…startling revelations are hardly the only criterion for a good Nixon biography…The real test…given how many there are, is far simpler: Is it elegantly written? And, even more important, can it tolerate paradoxes and complexity, the spikier stuff that distinguishes real-life sinners from comic-book villains? The answer, in the case of
Richard Nixon, is yes, on both counts. Farrell has a liquid style that slips easily down the gullet, and he understands all too well that Nixon was a vat of contradictions. Some readers may find Farrell's portrait too sympathetiche's as apt to describe Nixon as a tortured depressive as he is to call him a malevolent sneakbut more readers, I think, will find this book complicating and well-rounded. It's also hard to read a one-volume history of a president's life without feeling like you're crawling over the dense folds of an accordion. But most chapters in Richard Nixon have room to breathe.
The New York Times - Jennifer Senior
Journalist and biographer Farrell (Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned) skillfully revisits Richard Nixon’s long political career, in this history of American politics from the postwar period through his resignation as president in 1974. Farrell, an exceptional writer, examines minor anecdotes and Nixon’s world-altering choices to illuminate his fundamental and contradictory qualities: a mixture of intelligence, ambition, insecurity, paranoia, and deviousness, all put in service to great success and catastrophic failure. Farrell reveals how these traits drove Nixon in his early days as a young red-baiting California senator, his year as vice president, his failed 1960 Presidential candidacy, his phoenix-like 1968 resurrection, and his final devolution to a paranoid figurehead beset by demons. Nixon’s life is a cornucopia of controversy replete with dramatic moments, including his famous 1952 Checkers speech, and such history-changing events as the 1972 SALT treaty with the U.S.S.R., détente with China, his conspiracy to frustrate President Johnson’s Vietnam peace initiatives, the 1973 Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War, and, of course, Watergate. It may not have been Farrell’s intent to produce a cautionary tale about the dangers of a presidency run aground on lies, paranoia, prejudices, and delusion, but that’s what he’s accomplished. Farrell makes the most of his material to offer insights and well-considered opinions about each of these historic events. Agent: David Black, David Black Agency. (Apr.)
Journalist (Denver Post, Boston Globe) and author (Clarence Darrow) Farrell presents an unapologetic yet nuanced assessment of the life and legacy of the perpetually controversial and fascinating politician Richard Nixon (1913–94). In Farrell's view, Nixon's presidency shaped the current U.S. political scene. By turns intellectually curious, driven, contradictory (an introvert in an extrovert's profession), and often resentful of established elites and experts, Nixon paradoxically employed these experts to achieve domestic and foreign policy goals while also attracting ardent adherents who envisioned him as a spokesman for middle America. Farrell diverges from, yet acknowledges, more positive takes on Nixon than offered in Conrad Black's Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full and Erwin Gellman's The President and the Apprentice. The author utilizes archives and personal interviews with Nixon's colleagues to document how the former president championed and heralded Republican populism, often denouncing reporters and reaching out directly to potential voters. Arguably the right man at the right time, equipped to mold his country's narrative, Nixon's odyssey and motivations still highlight America's conflicted character. VERDICT Essential for general students of 20th-century history and biography as well as scholars.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC
A sturdy study of the man ranked at the bottom of many historians' lists of presidents.Richard Nixon (1913-1994) was nothing if not complicated. As journalist and biographer Farrell (Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, 2011, etc.) observes, he defied all expectations by ordering the foundation of the Environmental Protection Agency and promulgating numerous pieces of related legislation that today have earned him second place only to Theodore Roosevelt on the environmentalists' thumbs-up roster of Republican presidents. Yet he also "vetoed the Clean Water Act, which he claimed was too costly." Congress overrode him, yet even today Nixon is given credit for that law. He has been so well-studied that Farrell cannot help but cover familiar ground, and so he does: for instance, the ugly conduct of the red-baiting campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas, of course, and the spectacularly fraught 1960 presidential race against John F. Kennedy. Yet there and elsewhere, Farrell teases lesser-known matters into view. Nixon blamed the Republican establishment for his loss in the latter race, for instance, but insightfully so, saying that the party had failed to gain the high ground in matters of civil rights. "I could have become president," he said. "I needed only 5 percent more votes in the Negro areas." That they failed to deliver was but one more betrayal, and though the author doesn't go deep into psychobiography, he cannot help but note that Nixon was a sensitive man with a long memory for slights, as when Dwight Eisenhower suggested that he be not vice president but a Cabinet member in his second term. That is one of many news items that Farrell offers, from a fascinating aside on how it was Gerald Ford who replaced Spiro Agnew to how the taping system that brought Nixon down came to be discovered in the first place.Full of fresh, endlessly revealing insights into Nixon's political career, less on the matter of his character, refreshingly, than on the events that accompanied and resulted from it.
