A useful account of Richard Nixon’s tumultuous tenure as chief executive.
Presidential chronicler and journalist Reeves (Running in Place: How Bill Clinton Disappointed America, 1996, etc.) has done his homework well for this study of Nixon’s years as president, consulting mountains of recently declassified documents and interviewing Nixon cohorts and confidants such as John Dean, Richard Helms, William Safire, Pat Buchanan, John Ehrlichman, and Egil “Bud” Krogh. For all his hard work, Reeves doesn’t give us much that other biographers and analysts haven’t already provided, including evidence of Nixon’s raging anti-Semitism, his near-pathological paranoia and propensity for lying, and his dislike of the eminently dislikable Henry Kissinger. Still, it’s good to have that evidence in one volume, especially one as well-written as Reeves’s, and even more so given the curious tendency of pundits and historians in the last decade to sign off on Nixon’s own post-presidential efforts to depict himself as one of America’s great statesmen, never mind the unfortunate tactical errors in such matters as Watergate and Vietnam. Reeves gives appropriate nods to Nixon’s very real accomplishments in foreign policy, including his rapprochement with China—which, Reeves documents, occupied Nixon in the earliest days of his first term, though it would not come to pass for several years. Kissinger, who was in the habit of dismissing antiwar protestors as a pack of spoiled children, and who did not brook criticism even from his nominal superiors (“He’s a devious bastard,” Nixon remarked of his primary foreign-policy adviser), comes in for a well-deserved drubbing. Reeves treats others in the Nixon White House with a kind of detached respect, even as he recounts their escapades in selling ambassadorships and subverting the Constitution.
Those who survived the Nixon era will shudder anew; younger readers will find this a lucid survey of a strange time.