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One might suppose that a Watergate book at this late date would offer some perspective or cast the episode in some relevant context. As a sheer chunk of history, though it's an endlessly fascinating drama, as quotation-rich as Shakespeare. Remember Colson's ""I would walk over my grandmother if necessary""? Liddy's offer to be shot on a street corner? Ehrlichman's order to let Gray ""twist slowly, slowly in the wind""? Drawing on the chronicles of Woodward and Bernstein, John Dean, and others, Cook tells the whole story in brisk chronological order, with a few necessary pauses for background briefings. For youngsters to whom these multitudes of names are new, each actor is described on entrance. (McCord ""had a rugged face, with a strong chin and deep creases in his cheeks that looked as if they might have been caused by a habit of keeping his jaw firmly clamped and his cheeks sucked in."") And Cook frequently reminds us of the amazement that greeted each new revelation. (Woodward and Bernstein ""almost fell off their chairs."") But for all its readability, this is a serious reenactment, with the emphasis on the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the crimes, the discrepancy between Nixon's public statements and his conversations with the inner circle, that circle's marketing and advertising background which ill suited them to public trust, and Nixon's own ""mean side"" and dual personality (one side, according to David Frost, ""the frighteningly insecure political thug""). Nor does Cook settle for dismissing it all as a sensational aberration. ""Many have said that the outcome of Watergate vindicates the American system,"" he says at the start. ""Still, we were luckier in this case than we have a right to expect if there should be a similar crisis in the future.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Watts