A lively, hugely sympathetic biography of possibly the most intriguing man to occupy the Oval Office.
Following his comprehensive treatment of FDR, Black (Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, 2005, etc.) turns to the only other man who five times faced a nationwide electorate, who dominated, for better or worse, the second half of America’s 20th-century politics, much as Roosevelt towered over the first. By 1962, Nixon—not yet 50 and already a war veteran, lawyer, nationally famous congressman, senator and two-time vice president—had lost the closest presidential election in American history and a subsequent race for California governor. But the world had only begun to hear from him. He was acutely intelligent, emotionally awkward, deeply insecure and strangely mechanical in his actions, but it was his sheer relentlessness that accounted for his astonishing career. From his hardball campaigns, to his pursuit of Alger Hiss, to the Checkers speech that kept him on the Eisenhower ticket, to his kitchen debate with Khrushchev and his TV face-offs with JFK, to his infamous “last press conference,” to his White House comeback, Nixon, the era’s foremost Cold Warrior, battled fiercely. As Black tells it, by the tumultuous late ’60s, Nixon had accumulated an army of enemies in the liberal establishment only too happy, once he “gave them a sword” in the form of the Watergate scandal, to bring him down. Throughout, the author views Nixon as more sinned against than sinning. Though he balances the record in many important respects, he claims too much for his subject: that “Nixon, more than anyone, pulled the rug out from under [McCarthy],” that the 37th president valiantly championed civil rights, that his post-presidential resurrection was indeed successful. Nixon certainly had his share of presidential triumphs—the opening to China foremost among them—but it seems unlikely that the only man ever to resign the office will one day achieve the “near great” status Black accords him. Nonetheless, Nixon’s complex character and his contentious times leave plenty of room for the version of events offered here.
A massively detailed and generous assessment of a seemingly imperishable politician whose controversial career insures that this won’t be the last word.