Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: Richard Nixon: The Life, by John A. Farrell

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Richard Nixon: The LifeRichard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually wanted to give John Farrell's latest oeuvre 5 stars, but I couldn't bring myself to do it because this book was so long and such a project to work through. Of course, I'm conflicted because had it been shorter and less detailed, it wouldn't have been quite as amazing as it is--at least I doubt it. Rachel Maddow introduced this book on her show back in December and I was going to ask someone to buy it for me for Christmas, but I realized it wouldn't be out by then, and with all the insanity happening around the 2016 election, I needed to get my hands on it ASAP. Lucky for me, Doubleday came through on NetGalley and I was able to snag an ARC. I'm glad I did because it took me months to finally get through this.

Since most of us at least think we know the story of Richard Nixon's life, I'm not going to get into a lot of the details here. Let's face it: we know how the story ends--he got impeached. Farrell does manage to cover a lot of the details that are less well understood like Nixon's bizarre relationship with his family in part because of the strange circumstances surrounding his childhood and early adulthood. Both of his brothers died young due to diseases that were thought to be well under control at the time. Nixon idolized his mother and never seemed to feel like he was good enough for her. Perhaps when he engaged the help of "The Plumbers" at the White House, he was trying to prove any negative thoughts she had about him right. I don't know.

Even though Nixon developed a love for politics that stuck with him after his run for Congress against Jerry Voorhees, he remained extremely sensitive to the press's critiques of him and much like the current administration, tried to silence and discredit the press at every opportunity. That ended badly for him when he was taken down by strong investigative reporting conducted by Woodward and Bernstein of The Washington Post.

Nixon's presidency was much more complicated than I was ever led to believe by my parents who lived through his presidency and demonized him. He wasn't a great president, but he did do a lot of good things that often go unacknowledged. He opened relations with China even though doing so was a bit controversial and sent him and Kissinger into mini-breakdowns in the process. He also established the EPA because he really did care about reducing emissions and pollution. Of course, it's worth noting that the Democratic and Republican parties were different in Nixon's time. Republicans were a bit more like Teddy Roosevelt in that they cherished open spaces and wanted to protect them for future generations. Meanwhile, Democrats were mainly from the south and in many cases, much more openly racist than Republicans. Nixon actually was friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. And Jackie Robinson. Those relationships were strained when he failed to come through on supporting them during some key moments in the fight against segregation and for equal rights, but a lot of that had more to do with Nixon's insecurities about losing elections over being perceived as too liberal than basic beliefs about his ideal future for race relations in the United States. At the time, both parties were filled with privileged white men who just wanted votes however they could get them. There were probably some notable exceptions because there always are, but even Jack Kennedy overall took a less enlightened view than Nixon when it came to the rights and treatment of African Americans.

Richard Nixon: The Life is a must-read given the current political climate. When you get to the part about the Watergate scandal, the parallels between that and the current investigation into Russia hacking the U.S. Election are eerie. In many ways, this is one of the most frightening books I've ever read, but I'm glad I did it. Just be prepared to be reading it for a while because it is really long.

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