A biography of Richard Nixon focuses on his years at a New York law firm before running for president.
In this debut history book, Li examines one of the less famous periods of Nixon’s professional life, from his loss in the 1962 election for governor of California through his political rehabilitation and his successful run for president in 1968. The work focuses on Nixon’s tenure at the Wall Street law firm that was renamed Nixon Mudge when he joined, drawing high-profile clients and repairing his public persona. Li shows how formative Nixon’s law firm years were, giving him the opportunity to build the relationships necessary for a national campaign and also introducing him to colleagues like Leonard Garment and John Mitchell, who became important figures during his presidency. The work concludes with a brief overview of Watergate and its effect on Nixon Mudge alumni and the story of the firm’s decline in the ’80s and ’90s. Drawing on both primary sources and previous scholarship, Li brings a lawyer’s perspective to this analysis of Nixon’s career, going into detail about his argument before the Supreme Court in a First Amendment case that involved Time Inc. and Life magazine. The author employs an informed historical viewpoint, tracing the connections between Nixon’s path and the careers of other presidential aspirants. The prose is solid, flavored by Li’s taste for metaphor (“If Kennedy was Camelot, then Nixon seemed to represent Prince John from ‘Robin Hood’ ”), balancing analysis with substantial quotations from the principals involved. The book also does an excellent job balancing its particular focus with the need to provide readers with sufficient background, resulting in a solid overview of the time period and the political climate surrounding Nixon Mudge. Li approaches Nixon and the volume’s other notorious characters with open eyes, acknowledging their strengths while pointing out the flaws that eventually led to crimes, convictions, and resignations. The author presents readers with well-rounded portraits of key figures in U.S. law and politics in the second half of the 20th century.
An engaging and well-written book that illuminates Nixon through the exploration of the midpoint of his career.