Beautifully written and deeply insightful. . . . A bracing portrait of a man untethered from principle and ideology, driven throughout his life to win at any cost and thereby palliate his deep-seated insecurities. . . . Nixon was not an easy man to understand. And even now, his failures and accomplishments are not easy to classify. In Farrell’s capable hands, however, we see Nixon in his entirety—and we can’t help but wonder what he means for our politics today.”
—William Howell, San Francisco Chronicle "[Nixon is] an electrifying subject, a muttering Lear, of perennial interest to anyone with even an average curiosity about politics or psychology. The real test of a good Nixon biography, given how many there are, is far simpler: Is it elegantly written? And, even more important, can it tolerate paradoxes and complexity, the spikier stuff that distinguishes real-life sinners from comic-book villains? The answer, in the case of Richard Nixon, is yes, on both counts.” —Jennifer Senior, The New York Times “A stack of good books about Nixon could reach the ceiling, but Farrell has written the best one-volume, cradle-to-grave biography that we could expect about such a famously elusive subject. By employing recently released government documents and oral histories, he adds layers of understanding to a complex man and his dastardly decisions. . . . Outstanding.” —Aram Goudsouzian, Washington Post "With a mix of morbid fascination and deep empathy, Farrell humanizes Nixon, but he doesn't let him off the hook . . . The dichotomy between brooding schemer and extroverted leader has long defined the Nixon dynamic. But with Richard Nixon, Farrell has etched those history-shaking contradictions into the most vivid—and the most startling—relief to date." —Jason Heller, NPR.org “An extremely valuable introduction to the life and times of one of our most consequential presidents. Farrell gives us a Nixon rich in both character flaws and great accomplishments, the latter fueled by his transformational vision. It’s a worthy look at a fascinating president.” —Ray Locker, USA Today “Though there have been many previous books about Nixon, Mr. Farrell’s comprehensive, one-volume biography is welcome. . . . In lively, vigorous prose, he takes readers through Nixon’s career, offering incisive judgments and revealing details along the way.” —Robert K. Landers, Wall Street Journal “Superb . . . the most formidable attempt yet made to put Richard Nixon in perspective.” —Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor “Farrell is an exceptional writer. . . . It may not have been Farrell’s intent to produce a cautionary tale about the dangers of a presidency run aground on lies, paranoia, prejudices, and delusion, but that’s what he’s accomplished.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review “Farrell’s blockbuster portrait of Nixon is revelatory—filled with fresh reporting shedding new light on the roots of our own dark political moment. He shows that dirty tricks, October Surprises, and anti-elitist resentment were among the gifts Nixon bequeathed to our own presidential politics.” —Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right “John A. Farrell has once again delivered a rich, precisely written portrait of the past to help us understand the present. He traces the origins and turning points of one of the most complex, complicated and fascinating presidents of the modern age with flair and narrative skill. Each page is a joy to read, on the way to a very satisfying whole.” —John Dickerson, moderator of CBS’s Face the Nation and author of Whistlestop “Brilliant, ruthless, a president who combined some enlightened policies with inner darkness, Richard Nixon stands alone in the history of American politics. John A. Farrell’s gripping account vividly captures Nixon from his earliest days—catapulting to Congress with a cold-blooded debate stunt—to the mounting crises he faced in the White House, culminating in his spectacular fall.” —T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Custer’s Trials and The First Tycoon “In Richard Nixon, John A. Farrell is tough and unyielding, yet gives his subject a fair hearing through each gripping episode. ‘I’m not a quitter,’ Nixon once protested, and this grand, indispensable book proves him right, right to the end.” —Chris Matthews, author of Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry that Shaped Post-war America “Jack Farrell gives us two profoundly resonant Richard Nixons—the last progressive Republican, and the author of our national divisions. He also gives us, in one engrossing volume, the defining biography of our darkest president.” —Larry Tye, author of Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon “With clarity and verve, John A. Farrell’s deft pen illuminates the life of America’s 37th president. Unsparing yet fair-minded in its analysis and based on deep research in a wealth of archival and published sources, Richard Nixon is a fast-moving and penetrating portrait of this controversial and complicated man.” —Fredrik Logevall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Embers of War “John A. Farrell's Richard Nixon: The Life is an expertly written and strikingly comprehensive portrait of America's most complicated president. Farrell has a genius for the telling anecdote and apropos quote. His command of the sources is staggering. Richard Nixon is a true landmark achievement.” —Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and author of Cronkite “Full of fresh, endlessly revealing insights into Nixon’s political career, less on the matter of his character, refreshingly, than on the events that accompanied and resulted from it.” — Kirkus Reviews, starred review “A probing biography . . . Readers track the lonely and hard-won ascent of a sickly, love-starved child, who dreams like a Romantic but maneuvers like Machiavelli. . . . An unflinching portrait.” — Booklist, starred review