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Book Review: After the Fall-The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon by Kasey Pipes

In After the Fall: The Remarkable Comeback of Richard Nixon, former presidential adviser Kasey Pipes tells the story of how President Richard Milhous Nixon left the office of the Presidency in disgrace, vilified and mocked by virtually everyone, and how, over the next two decades, the former political pariah was able to transition himself into becoming a respected and admired elder statesman, eulogized by former friends and foes alike. At Nixon's funeral, then incumbent President Bill Clinton told his audience, "may the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close." Pipes describes how Nixon transformed himself and his image from a the emotionally and physically fragile man who resigned from the Presidency in disgrace, into becoming the most respected foreign policy analyst of his time, one that every president from Gerald Ford to Bill Clinton turned to for advice on how to conduct themselves on the world stage.

Pipes enjoyed unprecedented access to Nixon's post-presidential papers and records in the preparation of this book, with permission granted by the Nixon family. Undoubtedly, Pipes is sympathetic towards Nixon and displays great admiration for his subject. This is not to suggest that the picture presented of the former president is entirely a positive one. Pipes' description of Nixon immediately following his resignation paints a portrait of a broken, despondent, depressed and pathetic figure, consumed by the hopelessness of his situation, painfully aware of the magnitude of his fall from grace. He is also not hesitant to describe Nixon's latter years when his mind began to lose some of its former sharpness. For the most part however, the book present an image of Richard Nixon as the smartest guy in the room when it comes to all matter concerning foreign affairs.

The book describes how Nixon was incrementally able to recover and restore his reputation as a major player in American politics and on the world stage, especially as a leading authority on relations with the Soviet Union and with China. Pipes describes all of the major events of Nixon's retirement from the former President's perspective. These include Nixon's pardon granted by President Gerald Ford (as well as Nixon's unwillingness to directly admit any personal wrongdoing), Nixon's interviews with David Frost, his authorship of nine books including an autobiography, his diplomatic missions to China, the Soviet Union and to the Middle East, and the advice sought from and given by him to all of the subsequent presidents in his lifetime. The author also tells of Nixon's reconciliation with the two men he defeated for the presidency: Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The former called Nixon from his hospital bed near the end of his life, and the latter attended Nixon's funeral and spoke kindly of his former adversary. Pipes describes how Nixon methodically planned his "comeback", to the point where even his former enemies in the media declared that Nixon was "back".

It is difficult to discern to what degree Pipes' conservative pedigree influences his objectivity in telling the story of Nixon's post-presidency, though there are certainly elements of this. For example, in describing the Nixon-Frost interviews, Pipes avoids any mention or comment of Nixon's most famous utterance that "when the President does it, it's not illegal." He also makes the observation several times that historians tend to have a liberal bias, but it is unclear whether he is doing so to suggest himself as an objective exception, or to justify tipping the scales to the right to offset this bias. Regardless, Pipes references an impressive collection of source material to tell the story of Nixon's careful and well thought out plan to make his opinions on foreign relations relevant again. He also does a very good job in following the advice given to him by iconic biographer David McCullough that "it does no injury to history to make it readable." The book is enjoyable to read both for the story it tells and the engaging style in which that story is told. It is a fascinating read that will be enjoyable to all but those incapable of suppressing their contempt for the 37th President.
Tags: author: p, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: biography, subject: history

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