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Richard Nixon

Cover of Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon

The Life
Borrow Borrow Borrow
From a prize-winning biographer comes the defining portrait of a man who led America in a time of turmoil and left us a darker age. We live today, John A. Farrell shows, in a world Richard Nixon made.

At the end of WWII, navy lieutenant "Nick" Nixon returned from the Pacific and set his cap at Congress, an idealistic dreamer seeking to build a better world. Yet amid the turns of that now-legendary 1946 campaign, Nixon's finer attributes gave way to unapologetic ruthlessness. The story of that transformation is the stunning overture to John A. Farrell's magisterial biography of the president who came to embody postwar American resentment and division.
Within four years of his first victory, Nixon was a U.S. senator; in six, the vice president of the United States of America. "Few came so far, so fast, and so alone," Farrell writes. Nixon's sins as a candidate were legion; and in one unlawful secret plot, as Farrell reveals here, Nixon acted to prolong the Vietnam War for his own political purposes. Finally elected president in 1969, Nixon packed his staff with bright young men who devised forward-thinking reforms addressing health care, welfare, civil rights, and protection of the environment. It was a fine legacy, but Nixon cared little for it. He aspired to make his mark on the world stage instead, and his 1972 opening to China was the first great crack in the Cold War.
Nixon had another legacy, too: an America divided and polarized. He was elected to end the war in Vietnam, but his bombing of Cambodia and Laos enraged the antiwar movement. It was Nixon who launched the McCarthy era, who played white against black with a "southern strategy," and spurred the Silent Majority to despise and distrust the country's elites. Ever insecure and increasingly paranoid, he persuaded Americans to gnaw, as he did, on grievances—and to look at one another as enemies. Finally, in August 1974, after two years of the mesmerizing intrigue and scandal of Watergate, Nixon became the only president to resign in disgrace.
Richard Nixon is a gripping and unsparing portrayal of our darkest president. Meticulously researched, brilliantly crafted, and offering fresh revelations, it will be hailed as a master work.
From a prize-winning biographer comes the defining portrait of a man who led America in a time of turmoil and left us a darker age. We live today, John A. Farrell shows, in a world Richard Nixon made.

At the end of WWII, navy lieutenant "Nick" Nixon returned from the Pacific and set his cap at Congress, an idealistic dreamer seeking to build a better world. Yet amid the turns of that now-legendary 1946 campaign, Nixon's finer attributes gave way to unapologetic ruthlessness. The story of that transformation is the stunning overture to John A. Farrell's magisterial biography of the president who came to embody postwar American resentment and division.
Within four years of his first victory, Nixon was a U.S. senator; in six, the vice president of the United States of America. "Few came so far, so fast, and so alone," Farrell writes. Nixon's sins as a candidate were legion; and in one unlawful secret plot, as Farrell reveals here, Nixon acted to prolong the Vietnam War for his own political purposes. Finally elected president in 1969, Nixon packed his staff with bright young men who devised forward-thinking reforms addressing health care, welfare, civil rights, and protection of the environment. It was a fine legacy, but Nixon cared little for it. He aspired to make his mark on the world stage instead, and his 1972 opening to China was the first great crack in the Cold War.
Nixon had another legacy, too: an America divided and polarized. He was elected to end the war in Vietnam, but his bombing of Cambodia and Laos enraged the antiwar movement. It was Nixon who launched the McCarthy era, who played white against black with a "southern strategy," and spurred the Silent Majority to despise and distrust the country's elites. Ever insecure and increasingly paranoid, he persuaded Americans to gnaw, as he did, on grievances—and to look at one another as enemies. Finally, in August 1974, after two years of the mesmerizing intrigue and scandal of Watergate, Nixon became the only president to resign in disgrace.
Richard Nixon is a gripping and unsparing portrayal of our darkest president. Meticulously researched, brilliantly crafted, and offering fresh revelations, it will be hailed as a master work.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Chapter 1

    The Dragon Slayer

    The United States had throttled its foes with steel. Now it was time to stand down and go home. Navy lieutenant John Renneburg was stationed at the Glenn L. Martin Company aeronautics complex near Baltimore in the summer of 1945. It was a sprawling plant where the firm's big flying boats were built, then tested on the Chesapeake's tranquil waters. In a single year at the conflict's peak, American factories churned out ninety-six thousand warplanes—almost as many as those manufactured by Nazi Germany in seven years of war. The Martin plant was emblematic: one of the largest aviation works in the world, with fifty thousand employees building seaplanes, bombers, and other aircraft.

    With victory, the nation faced a vast demobilization. The press brimmed with foreboding about the pain of "reconversion" to a peacetime economy. The army sent out thirty thousand telegrams canceling 95 percent of its orders for artillery, tanks, and other instruments of war. The navy stopped construction on a hundred ships. What the government needed now were regiments of lawyers to settle its contracts. That was Lieutenant Renneburg's job until new orders arrived. He was going home, just as soon as he could train a replacement.

    The man the navy sent was a dark-haired, dark-eyed veteran of the fighting in the Pacific, Lieutenant Richard Nixon. After returning from the Solomon Islands, Nixon had been given a course on federal contracting. He and his wife, Pat, bounced from Washington to Philadelphia to New York and ultimately to Stansbury Manor, a complex of two-story apartment buildings on a cove near the Martin airfield. In this pleasant backwater, he and Renneburg spent their days haggling with the firm's accountants on behalf of the navy's Bureau of Aeronautics.
    Renneburg found Nixon smart and serious, yet amiable. The work was demanding, "and about the only chance we would have to relax would be when we would walk down to the officers' mess," a bit more than a quarter mile away. They spoke about music, for which they were both enthusiasts, and swapped stories about their wartime experiences. Inevitably, the conversation turned to civilian life, Renneburg remembered, and one day "I asked him what he was planning to do."

