at an early age, was successful in his pursuit of a Senate seat. He gained national recognition while on the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in pursuit of Alger Hiss for the famous spy case.
Eisenhower selected Nixon as his vice presidental running mate, but Black points out how difficult a person Eisenhower could be. When there were questions about a special fund of approximately $16,000 set up for Nixon, cries of corruption started and Ike left Nixon slowing twisting in the wind as to his remaining on the ticket. It was only after Nixon went on national television with his famous "Checkers" speech. in which he refused to step away from the nomination (which infuriated Ike) was he able to secure the spot. By detailing to the nation all of his money, home, car, debts, savings and everything that he had, Nixon won the respect of the great middle class and at the same time made Ike uncomfortable because he had failed to disclose the immense amount of money he made on his war memoirs which were taxed at a much lower capital gains rate than the existing high income tax rate in place at the time.
We all know the story of the 1960 election and how Kennedy squeaked through with a little help from his friends. Kennedy was a pretty boy from a wealthy family who was more proficient at sleeping around than anything else, but with his tragic death, became the enduring myth of Camelot.
I lived through Nixon's terms in office, Vietnam (served without a scratch) and watched the Watergate hearings on television. Nixon later redeemed himself as an elder statesman, but I suppose he will always be known for Watergate. And reading this sorry tale of bumbling, I couldn't help but think that a man like Eisenhower would have #1 never have had people like that on his staff, and #2 would have thrown everyone of them under the bus in a moment of the first sign of it going wrong. Nixon was not like that.
Another very interesting part of the book is the relationship with Kissinger. Henry was quite an ass as well as being an egomaniac. After all that Black said about Kissinger I was somewhat surprised that Kissinger gave Black such a warm recommendation for his later book, Flight of the Eagle.
As other reviewers have pointed out, Black is not shy about mixing his opinion with the history, and many will not agree with his assumptions, and, of course, there will always be those that hate Richard Nixon, but I remember him as a brilliant president, but with some deep set flaws that were his undoing in the end. Such a shame that he had to resign his office because of the bungling of people like Dean, Halderman, Colson, Mitchell, Hunt and Erlichman.
It is a long book, but well worth the time.
Clear your mind and let Lord Black, himself no stranger to controversy, intrigue, and the wrong side of the law, elegantly lay before you the life and achievements, glorious and inglorious, of American president Richard M. Nixon. Nixon, like life, is not black-or-white, not lacking in nuance, remarkable highs and unimaginable lows. Suspend your distaste based on decades old headlines and let the man -- both Black and Nixon speak. America owes a debt to Richard Nixon. Like the rest of us, Nixon is multi-faceted, complex, easily misunderstood, deserving of a second chance.
The Nixon biography is not quite as good as the FDR study. There are, for example, a few glaring geopolitical mistakes. On several occasions Black writes that the United States should have brought Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army from Taiwan into the wars against Chinese proxies--North Korea and then North Vietnam--and, given that Chinese troops were advising those proxies, let them fight Chinese soldiers themselves. That would in fact have been an enormous error, for Chiang's primary goal in the 1950s and 1960s was to provoke a war between the United States and China both to prevent a Sino-American rapprochement and to increase the odds that the PRC would collapse and he could return in glory to the mainland. Given that goal--and Chiang's cynical and manipulative history--it would have been disastrous to make the United States dependent on his behavior and that of his military. I also disliked Black's more or less blanket acceptance of Nixon's and Kissinger's assurances that they made no concessions regarding Taiwan to Beijing when negotiating the new relationship in 1970-1973. When the diplomatic documents were finally released in the late 1990s, they proved that the Americans had actually made several major concessions and Kissinger, in subseqeunt interviews, acknowledged as much. In the middle 1970s, he said, it was essential to discourage criticism of the nascent China ties even if that meant dissembling. Black should therefore not have taken the Nixon and Kissinger memoirs at face value.
The biggest weakness in the Nixon bio, though, is Black's extreme deference to that president. Black's premise is that Nixon's conduct through about 1971 was not much worse than that of FDR, Kennedy, and Johnson; and that his subsequent . . . missteps. . . were more flaws in judgment than in character. But the author goes overboard in that respect, iterating and reiterating that Nixon was acting in accordance with the mores of the time. That is simply not true. Even if the Watergate burglary and wiretapping incidents were par for the presidential course, Nixon's determination to break into Daniel Ellsburg's psychiatrist's office and his campaign against the Brookings Institution were inappropriate even by Kennedy's and Johnson's lowly standards. And Nixon surrounded himself with thugs and sycophants--men, like John Dean, bereft of integrity and hence unusually useful in doing things that might be considered unethical. In these ways Nixon really was an outlier.
So why does Black go so far to defend the indefensible? Could it be that he is actually arguing on his own behalf? Black was, after all, in deep legal trouble when he finished the Nixon biography; he would soon be convicted of embezzlement by a US court, denied assistance by both the appellate courts and the US Supreme Court, and thrown in jail. His defense in those trials was largely that he, like his version of Nixon, was just doing what his peers did. It follows that he too has suffered unwarranted censure and punishment. Anyone who doubts Black's ability to twist the facts to make himself look better need only read the interview with him that the Financial Times published two or three months ago. In it he appears slippery, manipulative, exculpatory, and embarrassingly obvious.
My view is that Black is probably as troubled as the presidents he chooses to analyze. That may be why he is so good at dissecting their thinking and policies. But if his preoccupation with his own problems colored his evaluation of Nixon, it did so in highly provocative fashion that compels the reader to reconsider his own prejudices. I had many heated arguments with this book, which in my view means that it was absolutely worth reading and pondering.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very well written and easy to understand and learn from.