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The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon

The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon

4.7 10
by Anthony Summers

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The controversial New York Times–bestselling biography of America’s most infamous president written by a master of investigative political reporting.
Anthony Summers’s towering biography of Richard Nixon reveals a tormented figure whose criminal behavior did not begin with Watergate. Drawing on more than a thousand interviews


The controversial New York Times–bestselling biography of America’s most infamous president written by a master of investigative political reporting.
Anthony Summers’s towering biography of Richard Nixon reveals a tormented figure whose criminal behavior did not begin with Watergate. Drawing on more than a thousand interviews and five years of research, Summers traces Nixon’s entire career, revealing a man driven by addiction to power and intrigue. His subversion of democracy during Watergate was the culmination of years of cynical political manipulation. Evidence suggests the former president had problems with alcohol and prescription drugs, was mentally unstable, and was abusive to his wife, Pat. Summers discloses previously unrevealed facts about Nixon’s role in the plots against Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende, his sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks in 1968, and his acceptance of funds from dubious sources. The Arrogance of Power shows how the actions of one tormented man influenced 50 years of American history, in ways still reverberating today.
“Summers has done an enormous service. . . . The inescapable conclusion, well body-guarded by meticulous research and footnotes, is that in the Nixon era the United States was in essence a ‘rogue state.’ It had a ruthless, paranoid and unstable leader who did not hesitate to break the laws of his own country.”—Christopher Hitchens, The New York Times Book Review
“A superbly researched and documented account—the last word on this dark and devious man.”—Paul Theroux

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Richard Nixon will probably forever be best remembered for the Watergate scandal, but according to The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, an explosive new biography by Anthony Summers, Watergate was only a sliver of the deceit, manipulation, and criminal activity that took place over the course of Nixon's political career.

In forging this portrait, Summers relied on newly disclosed FBI files and more than 1,000 interviews with those who knew Nixon best. He dedicates the early chapters of the book to Nixon's formative years in California, probing his family life and examining his academic career in an effort to get to the root of the character flaws that plagued his adult life, but the bulk of the book focuses on Nixon's lengthy political career. Supported by anecdotal testimony from literally hundreds of Nixon's colleagues, associates, aides, and friends, including his longtime psychotherapist, Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, Summers provides strong evidence that, throughout his years of public service, Nixon abused alcohol and prescription drugs. There are reports that he went to important state meetings drunk and that, on more than one occasion, he ordered the use of nuclear weapons while intoxicated. Summers also recounts instances when Nixon physically and emotionally abused his wife Pat (most notably, just after he lost the 1962 gubernatorial race in California).

Summers, of course, covers the Watergate scandal thoroughly, but even more interesting are the other political scandals that he uncovers. For example, Nixon repeatedly accepted illegal financial contributions from a variety of donors, the Mafia among them. But perhaps the most serious charge is that Nixon, widely credited with bringing an end to the Vietnam War during his time in office (a reputation, Summers says, that Nixon cultivated himself after his resignation), actually maneuvered to prolong that very war for his own political gain, intentionally sabotaging the peace talks of 1968 in an effort to make himself a more attractive presidential candidate. As a result of those additional years of military engagement, more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers died.

The Arrogance of Power is an extraordinary investigation of one man's life and work, and Summers meticulously documents his research in more than 110 pages of source and author's notes. A dry historical account this is not, however; it reads like a fictitious political thriller, as page after page of stunning revelations pull the reader quickly through the book. The Arrogance of Power is sure to profoundly impact the way future generations view the 37th president of the United States.