    It was a warm day, Indian summer. Nixon didn't really know, he told his colleague as they ambled. The navy had offered him a promotion to commander. The world of business beckoned, and he and Pat were entranced by Manhattan. If nothing else turned up, his law partners had kept his old job open in his little hometown of Whittier, California. And then—out of the blue, Nixon said—he had gotten a letter from some folks back home who wanted him to run for Congress. It was a long shot: he would be chal- lenging a five-term incumbent. Nevertheless, intrigued, he had waited for the cheaper nightly long-distance rates and discussed it over the telephone.

    "I'm not a politician," Nixon told Renneburg. "I probably would be defeated."

    "I hope they didn't reverse the charges," his colleague said. "No, they didn't." Nixon smiled. "They seemed to be serious."

    Renneburg urged him to accept the offer. He admired Nixon's qualities and thought he'd make a good congressman—a voice for a new generation in uniform coming home from war and seeking to build a better world.
    "Even if you get defeated, you might get some clients," Renneburg told him. "Somebody might remember the name of Nixon."

    For the very few who knew him well, the notion of "Congressman Nixon" was not exceptionally odd. All his life, he'd displayed an interest in history and politics. He was disciplined,...
About the Author-
  • JOHN A. FARRELL is the author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography, and Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century. A longtime journalist, he worked at The Denver Post and at The Boston Globe, where he served as White House correspondent and on the vaunted Spotlight team.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 27, 2017
    Journalist and biographer Farrell (Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned) skillfully revisits Richard Nixon’s long political career, in this history of American politics from the postwar period through his resignation as president in 1974. Farrell, an exceptional writer, examines minor anecdotes and Nixon’s world-altering choices to illuminate his fundamental and contradictory qualities: a mixture of intelligence, ambition, insecurity, paranoia, and deviousness, all put in service to great success and catastrophic failure. Farrell reveals how these traits drove Nixon in his early days as a young red-baiting California senator, his year as vice president, his failed 1960 Presidential candidacy, his phoenix-like 1968 resurrection, and his final devolution to a paranoid figurehead beset by demons. Nixon’s life is a cornucopia of controversy replete with dramatic moments, including his famous 1952 Checkers speech, and such history-changing events as the 1972 SALT treaty with the U.S.S.R., détente with China, his conspiracy to frustrate President Johnson’s Vietnam peace initiatives, the 1973 Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War, and, of course, Watergate. It may not have been Farrell’s intent to produce a cautionary tale about the dangers of a presidency run aground on lies, paranoia, prejudices, and delusion, but that’s what he’s accomplished. Farrell makes the most of his material to offer insights and well-considered opinions about each of these historic events. Agent: David Black, David Black Agency.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from January 15, 2017
    A sturdy study of the man ranked at the bottom of many historians' lists of presidents.Richard Nixon (1913-1994) was nothing if not complicated. As journalist and biographer Farrell (Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, 2011, etc.) observes, he defied all expectations by ordering the foundation of the Environmental Protection Agency and promulgating numerous pieces of related legislation that today have earned him second place only to Theodore Roosevelt on the environmentalists' thumbs-up roster of Republican presidents. Yet he also "vetoed the Clean Water Act, which he claimed was too costly." Congress overrode him, yet even today Nixon is given credit for that law. He has been so well-studied that Farrell cannot help but cover familiar ground, and so he does: for instance, the ugly conduct of the red-baiting campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas, of course, and the spectacularly fraught 1960 presidential race against John F. Kennedy. Yet there and elsewhere, Farrell teases lesser-known matters into view. Nixon blamed the Republican establishment for his loss in the latter race, for instance, but insightfully so, saying that the party had failed to gain the high ground in matters of civil rights. "I could have become president," he said. "I needed only 5 percent more votes in the Negro areas." That they failed to deliver was but one more betrayal, and though the author doesn't go deep into psychobiography, he cannot help but note that Nixon was a sensitive man with a long memory for slights, as when Dwight Eisenhower suggested that he be not vice president but a Cabinet member in his second term. That is one of many news items that Farrell offers, from a fascinating aside on how it was Gerald Ford who replaced Spiro Agnew to how the taping system that brought Nixon down came to be discovered in the first place.Full of fresh, endlessly revealing insights into Nixon's political career, less on the matter of his character, refreshingly, than on the events that accompanied and resulted from it.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from February 1, 2017

    Journalist (Denver Post, Boston Globe) and author (Clarence Darrow) Farrell presents an unapologetic yet nuanced assessment of the life and legacy of the perpetually controversial and fascinating politician Richard Nixon (1913-94). In Farrell's view, Nixon's presidency shaped the current U.S. political scene. By turns intellectually curious, driven, contradictory (an introvert in an extrovert's profession), and often resentful of established elites and experts, Nixon paradoxically employed these experts to achieve domestic and foreign policy goals while also attracting ardent adherents who envisioned him as a spokesman for middle America. Farrell diverges from, yet acknowledges, more positive takes on Nixon than offered in Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full and Erwin Gellman's The President and the Apprentice. The author utilizes archives and personal interviews with Nixon's colleagues to document how the former president championed and heralded Republican populism, often denouncing reporters and reaching out directly to potential voters. Arguably the right man at the right time, equipped to mold his country's narrative, Nixon's odyssey and motivations still highlight America's conflicted character. VERDICT Essential for general students of 20th-century history and biography as well as scholars.--Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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