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Book Review: One Man Against the World - The Tragedy of Richard Nixon

Today, twenty-one years after his death, Richard Nixon is still a polarizing figure. People either seem to think he was a great man tragically undone by corrupt subordinates that he was too loyal to, or they think that he was the most evil Machiavellian political figure of the 20th century. Right from the beginning of One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, author Tim Weiner makes no secret of which camp he falls in. Weiner defends his strong contempt for the 37th President of the United States, making the argument that Nixon tried to place himself above the law, much like a king, rather than the leader of a nation of laws. He goes farther however in suggesting that Nixon not only saw himself as above the law, but that he was also a drunk, paranoid and (despite Nixon's vocal denial of this) a crook.

NixonBook.jpg

The problem for those seeking to defend Nixon from these assertions is that, as Weiner points out, many of these claims are supported by statements that come from Nixon's own mouth. Weiner quotes from the recently released Nixon tapes to show that his subject was often petty, vindictive and branded every critic as his mortal enemy. He also relies heavily on an oral history of the State Department, as well as memoirs from some of the contemporary players, and here he is perhaps more slanted in his selection of sources unfriendly to Nixon.

There are some new revelations in the book, or if not new, then at least subjects not often discussed about Nixon. For example, Weiner relies on quotations from recordings to show that Nixon and his staff were aware that the FBI's Mark Felt was the person passing leaked information to the Washington Post (Woodward and Bernstein's "Deep Throat"). He reveals an astonishing story of how the Joint Chiefs of Staff were leaking information from the President's office and how and why Nixon decided to cover the incident up. There are also incredible recordings of conversations between Henry Kissinger and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in which the participants claim that Nixon was too drunk to deal with a looming crisis in the Middle East that had the potential to lead to World War III. These are amazing claims and yet Weiner cites credible sources for each.

There is much about the Nixon presidency that is difficult, if not impossible, to defend, and Weiner writes in detail about these topics. They include Nixon's sabotage of the peace talks taking place at the end of the Johnson administration, the bombing of neutral Cambodia, the intense bombing of civilian targets in Hanoi, efforts to falsely claim that the Watergate burglary was a CIA operation in an attempt to forestall an FBI investigation, the selling of Ambassador positions to campaign contributors, the firing of Justice Department officials who refused to act unethically, among others.

At the beginning of the book, it is easy to imagine that Weiner is just another Nixon hater with a partisan agenda. By the end however, it becomes apparent that Nixon has much to answer for, and that what at first appears to be an author's bias is more likely a strong sense of outrage over one of American history's greatest assaults on the rule of law, and his passion to see that this type of history never repeats itself.
Tags: author: w, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: biography, subject: history
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