--Stephanie Bowe

Charles Taylor
The strongest aspect of The Arrogance of Power is the case it makes for Nixon as the most consistent of men. Seen in the context of the lying, cheating and lawbreaking that characterized every aspect of his political career, Watergate was not Nixon's self-destruction but his fulfillment, the essence of everything he stood for. Nixon's apparent mental breakdown toward the end of his presidency, likely exacerbated by his abuse of the anti-epileptic drug Dilantin as a tranquilizer and his drinking problem (which accounts for his frequent slurred speech and disassociated demeanor), reads here as a moment of self-definition....Nixon's real legacy is the cynicism toward government that has become a mainstay of American political discourse since Watergate. Even Summers ends the book by saying "Because of what they learned at Watergate, Americans are perhaps less ready to trust blindly in their leaders ... The downside, however, is that Richard Nixon's abuses and deceptions may have led many citizens not to trust their leaders at all." It didn't have to be so....Summers' book is an example of how the revelations of investigative journalism can awaken rather than inure. It suggests that to be wary of Nixon's ability to rise again and again and again, even from the dead, is a form of patriotism. We haven't seen the last of Dick Nixon. And we should be waiting with garlic and crosses -- and most of all the stake.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Summers's hefty, well-researched and unrelentingly negative biography seeks to make one thing perfectly clear: something was wrong with Tricky Dick all along, and the misdeeds that marked his presidency flowed naturally from his flawed character. Nixon, he argues, became a captive of his own pride and ambition, driven to demonstrate "guts" and keep his power, no matter whom he hurt. Summers paints the Nixon of the '50s as racketeer-influenced: he supports his claims with material on early adviser Murray Chotiner, presidential pal Bebe Rebozo, crime boss Meyer Lansky, eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes and other shady affiliates. Nixon's outwardly tranquil marriage to Pat drove her to secret chain-smoking, Summers writes, and nearly to alcoholism. In the Oval Office, Summers notes, Nixon was sometimes "rendered unstable by fatigue, alcohol and medication," such as the psychoactive drug Dilantin. His White House cabal pulled off more and stranger dirty tricks than the public record has shown; and flights of irrational belligerence led him to order off-the-cuff "acts of war"--orders his aides had to scramble to intercept. After news of Watergate broke, Nixon's incoherence grew worse; top aides shielded him even while questioning his sanity. Summers (Official & Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, etc.) talked to hundreds of sources, some previously untapped--among them Nixon's sometime confidant and psychotherapist, Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker. Though he sometimes construes as nefarious schemes what others might call normal politics, Summers's impressive research largely backs up his condemnatory attitude. With almost 150 pages of carefully spelled-out documentation and notes, the volume is no hit-and-run job; it's the most thorough case against Nixon yet, reminding us both how complex our 37th president was and how much damage he ultimately did. 32 pages b&w photos. First serial to Vanity Fair (Aug. 28) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Summers's reputation as the controversial biographer of Marilyn Monroe (Goddess) and J. Edgar Hoover (Official and Confidential) is furthered by this investigation into the lies and life of Richard Nixon. Summers divides Nixon's career into lies--Mafia connections, illicit campaign contributions, murky relations with eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes--and BIG lies--planning the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and the murder of Fidel Castro, advising South Vietnam's President Thieu to boycott peace talks while Lyndon Johnson was a lame duck president because President Nixon would assure South Vietnam a better deal, Watergate, and the author's most controversial claim, that Nixon severely beat his wife, Pat, after his unsuccessful 1962 election campaign for California's governor. This may be the most negative book about Nixon written to date and contrasts sharply with such sympathetic works as Irwin Gellman's The Contender (LJ 8/99), Joan Hoff's Nixon Reconsidered (LJ 7/94), and Stephen Ambrose's three-volume biography, Nixon (LJ 10/15/91). Many of Summers's conclusions derive from interviews with Nixon's psychiatrist, Arnold Hutschnecker, and from many other interviews compiled by Summers and his researchers. The narrative is bogged down by an overabundance of detail, and the bombardment of interviews gives the book a "he said, she said" feeling. Public libraries should purchase if interest warrants.--Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Christopher Hitchens
The great merit of The Arrogance of Power is that it takes much of what we already knew, or thought we knew (or darkly suspected), and refines and confirms and extends it. The inescapable conclusion, well bodyguarded by meticulous research and footnotes, is that in the Nixon era the United States was, in essence, a ''rogue state."...Summers has completed the work of many predecessors, and made the task of his successors very difficult. In the process, he has done an enormous service by describing, to the citizens of a nation founded on law and right, the precise obscenity of that moment when the jutting jaw of a would-be Caesar collapses into the slobbering underlip of a weak and self-pitying king.
New York Times Book Review
Jon Wiener
The Arrogance of Power has historical significance. It shows definitively that during the last weeks of the 1968 election campaign—when Nixon was challenging Hubert Humphrey—Nixon secretly sabotaged peace talks that might have ended the war at that point.

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Chapter 10

His fragile masculine self-image always drew him to the strong and the tough-and the ultimate power of the presidency.-Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, psychosomatic medicine specialist and psychotherapist consulted by Richard Nixon

The strain on Nixon had started to show long before he reached the Senate. There had been the twenty-hour workdays during the Hiss case, the skipped meals, the refusal to take time out for relaxation. It made him quick-tempered with colleagues, as well as "mean" with his family. When he had trouble sleeping, he resorted to sleeping pills. The campaign against Helen Douglas had only driven him to greater limits.

