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Superb biography of controversial politician
on 28 March 2007
If the second half of the twentieth century can be described as the 'age of Nixon', then Oxford historian Anthony Summers has written quite possibly the definitive portrait of the decades-defining politician.
If you think you knew Nixon, think again: Summers paints a picture of a venal and deeply corrupt individual, plagued by doubts and self-loathing; yet this Nixon is also absolutely human and capable of political brilliance. This depiction of Richard Millhouse Nixon is no cardboard caricature but a recognisable and conflicted person who could have achieved something exceptional if he had chosen a different path but ended up self-destructing in an inferno of pills, booze, paranoia and subversion, ultimately falling on his sword rather than revealing what he knew about the workings of the secret state, the deep political structure. He was enabled in this function by those who surrounded him and acted as gatekeepers to the king, Bob Haldeman, John Erlichman and Henry Kissinger, people who, rather than attempting to restrain and moderate, indulged Nixon's worst aspects and darker side.
There is an exceptional amount of material that Summers has compiled here but, as with his other books, he writes deftly and never swamps the reader with detail at the expense of narrative clarity. The illegal political maneuvering that Nixon and Kissinger conspired in, to sabotage Lyndon B. Johnson's peace initiative with the South Vietnamese by promising them a better deal once he was elected, thereby undermining LBJ's deal and needlessly prolonging the suffering (on both sides) of the Vietnam war, is meticulously documented, as is just about everything else: Nixon's rise to power, his relationship with John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover, his relationship with the intelligence apparatus, Texan oil men, the numerous black-bag jobs (possibly hundreds), Watergate being the most infamous, and the Mafia. Ideologues might criticise this book for being a scandalising, sensationalist dirt-digging expose but the facts are plain enough, thoroughly sourced and researched and speak for themselves.
If you relish a good biography or simply want to understand one of the key U.S. politicians of recent decades, then this is the book you need to buy. Once you have finished this, watch Oliver Stone's, "Nixon" - a great film that was made before this book was released (buy the U.S. import and get a much better package: an extended director's cust with roughly 28 minutes extra footage, plus an hour long interview with Stone).