Richard Nixon: The Life
by John A. Farrell (Doubleday, $35)
The shadow of Richard Nixon “looms longer and darker than ever,” said Aram Goudsouzian in The Washington Post. Watching Donald Trump rise to power by demonizing the press, the Washington establishment, and myriad minority groups, it’s easy to see him as an heir to the divisive politics of the last president to be chased from office. But Nixon wasn’t simply a proto-Trump, and John A. Farrell tells Nixon’s story “with punch and insight” in a book that may be “the best one-volume, cradle-to-grave biography that we could expect about such an elusive subject.” Farrell shows us that Nixon wasn’t “Tricky Dick” from birth. As a result, “this portrait is more damning.”
Farrell “understands all too well that Nixon was a vat of contradictions,” said Jennifer Senior in The New York Times. Born the insecure son of a failed Yorba Linda, Calif., rancher, the Nixon we meet here initially engenders sympathy: His love letters to Pat, his future wife, are both “endearing and pathetic”—“the desperate pleas of the runt of the litter.” Early on, he also made surprising alliances, said Robert Landers in The Wall Street Journal. As a young congressman, Nixon was good friends with House mate John F. Kennedy, close enough that in 1954 he tearfully prayed that Kennedy not die during a risky surgery. That relationship changed, of course, and Farrell pinpoints Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in 1960’s presidential election as the experience that soured the Californian for good.
The book’s biggest bombshell, revealed late last year, concerns Vietnam, said Anthony Marro in Newsday. Farrell, chasing old rumors, uncovered an aide’s notes indicating that in 1968 Nixon orchestrated an effort to dissuade the South Vietnamese from agreeing to a peace settlement until after that year’s U.S. election. And then come those repulsive White House tapes, said Steve Donoghue in CSMonitor.com. The recordings, whose existence was made public during the Watergate investigation, vividly memorialize Nixon’s shocking venality. Farrell’s “superb” book does add nuance to Nixon’s story. “But some reputations can’t be salvaged.”