Top critical review
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Flawed but fascinating
on 19 April 2009
This is an odd book, really, as it is really two books in one. The first half tells the story of how the interviews came about, and the behind the scenes story of the actual taping, followed by a short biography covering the rest of Richard Nixon's life and his re-emergence from obscurity. David Frost also takes some time to reflect on the man himself, thirty years on, and you do get the impression that he can't really decide now whether he actually dislikes him as much as he seems to have done at the time of the actual recordings. Time, it would appear, is going to be kinder to Richard Nixon than we might have thought. His foreign policy, race relations policy and economic policy are all viewed much more favourably with the passage of the years... if only everyone could forget about that little matter of Watergate...
The second half is the actual transcripts of the "Frost/Nixon" interviews themselves, including guidance notes from David Frost injected into the text referring to quite what he was thinking and/or trying to achieve at that moment. On the page as cold, dry text, the interviews tend to lose some of their impact - part of the fascination of the originals was seeing Mr Nixon himself and his various reactions - also, the "ums", "ahs" and half finished phrases don't really help clarify the arguments when they are in written form. The transcripts are, of course, very necessary to put the first half of the book in context, and are obviously a very good written reference work for anyone researching Richard Nixon to dip into rather than constantly having to refer to the taped interviews.
The photographic section is not great as the "backstage" source photographs seem to be rather smudgy (1970s film not aging well, I suppose) and the rest are off air images, which are seldom great.
Maybe a more straightforward retelling of the Watergate story at the top of the book and an appendix listing the main people involved would have helped to tell the overall story. If you hadn't read any other books about Watergate, you might get a bit lost with all the references - it does assume a lot of foreknowledge on the part of the reader. Even a basic Nixon timeline would have helped put things in context. Of course, maybe David Frost assumes his readers are clever enough not to need that.
Overall, slightly flawed, but a fascinating study of a very bizarre chapter in recent American history.