Richard Nixon has fascinated Americans, biographers and historians for the last 70 years, and, thanks to author John A. Farrell and his new book Richard Nixon: The Life (Doubleday, 752 pp., ***½ out of four stars), that fascination will last for at least a few more years.
The fundamentals of Nixon’s life are well known to most Americans older than 50: the humble beginnings in Southern California; the tragic deaths of two brothers from tuberculosis; the hounding of suspected communists in Congress; the red-baiting of his political opponents; his eight years as President Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president; the narrow 1960 election loss to John F. Kennedy; his comeback in 1968; triumphs in Beijing and Moscow; and his ultimate humiliation in the Watergate scandal, followed by resignation from the presidency and exile.
That’s a lot of material to pack into one volume, even one that weighs in at 750 pages, but Farrell does it while providing revelations and insights along the way.
“Sensitive as he was, and as insecure and easily bruised as he was, and brooding and self-centered and self-contained as he was, Nixon could not shrug off their criticism,” Farrell writes of Nixon’s political opponents. “It wounded him, and he lashed back. The vicious cycle lasted all his life.”
Nixon’s psychological makeup led him to conceal his big dreams, lest some member of whatever establishment he distrusted at the time — liberals, Eastern elitists, the military or the foreign policy bureaucracy — try to stop him. Farrell shows how that inferiority complex propelled Nixon forward.
It brought some of Nixon’s towering successes, such as the opening of relations with China and a nuclear arms deal with the Soviet Union, and fed some of his worst acts.
Farrell devastatingly shows how Nixon sabotaged the 1968 peace talks in Paris to end the Vietnam…