THE IMPERIAL ROCKEFELLER: A Biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller by Joseph E. Persia
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THE IMPERIAL ROCKEFELLER: A Biography of Nelson A. Rockefeller

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Joe Persico, ""born into a working-class family"" and alumnus of a teacher's college, was Nelson Rockefeller's principal speechwriter for eleven years (1966-1970): in talent as in all else, ""the world was Nelson's province."" (What he wouldn't tolerate in an aide was opposition--though it didn't do to get sick either.) Persico, the first ex-staffer to open up, puts across Rockefeller's operating style with zest and shrewdly assesses its impact. Hence, the title. (In academic parlance, what does it mean ""when great private wealth is wedded to great public ambitions""?) The subtitle is something of a misnomer. Persico, generally avoiding ground covered by others (the personal or political biographers), offers only certain observations about Rockefeller's life prior to his own coming; but some of these--on the breakup of the marriage to Tod, on Happy Rockefeller's child-custody troubles, on the closeness between brothers Nelson and Laurance--distinctly alter or amplify the record. Then, from 1966--Rockefeller is 58, and running for a third term as N.Y.'s governor--first-hand impressions take over (importantly supplemented by input from other ex-staffers). Persico, a convert/recruit from the opposing camp (yes, the question of why surfaces again and again), marvels at the ""machined precision"" of the re-election campaign and reports Rockefeller's euphoria at his victory--despite the divorce-and-remarriage, high taxes, and right-wing hostility. ""Nelson Rockefeller, apart from money and privilege, was one hell of a guy."" Thereafter, each topical chapter has its highlights. In the '68 presidential campaign (""his only serious hope for the office""), the Kissinger aura and Rockefeller's ""petrification as a Cold Warrior."" On the disastrous '69 ""invasion"" of Latin America, the removal of ""every pebble in Rockefeller's path""--only to run into riots. Apropos of Nelson the headhunter, the seduction of urban developer Ed Logue. During the '70 re-election race (whereby he became ""the only American governor ever elected to four four-year terms""), the spending issue: ""Did Nelson ever. feel any qualms. . . ?"" As to Nelson the purported liberal: an activist, not an ideologue. (Persico is devastating on the household origin of the Draconian drug-control program.) But notwithstanding Rockefeller's pursuit of ""half-baked and worthy schemes with equal fervor,"" regardless of his wastefulness (""not simply of money but of people and human energies""), ""he left a New York transformed in those areas where state government reaches."" For the final, post-gubernatorial years (1974-77), this is presently the premier source--straight through the appearance, as ""help"" for Persico, of ""irrepressibly exuberant,"" 22-year-old Megan Marshack, Rockefeller's last lady-love. No fawning, no cheap shots--and every source identified. Of its kind, top-notch.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster