Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage

Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage

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by Will Swift

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Shortlisted for the 2015 Plutarch Award for Best Biography, “the most humanizing portrait of the Nixons we’re likely to have” (Douglas Brinkley) is a sweeping depiction of the turbulent fifty-three-year marriage of Richard and Pat Nixon.

When Americans remember the controversial Nixons, they usually focus on the political triumphs, the turbulent


Shortlisted for the 2015 Plutarch Award for Best Biography, “the most humanizing portrait of the Nixons we’re likely to have” (Douglas Brinkley) is a sweeping depiction of the turbulent fifty-three-year marriage of Richard and Pat Nixon.

When Americans remember the controversial Nixons, they usually focus on the political triumphs, the turbulent White House years, and the humiliating public downfall. But a very different image of the polarizing president emerges in this fascinating portrait of his relationship with Pat. Now, the couple’s recently released love letters and other private documents reveal that as surely as unremitting adversity can fray the fabric of a marriage, devotion can propel it to surmount disgrace and defeat.

In Pat and Dick, biographer Will Swift brings his years of experience as a historian and as a marital therapist to this unique examination of a long-misunderstood marriage. Nixon the man was enormously complicated: brilliant, insecure, sometimes coldly calculating, and capable of surprising affection with his wife.

Much less is known about Pat. With the help of personal writings and interviews with family and friends, Swift unveils a woman who was warm and vivacious, yet much shrewder and more accomplished than she has been given credit for. From Dick’s unrelenting crusade to marry the glamorous teacher he feared was out of his league through the myriad crises of his political career, the Nixons’ story is filled with hopes and disappointments, both intimate and global.

This remarkable biography shows us the couple at their most human: a wife walking a delicate line between self-sacrifice and healthy love while her husband struggles to balance global ambitions and personal intimacy. The Nixons came to represent the best and worst of American life and culture. But though their union was tested by all manner of trials, they managed to find the strength, courage, and resilience to sustain a true connection for more than half a century.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Thomas Mallon
…Will Swift's fair-minded and thorough attempt to trace the long, jagged arc of the Nixons' marriage…for the most part succeeds in showing a partnership that was complicated and "spacious," strategically flexible…Swift, who is a clinical psychologist…sometimes sounds like a gentle couples therapist…but Pat and Dick remains highly intelligent and far more sophisticated than the decades' worth of quick takes from self-satisfied sharpies who dismissed Plastic Pat and Tricky Dick as a couple of squares.
Publishers Weekly
Long derided as "Plastic Pat," Patricia Nixon, along with her relationship to her infamous husband, Richard, is given a new examination in this anecdote-filled account of the Nixons and their long, controversial political career. Swift (The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm) thoroughly discusses both Nixons' humble beginnings in Southern California as well as Richard's awkward romantic pursuit of Patricia. He provides one of the best, if starkest, descriptions of Richard in love and politics: "He would win, not from being loved, but from being inevitable." Throughout their time in politics, the couple revealed themselves to be remarkably capable, from Richard's appearance in the first televised Congressional Hearings, when he grilled Alger Hiss, to Patricia being voted the most admired woman in the world in 1972. But their fury at mischaracterization by the media would drive them both into bitterness, pushing Richard further into the kind of secrecy and paranoia that led to Watergate, while keeping Patricia in the dark about his actions. Swift tends to meander, strangely noting, "When people become more assertive, they often start by building up resentments and then exploding." But Overall, Swift has formed an absorbing depiction of Richard and Patricia Nixon, one that does not excuse their failings, but gives us a broader sense of their lives. (Jan.)
The New York Times
"[A] fair-minded and thorough attempt to trace the long, jagged arc of the Nixons' marriage...highly intelligent and far more sophisticated than the decades' worth of quick takes...Swift's psychological paradigms serve him well."
—Margaret Flanagan
"Presidential biographer Swift focuses on the spousal team of Pat and Dick Nixon, zeroing in on the incredibly strong marriage that sustained them through both personal and political triumphs and humiliations... This intimate portrait into their marriage not only humanizes their carefully constructed and often maligned public image but also illuminates the strong ties that irrevocably bound the private couple. Admire Nixon or revile him, his biggest success in life was forging a long-term marriage and fostering the devotion of his indomitable family unit."
USA Today (3 out of 4 stars)
"A complicated picture of the Nixons...[a] largely sympathetic examination of one of America's most mysterious political couples...the distance from Watergate — and access to new personal documents — gives Pat and Dick a freshness to a much-considered chapter of history."
Betty Boyd Caroli
“With an eye for the telling detail, Will Swift deftly revises our view of the Nixon marriage, showing that the reserve the couple displayed in public masked a deep love and abiding respect. The marriage underwent strains that would test even the strongest ties, and Swift is frank in assessing these. He uses his expertise as a psychologist to compare the Nixon marriage to others—in the ups and downs, the use of varying techniques to preserve the union, and the differing needs of the two partners. Even readers who thought they fully understood “Plastic Pat” and “Tricky Dick” will be enlightened by Swift’s perspective and delighted with his vivid descriptions.”
Gil Troy
"Pat and Dick is a joy. It is smart, thoughtful, poignant and insightful. Will Swift sensitively renders two of the most caricatured and pilloried Americans of the late twentieth century in all their multi-dimensionality and complexity. Pat and Dick offers readers a guided tour of America, illuminating its politics, the American family, the White House, and the American home."
Irwin Gellman
“Will Swift, a superb researcher and an insightful psychologist, has written the first dual biography of Pat and Dick Nixon. This intriguingly fresh and lucid portrait of these two epochal figures will be the standard reference work for many years.”
John Farrell
"Pat and Dick is a portrait of two tough-luck kids who fell in love, took on the world, were savaged by their foes, lashed back, claimed the highest prize - and lost it. Spectacular, yet intimate. The Nixons you didn't know."
Amanda Foreman
"Will Swift's deeply moving and nuanced portrait of the Nixon marriage sheds new light - and brings a fascinating layer of human emotion - to the most controversial President of the 20th Century. This is not just a book for scholars, but for anyone who has ever wondered about the real lives behind the scandal of the Nixon era."
Evan Thomas
"Will Swift's excellent Pat and Dick is thorough, fair-minded, and evidence-based. This is a compelling and eye-opening portrait of a complicated, but good marriage. In this beautifully written book, Swift gives us an incisive lens to understand the politics and psychology of late 20th-century society."
Melvin Small
"In his sympathetic yet not uncritical portrayal of the Nixon marriage, Will Swift brings his keen insights as a clinical psychologist and his considerable skills as an historian to explain the always fascinating and complex relationship between two very private public figures. Moreover, he perceptively describes their enduring relationship in the context of evolving attitudes toward marriage in postwar America."
Kate Buford
"For someone who was taught from childhood to loathe Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon — and to pity poor plain, stoic Pat — Will Swift's sympathetic but rigorous examination of their marriage upended many long-held assumptions and left me deeply moved by the end. This president and his first lady left such a deep mark on their times and our history that it is important to come to understand, in reading Pat and Dick, the intricate personal drama that was going on behind the public upheavals.”
Carl Rollyson
"Pat and Dick does exactly what a biography should do: show its subjects with empathy, insight, and critical acumen. We see Richard and Pat Nixon as they saw themselves, beleaguered and underdeserving of the bad press they often received. At various points, the hard-driving Nixon tried to modify his public image as a political hit man to no avail, even when he proposed progressive policies. His shrewd and sensitive wife was sometimes shut out of key decisions, and yet he also acknowledged what a great ambassador she was for his politics and their marriage. Swift does not minimize their failings, especially their vindictive and petty efforts to punish their critics, but he also shows why the pressures of office made them behave, at times, with such animosity. In Pat and Dick the personal and political merge in a narrative that makes Swift's book one of the must-read biographies of the age."
Mary C. Brennan
"In analyzing the Nixon’s marriage, Will Swift provides new insight into two of the most complex political actors of the twentieth century. Swift further erodes the “plastic Pat” image, giving her a place of prominence beside, not behind, her husband."
Daniel Mark Epstein
"The daunting challenge in writing a dual biography, particularly one about a president and First Lady, is composing the subjects in a comfortable balance, so that one does not eclipse the other. Swift meets this challenge brilliantly, and his Nixons—equally fascinating—illuminate each other. The result is an insightful and engaging book."

Douglas Brinkley
"Will Swift's Pat and Dick is the most humanizing portrait of the Nixons we're likely to have. Based on first-rate research, clear writing and smart analysis Pat and Dick triumphantly sets the historical record straight in these illuminating pages. Highly recommended."
Jeffrey Frank
"All marriages are mysterious and few were more so, or suffered more stress, than the fifty-plus-year union of Richard Nixon and Thelma (Pat) Ryan. Will Swift, a biographer and a psychologist, gets as close as anyone is likely to get in giving us a realistic and nuanced understanding of the Nixons in hard times, good times, and the very worst of times."
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-11-07
The marriage of Richard and Pat Nixon undergoes sharp analysis by Swift, a formally trained psychologist and first-family historian (The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm: A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940, 2008, etc.). The author had access to letters and other of the first lady's materials unavailable to previous biographers and historians. He uses them wisely, smashing stereotypes of Richard Nixon as a cold personality who had no clue how to treat his wife and of Pat Nixon as a plastic female too old-fashioned in her idea of marriage to make an impact as a political wife. The book is certainly no valentine to the Pat and Dick of the title, however. It is a nuanced portrait of each as an individual and of them as a married couple, working through good and bad times while being scrutinized intensively by political foes, ideologues, academics and journalist gossipmongers. Perhaps the most surprising conclusion by Swift is that Pat demonstrated sympathy for women's rights not only in the United States, but around the globe. The author's evidence is plentiful, and he writes with grace throughout the mostly chronological narrative. From the opening chapters, it is obvious that Swift understands the skillful use of details and anecdotes that have escaped a large number of Nixon biographers. Even his telling of the couple's lengthy courtship feels fresh, as the ambitious but socially awkward young Quaker lawyer trapped in the small California town of his upbringing pursues the self-possessed, physically gorgeous, much-sought-after young teacher who grew up with almost no advantages. Swift delves into their compatibility ups and downs, their parenting skills and other private matters, but he focuses mostly on the difficult decisions Pat and Dick had to make together before undertaking seemingly long-shot attempts to serve in the House of Representatives, Senate and the White House. A model of well-documented revisionist history.
Library Journal
★ 02/01/2014
Swift's book begs the question: Could Richard M. Nixon have become president if not for his wife, Pat? Relying on newly released materials housed at the Nixon Presidential Library, including the couple's earliest correspondence and other of Pat's archives there, Swift (The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm), a psychologist, begins with the Nixons' courtship, when the Quaker lawyer Richard, unrelenting in his attentions, convinced his independent and beautiful girlfriend to marry him, making what was arguably the most astute decision of his life. As he progressed in politics, so, too, did Pat sustain him and seek to create an enviably happy home life to present to the media to overcome the impression that the two were cold and distant. An introverted, deeply insecure man by nature, Richard evidently found that the steadfast and loyal presence of his wife made it possible for him to further his political ambitions, until the time when his native insecurity took him a step too far. Swift covers the aftermath of Watergate as experienced by the Nixons and their daughters, through the death of Pat in 1993, followed closely by the end of her husband's life in 1994. Overall, he gives us among the most nuanced portraits of these two complex individuals that we have yet seen. VERDICT For all biography buffs, presidential history buffs, and those who study profiles of marriage.—Lisa Guidarini, Algonquin P.L., IL

Product Details

Threshold Editions
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6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Will Swift has written for more than twenty years on American leaders and British royalty of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is the author of The Roosevelts and the Royals and The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm. A dynamic public speaker, Dr. Swift has been interviewed about political, presidential, and royal history on prominent radio stations across the country. He has been a featured speaker at presidential libraries and on CSPAN. He is also a founding board member of the Biographers International Organization. Dr. Swift has been in private practice as a clinical psychologist and marital therapist in Manhattan for more than thirty years. Visit him on the web at and

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Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a richly detailed look at two complex people and their remarkable marriage. Swift’s narrative is filled with suprises, particularly in the portrait it presents of Pat. Who would have associated tender romance with the Nixons? Swift's approach to this famous couple is fresh, illuminating, and totally engrossing. I stayed up reading about the Nixons well beyond my usual bedtime.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Having read all of Dr. Swift's books, I'd like to suggest that Pat and Dick, The Nixon's, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage, is the most superb composition out of his three books. Written in fluid descriptive language and researched carefully, it dispels many notions put forth by the media concerning the Nixon marriage. We know the public information about the Nixon's presidency but Swift reveals insights into their private lives over fifty years. I have come away with an entirely new respect for Thelma (Pat) Ryan Nixon. She was an incredible first lady who contributed such love for women's rights all over the world. Her absolute devotion to her country is inspiring. She is an example for all of us by demonstrating that we can accomplish anything through diligence and a strong work ethic. Dr. Swift makes her come alive and elucidates the many ways she honored her marriage vows. - Anne Schomaker
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BB lets go and "hang out" in the woods
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You start it.