Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry that Shaped Postwar America

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Overview


The host of Hardball explores how the personal and political relationship between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy shaped them, and the nation.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Wartime naval officers John Kennedy and Richard Nixon entered politics in the congressional class of 1947 and remained friendly thereafter. Until ambition and party identity began to pull them apart, they even shared a Cold War conservatism and middle-of-the-road domestic agenda. Yet Kennedy would remark after his narrow presidential victory in 1960, "If I've done nothing [else] for this country, I've saved them from Dick Nixon." Because Kennedy had his father's fortune as well as his father's ruthlessness, he was able to hold his own in the national arena after Nixon's own opportunism got him (during Eisenhower's illnesses) within a heartbeat of the White House. Additional Kennedy advantages were his authentic hero status and a reputation for braininess gained from his book Profiles in Courage. Washington cable news anchor Matthews (Hardball: How Politics Is Played) has described the largely familiar parallels between the political careers of the two electoral rivals and added some striking ones of his own. Nixon, he contends, was handicapped by resentment of Kennedy's affluence and easy elegance, struggling clumsily once in office to match what he saw as his presidential style. Running against the graceful ghost of one Kennedy, he found himself, in 1968, competing against the shade of a second martyred Kennedy, then against the inheritance of the Last Brother-whose ambitions he sought to sidetrack by means of the bunglers of Watergate. Haunted by the Kennedys, Nixon recklessly undermined his own presidency. To Matthews, the "Camelot" aura is as much a misperception as the idea that Watergate represents the real Nixon. Despite a straining for balance and a tendency to oversimplify to fit the tale to the theme, it is a good story. Illustrations not seen by PW. (June)
Library Journal
What caused the rift between Kennedy and Nixon, one-time friends and ideological soul mates, is the subject of this eminently readable dual political biography. Matthews, noted television commentator and author (Hardball: How Politics Is Played, HarperPerennial, 1989), shows how these two anti-New Dealers, anti-Communists, and freshmen members of Congress in 1946 became enemies as their political careers advanced. Kennedy's father donated $1000 to Nixon's 1950 senatorial campaign and even promised his support to Nixon in 1960 if Kennedy was denied the presidential nomination. Both men became enemies for life as a result of the bitter 1960 election. Kennedy never forgave Nixon for receiving almost as many votes as he did. Nixon never forgave Kennedy for establishing a dynasty he thought unbeatable. Even after the assassination, Nixon waged war against Robert and Ted, as well as JFK's ghost and the myth of Camelot. Matthews's portrayal of these political icons demonstrates that, in the words of Kennedy's secretary, Evelyn Lincoln, they were more like "two men on third" than the opposites they are believed to be. Highly recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/95.]Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Township Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
Kirkus Reviews
Matthews, the news anchor of the televison show America's Talking, offers an on- target dual portait of rival aspirants for the presidency, both eventually successful in their quest for the prize, both destined to end tragically.

Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy, Navy veterans of WW II, were elected as members of the House of Representatives' freshman class of 1946. At first they were friendly rivals: Matthews writes touchingly of their cordial personal relationship as colleagues (often sickly during his Senate career, Kennedy received regular hospital visits from the sympathetic Nixon). Nixon rose first, winning the vice presidency under Dwight Eisenhower (Kennedy cheered Nixon's rise in a personal note to the new vice president) and building a national reputation. The bitter and close-fought campaign of 1960 transformed the relationship between the two men: In the now legendary televised debates, Nixon came off as colorless and tired, while the handsome, relaxed Kennedy impressed viewers with his wit and command of detail. As the author shows, the exchanges between the two rivals, who were never far apart on policy matters, became abusive and personal as Election Day approached. In the end, Nixon lost the popular poll by little more than 100,000 votes. Bitter about alleged ballot theft in Texas, Illinois, and elsewhere, Nixon was convinced for the rest of his life that he'd been ambushed by the Kennedy machine. Nixon was eclipsed during Camelot's thousand days: even after Kennedy's 1963 assassination, he was haunted by the ghosts of Camelot and, more concretely, by the political prospects of Kennedy's brothers. Succumbing to paranoia even after his election to the presidency in 1968, Nixon conducted covert surveillances and smear campaigns against Ted Kennedy, Kennedy family allies, and other political opponents, a propensity that contributed to his eventual downfall and disgrace.

