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This abridged version of Dallek's study of the relationship between a president and his powerful secretary of state is read with precision by Conger. Dallek approved the audiobook's abridgment, which hits the high points of his 750-page doorstopper. Conger hints at imitating the deeply familiar voices of Dallek's twin protagonists without sliding into all-out parody. He drops his voice to a semigrowl for Nixon and adds a muted Central European flavor for Kissinger. For the most part, Conger hits the expected notes, emphasizing and underlining Dallek's narrative with understated flair. Those expecting spine-tingling excitement from the meeting and collision of these two powerful, ultimately destructive political forces may be disappointed by Conger's staid reading, but its allure lies in its solid, unobtrusive nature. Conger pulls listeners into Nixon and Kissinger's struggle by ceding center stage to them. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Reviews, Mar. 12). (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Dallek, the author of such first-rate biographies as An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, now offers an excellent reassessment of one of the most imposing foreign policy duos in U.S. history. Nixon and Kissinger both reveled in power and were driven by the hope of attaining greatness, expectations that were shattered in part by their mutual arrogance, cynicism, and need for constant reassurance. The author maintains that their partnership achieved important victories, notably the opening of China, détente with the Soviet Union, and Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy, which ended the 1973 Yom Kippur War at a time when Nixon was consumed by Watergate. However, such failures as the disastrous policies in Vietnam and Cambodia, which resulted in thousands of American and millions of Asian deaths; the toppling of the legitimately elected Allende government in Chile; and the willingness to use foreign policy as a means to secure Nixon's reelection and to downplay Watergate damaged America's reputation for decades. Both men spent the post-Nixon years writing many popular books-16 between them-in attempts to rehabilitate or enhance their reputations. Dallek's is an important analysis, based on recently available declassified records and includes important caveats for current policy makers. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/07.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
A man's philosophy is his autobiography. You may read it in the story of his conflict with life.
—Walter Lippmann, The New Republic, July 17, 1915
In the nearly twenty years following his resignation from the presidency in 1974, Richard Nixon struggled to reestablish himself as a well- regarded public figure. He tried to counter negative views of himself by writing seven books, mostly about international relations, which could sustain and increase his reputation as a world statesman. Yet as late as 1992, he complained to Monica Crowley, a young postpresidential aide: " 'We have taken . . . shit ever since—insulted by the media as the disgraced former president.' "
Above all, he craved public attention from his successors in the White House. The reluctance of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush to invite him back to the Oval Office for advice, particularly on foreign policy, incensed him. When Bush sent him national security form letters, "he erupted in fury. 'I will not give them [the Bush advisers] any advice unless they are willing to thank me publicly,' " he told Crowley. " 'I'm tired of being taken for granted. . . . No more going in the back door of the White House—middle of the night—under the cloak- of- darkness crap. Either they want me or they don't.' "
At the 1992 Republican Convention, after Bush publicly praised Nixon's contribution to America's Cold War victory, Nixon exclaimed, " 'It took guts for him to say that. . . . It's the first time that anyone has referred to me at a convention. Reagan never did. It was gutsy.' " After Bill Clinton invited him to the White House to discuss Russia, Nixon declared it the best meeting " 'I have had since I was president.' " He was gratified that Clinton addressed him as " 'Mr. President.' " But when he saw his advice to Clinton being "diluted," it "inspired rage, disappointment and frustration."
Nixon's postpresidential resentments were of a piece with longstanding sensitivity to personal slights. His biography is in significant part the story of an introspective man whose inner demons both lifted him up and brought him down. It is the history of an exceptional man whose unhappy childhood and lifelong personal tensions propelled him toward success and failure.
It may be that Winston Churchill was right when he said that behind every extraordinary man is an unhappy childhood. But because there are so many unhappy children and so few exceptional men, it invites speculation on what else went into Nixon's rise to fame as a congressman, senator, vice president, and president. Surely, not the least of Nixon's motives in his drive for public visibility was an insatiable appetite for distinction—a need, perhaps, to make up for psychic wounds that produced an unrelenting determination to elevate himself to the front rank of America's competitors for status, wealth, and influence. Like Lincoln, in the words of law partner William Herndon, Nixon's ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.
Like most political memoirists who romanticize the realities of their upbringing, Nixon painted a portrait of an "idyllic" childhood in Yorba Linda, California, a rural town of two hundred about thirty miles northeast of Los Angeles, and Whittier, a small city of about five thousand east of Long Beach. He remembered "the rich scent of orange blossoms in the spring . . . glimpses of the Pacific Ocean to the west [and] the San Bernardino Mountains to the north," and the allure of "far- off places" stimulated by train whistles in the night that made him want to become a railroad engineer. "Life in Yorba Linda was hard but happy." His fatherworked at odd jobs, but a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and a cow provided the family with plenty to eat.
When Richard was nine, the family moved to Whittier, where his mother's Milhous family lived. He described growing up there in three words: "family, church and school." There was an extended family with scores of people, including his grandmother, Almira Burdg Milhous, who inspired him on his thirteenth birthday in 1926 with a gift of a framed Lincoln portrait and a Longfellow poem, "Psalm of Life": "Lives of great men oft remind us/We can make our lives sublime/And departing, leave behind us/Footprints on the sands of time." Nixon cherished the picture and inscription, which he kept hung over his bed while in high school and college.
Richard remembered his parents as models of honest decency who endowed him with attributes every youngster might wish to have. "My father," Nixon wrote, "was a scrappy, belligerent fighter with a quick, wide- ranging raw intellect. He left me a respect for learning and hard work, and the will to keep fighting no matter what the odds. My mother loved me completely and selflessly, and her special legacy was a quiet, inner peace, and the determination never to despair."
But in fact, Nixon's childhood was much more tumultuous and troubling than he let on. Frank Nixon, his father, was a boisterous, unpleasant man who needed to dominate everyone—"a 'punishing and often brutal' father." Edward Nixon, the youngest of the Nixon children described his "mother as the judge and my father as the executioner." Frank's social skills left a lot to be desired; he offended most people with displays of temper and argumentativeness. As a trolley car conductor, farmer, gas station owner, and small grocer, he never made a particularly good living. Nixon biographers have painted unsympathetic portraits of Frank as a difficult, abrasive character with few redeeming qualities. Though Nixon would never openly acknowledge it, he saw his father as a harsh, unlikable man whose weaknesses eclipsed his strengths.
Frank was a standing example of what Richard hoped not to be—a largely inconsequential figure in a universe that valued material success and social standing. Richard was driven to do better than his father, but he also struggled with painful inner doubts about his worthiness. Despite his striving, Richard initially doubted that he had the wherewithal to surpass his father. Frank was not someone who either by example or direct messages to his sons communicated much faith in their worth. At the same time, however, Richard was his father's son: his later readiness to run roughshod over opponents and his mean-spiritedness in political combat said as much about Frank as it did about Richard....Nixon and Kissinger
Posted January 26, 2010
Posted December 20, 2009
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