January 13, 2013 by brettdgale
Last Wednesday marked the 100th birthday of one of the most reviled, yet by certain elements, revered of US Presidents – Richard Nixon. Nixon may well have been the strangest most tormented person ever to occupy the oval office. A crook of the highest order, an anti-communist who officially recognised communist China, and as The Atlantic pointed out the man who created the modern Republican Party – a party that the great conservative himself would today not recognise.
Such complexities make Nixon a compelling attraction for writers. So what then are the best books on Nixon and his time in power?
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America – Rick Perlstein. Nixonland tells the story of how Richard Nixon rebuilt the Republican Party, in the wake of the 1964 annhiliation of Barry Goldwater. A tale of the turbulence and divided values of late 60’s America and the laying of the groundwork for the Republican hegemony to come.
All The Presidents Men and The Final Days – Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The history of Watergate and the fall of Nixon by the two men who broke the story. Written like a cross between the breaking news section of the Washington Post and a crime noir novel, full of “deep throated revelations”, the defining work on how we view Watergate.
The Arrogance of Power – Anthony Summers. Written at a point in the cycle when Nixon’s legacy was being rehabilitated, and collective amnesia over his crimes was settling in, Summers exposed in harsh light the dark, dark underbelly of Nixon’s attitude to power from his shady acquaintances through to his alcohol fuelled rages and complete inability to see right from wrong.
Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World – Margaret MacMillan. MacMillan superbly brings to life one of the most important weeks in recent world history. This book puts the reader right into the action neatly encapsulating the tensions of leading up to a meeting that nearly never was. As the US and its allies continue to struggle with ongoing rise of China, this is an important and thoughful book.
Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry that Shaped Postwar America – Chris Matthews. Before he became the very parody of a political squawking parrot Chris Matthews wrote this absorbing dual biography of the rivalry between JFK and Nixon and how their competition/hatred shaped the policy choices and political landscape of sixties and seventies America.
Six Crises: Richard Nixon. Written in 1961 following his defeat to Kennedy the previous year, this book shows a remarkable level of introspection that Nixon was not known for. A window of insight into the drives of Nixon.
RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon – Richard Nixon. Much less introspective than the above, written towards the end of his life this is Nixon’s own account of his career and times with little analysis of the defining moment of his political career – Watergate.
The Conviction of Richard Nixon: The Untold Story of the Frost/Nixon Interviews – James Reston Jnr and Frost/Nixon Behind the scenes of the Nixon Interviews – David Frost. These two books both of which illuminate/ capitalise on the play/movie Frost/Nixon give great insight into the earth shattering interviews between the discgraced former President seeking rehabilitation and the doyen of British journalists. Or you could just watch the interviews yourself on YouTube.
Before the Fall – William Safire. To somewhat balance up the ledger this examination of the pre-Watergate White House by former Nixon speechwriter (and one of my favourite former New York Times columnists) William Safire is definitely worth a read.
President Nixon: Alone in the White House – Richard Reeves. A balanced account of Nixon’s presidency from a well known presidential historian with fascinating insights and access to previously unavailable sources.