As a senator he continued to work obsessively. When his secretaries left for the day-Nixon had nine-their boss regularly went on working into the evening. He often did not get home for dinner, if at all. "Many times," said Earl Chapman, a friend in whom Pat confided, he worked "until the small hours....Maybe if he gets through early enough he'll come back home, but many times he'll curl up on the couch and get a few hours' sleep. Then he'll get a little breakfast and shave, and go right down to the Senate chambers...."

A month or two into this punishing schedule Nixon began to be plagued with persistent back and neck pain. The first doctors he consulted were no help, and he found himself perusing a book on psychosomatic illness pressed on him by the outgoing senator from California, Sheridan Downey. The book was The Will to Live, by Dr. Arnold Hutschnecker, an easy-to-read best-seller written for people "in the grips of acute conflict." It emphasized "the interaction of the human psyche and bodily reactions."

Hutschnecker was described by one academic as "a sort of Pavlovian and Freudian synthesizer." He himself professed that he "treated my patients as if they are my children." Famous clients over the years reportedly included the actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Celeste Holm, and Rita Hayworth and the novelist Erich Maria Remarque. An Austrian emigré who graduated in Berlin soon after World War I, he had been working in New York City since 1936.

While he practiced internal medicine, he had early in his career been interested in the way mental and emotional disturbances affect health. By 1951, this topic had become the primary focus of his work. He dropped internal medicine completely by 1955, to specialize exclusively as a psychotherapist engaged in what he called "psychoanalytically oriented treatment of emotional problems."1

Dr. Hutschnecker had, in the words of one interviewer, "a touch of the missionary zeal of a Billy Graham, of the cheery optimism of a Norman Vincent Peale, of the psychic beliefs of a Jeane Dixon, and an accent a bit reminiscent of Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove." Nixon, as we have seen, publicly associated himself with both Graham and Peale, and, according to one close aide, credited the prophecies of Dixon, the popular astrologer.

In The Will to Live, Hutschnecker dealt with a range of human complaints: chronic fatigue, hypertension, ulcers, insomnia, the inability to love, aggression, impotence in men and frigidity in women. On reading it, Nixon took a step that was to lead to a long and trusting relationship with the doctor-as well as to future political embarrassment. He asked one of his new secretaries, Rose Mary Woods, to telephone Hutschnecker and ask if he would take on a new private patient. Woods, just starting the loyal service to Nixon that would one day give her a notorious role in the Watergate saga, told Hutschnecker her boss was "really interested in something in The Will to Live that related to himself."

So it was that, probably in the early fall of 1951, Nixon went to New York and presented himself at Dr. Hutschnecker's imposing office at 829 Park Avenue. The doctor's wife, acting as his receptionist that day, entered the inner sanctum to announce that the young senator had arrived-and looked "very tense." He was to see Hutschnecker several times that first year and in the four years that followed.

From 1952, when he became vice president, Nixon arrived for his consultations-five that year-openly, in the official limousine, and with a Secret Service escort. In 1955, though, when Hutschnecker began to specialize solely in psychotherapy, Nixon became worried about publicity. After Walter Winchell had made a snide reference to the visits in one of his columns, he began taking his physical ailments to a military doctor in Washington.

By that time he and Hutschnecker had established a close relationship and met privately whenever Nixon came to New York. "I remember going to his suite in the Waldorf," the doctor recalled, "and hearing him singing so happily in the shower. And I said to myself, 'Aha, my treatment is working.'"

The discreet meetings continued throughout the fifties. When Nixon called, said Hutschnecker, "He'd never say: 'I have a problem.' He'd say, 'Could we have breakfast?' And I'd go." "He needed me. It was what we call a transference, a trust. He came to me when he had decisions to make. Or when something was pending, and it troubled him."

Nixon did not always reveal what was on his mind. After one 1952 visit Hutschnecker was astonished to learn from the press of his patient's possible selection as Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate. It must have been the matter uppermost in Nixon's mind during the consultation, yet he had failed to mention it. Later the same year, however, when enmeshed in allegations of having taken under-the-table money-the fund scandal*-Nixon tried frantically to reach the doctor.

"I went out for a while one day, and when I came back, my wife said, 'Where were you? The senator's office was calling every ten minutes.' They had been holding the plane, and the last call had been just a few minutes before, but Mr. Nixon could not wait any longer....I learned later about the secret fund charges."

