Good Reads

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“Being Nixon: A Man Divided” By Evan Thomas
Random House, 531 pages
“One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon” By Tim Weiner
Henry Holt and Company, 317 pages
“The Last of the President’s Men” By Bob Woodward
Simon & Schuster, 182 pages

 

Richard Nixon was the most reviled American president of the 20th century, perhaps of all time. Open any of these books and read a few pages and the reason for Nixon’s infamy becomes clear. The conversations recorded by his White House taping system or recalled by Nixon’s aides display not the majesty of the office of the leader of the free world, but rather the morality of a Mafia don, the
viciousness and vindictiveness of a street thug.


In 1970, with the Senate threatening to cut off money for air strikes against Cambodia and Laos, Tim Weiner notes that Nixon gave orders to White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to establish “a political atack … to declare war “on prominent Senate Democrats, including possible presidential nominees Ted Kennedy and Edmund Muskie “as part of what Nixon called ‘an all-out hatchet job on the Democratic leaders.’”

He told Haldeman in that same year, Evan Thomas reports, to “check the income taxes of all our opponents. Harass them and follow up.”

His anticipated re-election in 1972 was to the president a time to wreak vengeance on his political enemies. “Now we’re going to get them, Bob [Haldeman]. Now we’re going to nail those sons of bitches,” Nixon said, according to Bob Woodward.

Nixon also was an anti-Semite who told Haldeman in 1971 that “the government is full of Jews … [and] most Jews are disloyal,” Thomas reports. And yet, Henry Kissinger, a Jew who had escaped Hitler, was Nixon’s most important adviser.

That complexity is revealed most in Woodward’s account, which focuses primarily on the relationship between the president and one of his top aides, Alexander Butterfield. Butterfield brought down the president by revealing the existence of the White House tapes.

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