Matthews doesn't break new ground, but he draws a striking picture of the destruction of a political friendship and its consequences for the country.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684832463
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/1997
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 845,557
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.45 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Matthews is anchor of MSNBC’s Hardball. He is author of Tip and the Gipper, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, Kennedy and Nixon, Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really Think, American: Beyond Our Grandest Notions, and Hardball: How Politics Is Played By One Who Knows The Game.

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2002

    One of the better books about Nixon

    I must confess that sometime before I read Chris Matthews' book idespised Richard Nixon. But, after reading his book I feel a certain sympathy for the man. Fairly balanced Matthews shows us a man(Nixon)who may have been one of the greater presidents had his paranoia not gotten the better of him. However, as Matthews points out Nixon's paranoia wasn't created by him but by his enemies. Whom I'm sorry to say really did set out to destroy the man. The portrait of Kennedy however, is less flattering than the one offered by his remainign supporters. If there ever was a dappered president, Kennedy was it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 24, 2008

    Kudos to Chris Matthews for a thoughtful, entertaining, even surprising book!

    I was riveted by this book; found it a real page turner! I felt that Mr. Matthews fairly portrayed Nixon, not covering up the path of paranoia that ultimately led to his demise, but honestly exposing all of the shaded elements that formed his political life. While Nixon may not be forgiven for the actions he choose, I found it fascinating to be led by such capable words through the maze that led him there. Likewise, I grew up hearing and reading about John Kennedy only through glowing eyes of praise, but from this book, I saw another, more complex side of things. I have great respect for Chris Matthews for writing such an intriguing book and have recommended it to several friends and colleagues who enjoyed it immensely as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2006

    Very Intriguing

    Like all of Chris Matthews books, this book reads quickly, precisely, and with a hint of Irish storytelling that Matthews himself has noted as being something he admired. Besides, this quickly told story, it is also engrossing and one can spend an evening by the fire reading the history of our most ambiguous and profound relationship in political history. That between John Kennedy and Nixon. Both as the book points out were formed by their shared World War II experiences or as one Kennedy friend called it 'greatest campaign manager.' The two have much more in common than at first thought, despite their different backgrounds and their styles. Kennedy, as the book calls him was the Mozart- the natural in the political game who could make people fall in love with him even he hated them. Nixon, as the book calls him was the Salieri- the talented hard working square that represented the working class's fight with the New Deal establishment. They were actually fairly common in their beliefs and contempts. Both extolled a strong defense against Communism, a middle of the road political agenda, and a deep-seated contempt for the Democratic left of Stevenson and Eleanor Roosevelt. Both were revealed in the book to be very ruthless in destroying their enemies (Kennedy only did it with a smile) and a tenuous relationship that bordered on deep friendship in the early 50's to the incredibly hostile late 50's where Kennedy proved as every bit tough and ruthless as 'Tricky Dick.' The book does an incredible at explaining the impetus for the Watergate scandal, as it also underscores Nixon's paranoia towards his enemies. This book gave a new appreciated understanding of the human Nixon and the often tougher than his Camelot image-John Kennedy. Proves the adage: Appearances are deceiving.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2004

    Kennedy and Nixon

    Starting off as friends, Kennedy and Nixon entered congress in the freshman class of 1946 with an eventual goal of the presidency. The bond was strong between this democrat and republican until the presidential election of 1960. These friends turned to foes when running head to head for the ultimate goal of the presidency. Matthews showed the wide contrast in character between the suave Kennedy and the Orthogonian Nixon. Living in Kennedy's shadow, Nixion would one day strive for the mass appeal of JFK. With moderate knowledge on this topic, I enjoyed discovering about the ever changing relationship between the most loved and despised presidents of the 20th century. This book brings to light the friendships politics create and how they can quickly be torn apart by politics as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2002

    Objective Must Read For All

    A book has finally been written to factually bring to life both Kennedy and Nixon and how each had an enormous impact on shaping our country into what it is today. It reveals to us the friendship that both men shared for each other, the staunch cold warriors they really were before the term was even coined and the paths both took to the most powerful position in the world is glowingly portrayed in page after page of what I suspect was painstaking research for Mr. Matthews in order to get all the facts objectively and straight. This great read is not only for political maniacs as myself, but also for those who want to learn more about these two great Presidents of our wonderful nation. A book noteworthy of more than five stars!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 1999

    Kennedy and Nixon: A Great Book About Great Men

    Kennedy and Nixon is a great book about JFK'S and Richard Nixon's life; political and private. It also tells about their friendly relationship that the public never knew. Chris Matthews wrote an excellent book. I highly recommend it for anybody, even if you're not into politics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2009

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