Richard Milhous Nixon has been called the Darth Vader of American politics, a disgraced figure who still casts an enormous shadow on our public life. Of course, much of the story of the Nixon presidency is familiar, but Rick Perlstein does much more than rehash stories of the Watergate break-in and enemy lists. Instead, Nixonland describes how the two-term Republican president used urban riots, antiwar protests, and counterculture rebellion to accent his own platform of old-fashioned American values, law and order, and demonstrative patriotism. Perlstein doesn't regard this as distant history: He notes that George H. W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld all burst onto the scene during the Nixon administration.
There is so much literature about various aspects of Richard Nixon…that it would seem difficult to find an original approach to the man. But, in Nixonland, Rick Perlstein has come up with the novel and important idea of exploring the relationship between Nixon and the 1960s counterculture, a rebellion of mostly young people against society's conventions and authority in general. Perlstein is quite right in identifying this rebellionand the reaction against itas critical to Nixon's rise and his strange hold on the American people. One might even consider Perlstein's book to be primarily about the counterculture and only secondarily about Nixon, since he devotes nearly half of it to a brilliant evocation of the '60s…[Perlstein] has done a prodigious amount of research to give us a fat volume on a key figure who shifted our political ground. Perlstein is a fine writer with a well-developed capacity for seeing irony and absurdity; his storytelling skills make this an absorbing book, full of surprising details.
The Washington Post
Perlstein, winner of a Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, provides a compelling account of Richard Nixon as a masterful harvester of negative energy, turning the turmoil of the 1960s into a ladder to political notoriety. Perlstein's key narrative begins at about the time of the Watts riots, in the shadow of Lyndon Johnson's overwhelming 1964 victory at the polls against Goldwater, which left America's conservative movement broken. Through shrewdly selected anecdotes, Perlstein demonstrates the many ways Nixon used riots, anti-Vietnam War protests, the drug culture and other displays of unrest as an easy relief against which to frame his pitch for his narrow win of 1968 and landslide victory of 1972. Nixon spoke of solid, old-fashioned American values, law and order and respect for the traditional hierarchy. In this way, says Perlstein, Nixon created a new dividing line in the rhetoric of American political life that remains with us today. At the same time, Perlstein illuminates the many demons that haunted Nixon, especially how he came to view his political adversaries as "enemies" of both himself and the nation and brought about his own downfall. 16 pages of b&w photos. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
A richly detailed descent into the inferno-that is, the years when Richard Milhouse Nixon, "a serial collector of resentments," ruled the land. Nixon, notes Perlstein (Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, 2001), entered office in 1969 as a minority president, having narrowly won a three-way race. He determined to improve his lot by banking much political capital on a Republican sweep of Congress in 1970, the odds for such a sweep having improved over the decade with the spectacular rise of the conservative Sun Belt. Yet the Republicans were soundly defeated, which, by Perlstein's account, cast an already paranoiac, enemies-list-keeping Nixon into a blue funk and the dead certainty that his enemies had it in for not just him but all that was right and good about America. Thus the rise of Nixonland, a nation born of cultural civil war. Perlstein works the Nixonland notion to near-schtickery, but the point is well-taken, for the culture war that Pat Buchanan talks of today was born of the battle between so-called counterculture and the sector whom Nixon brilliantly conceived as the "silent majority." "If you were a normal American and angry at the [Vietnam] war," his campaign rhetoric assured, "President Nixon was the peacenik for you." Not, alas, as long as Henry Kissinger had any say in the matter. The culture war was much more than rhetorical, Perlstein adds: Those construction workers in New York beat up women protestors as well as men, hippies were regularly murdered out in the hinterlands and Nixon's advance men made sure to "allow enough dissenters into the staging areas" where his speeches would be made to make sufficient fuss that thepresident, with nary a spontaneous bone in his body, could make stentorian noises in reply to the effect of "I told you so." Strangely, it all worked: Nixon won the 1972 election hands-down, the services of the plumbers having been entirely unneeded. He even carried Chicago. A solid work of political history, if necessarily long and grim in the telling.
"A richly detailed descent into the inferno that is, the years when Richard Milhous Nixon, 'a serial collector of resentments,' ruled the land." Kirkus Reviews
"Nixonland is a grand historical epic. Rick Perlstein has turned a story we think we know American politics between the opposing presidential landslides of 1964 and 1972 into an often surprising and always fascinating new narrative. This riveting book, full of colorful detail and great characters, brings back to life an astonishing era and shines a new light on our own." Jeffrey Toobin author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
"This is a terrific read. What a delight it is to discover the new generation of historians like Rick Perlstein not only getting history correct but giving us all fresh insights and understanding of it." John W. Dean Nixon's White House counsel
"Rick Perlstein has written a fascinating account of the rise of Richard Nixon and a persuasive argument that this angry, toxic man will always be part of the American landscape." Richard Reeves author of President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination
"Rick Perlstein's Nixonland digs deep into a decisive period of our history and brings back a past that is all the scarier for its intense humanity. With a firm grasp on the larger meaning of countless events and personalities, many of them long forgotten, Perlstein superbly shows how paranoia and innuendo flowed into the mainstream of American politics after 1968, creating divisive passions that have survived for decades." Sean Wilentz Princeton University, author of The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008
"The mest book written about the 1960s." Newsweek