The psychotherapist also made a number of trips to see Nixon in his Washington office. During one lunch he astonished the senator by declaring that he considered both Joe McCarthy and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles mentally disturbed. "Dr. Hutschnecker..." Nixon wrote in a 1959 note to Rose Woods, "I want to have him come down...check with me as to whether I want it before we go on vacation." The following year, during the campaign against John F. Kennedy, there was another summons.

In early 1961, within weeks of the Republican handover of the White House, Nixon was back at the doctor's office. The following year he consulted Hutschnecker before his disastrous bid for the governorship of California, having ignored the doctor's advice not to run. A journalist who happened to live next door to the building that housed Hutschnecker's Park Avenue offices, Harriet Van Horne, recalled seeing Nixon's "grim visage" passing beneath the canopy. "I once asked a building employee," Horne recalled, "'Does Mr. Nixon visit friends at 829?' 'Naw,' came the reply. 'He comes to see the shrink.'"

During the presidency, however, Nixon's aides saw to it that the link to Hutschnecker was virtually severed, though he would make two visits to the White House, the first to discuss violent crime and the second after the U.S. incursion into Cambodia in 1970. The doctor had long hoped that Nixon would swiftly get the United States out of Vietnam, and a friend quoted him as saying, "Pavlovian technique had been helping him brainwash Nixon into becoming a better person." He believed he could "remake the man into a dove" on Southeast Asia. But the second trip was to misfire. As reported in context later, Nixon would end the meeting in frustration after a few minutes. There were a number of other meetings outside the White House, though, but only when Nixon felt he could avoid detection-not only by the press but, the doctor implied, by his own aides.

Later, after the resignation, the doctor would visit Nixon at San Clemente. By then he seemed, Hutschnecker thought, "like a confessant." They met for the last time in 1993, when Nixon asked the doctor to accompany him to Pat's funeral. He was seated, at Nixon's request, in the area allotted to the family. The doctor did not attend the former president's own funeral the following year because, as he put it, there was no one left for him to help.

A few cautious comments aside, Dr. Hutschnecker did not speak publicly about his patient over the years. He avoided putting Nixon's name on prescriptions, kept his name out of the appointment book, and apparently did not ask for payment. Although he is said to have been less guarded in private-snippets of his dinner party asides leaked out on occasion-the doctor was careful to shield Nixon as medical ethics required.

In 1995, however, he gave the first of three lengthy interviews for this book. Toward the end of the former president's life, Hutschnecker said, he had written authorizing him to write about their relationship, assuming Hutschnecker would survive him. It must have seemed a reasonable gamble that he would not, for the doctor was nearly ninety at the time. Yet Nixon did die first, and Hutschnecker wrote the draft of a manuscript about his experiences with his patient, though he kept it at home unpublished. He had felt constrained, he said, to "leave out a lot."

Astonishingly sprightly at ninety-seven and living testimony to his own advice on how to achieve longevity, Dr. Hutschnecker received his interviewer at his home in sylvan northern Connecticut. He answered questions in a study cluttered with the bric-a-brac of a long professional life, including a photograph of Richard Nixon-inscribed in 1977 "in appreciation of friendship"-and a Nixon gift of ivory elephants. Later, on the veranda, over tea laced with Irish whiskey, he talked on in his heavily German-accented English about the politician to whom he had had such exclusive access.

From The Arrogance of Power (c) Anthony Summers, 2000. Reprinted by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.

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Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was one of the best books I ever read, I could never put the book down because I could not stop reading it. It also gives so much information about other topics during the time period. The book is so well researched you have to believe everything that was written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book very much...it was well written and very readable. Contains lots of photos and interviews with all the major players of his life. I welcome any emails from anyone interested in this subject/book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Watergate was just the culmination of a political lifetime of corruption, bad faith and arrogance. Summers provides a well-written, thoroughly researched, and well-documented examination of the life of Richard Nixon. This book should be required reading for anyone concerned about America's political direction, especially in light of Nixon's rehabilitated reputation, 'lest we forget' the lessons of Watergate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Comprehensive, but with little scholarly direction. Fact and opinion often become blurred, and assumptions based on anecdotal evidence are strewn about to lead the reader toward a poorly constructed argument. Consistantly contradictory. (For example, Summers argues that Nixon destroyed the poetential for Vietnam peace talks in '68, but then writes that Theiu probably would not have agreed anyway, and in fact stated as much in private.) If you want a more even-handed and well-thought out analysis of the Nixon presidency from a skeptic, I suggest Melvin Small's biography.
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