"Being Nixon" By Evan Thomas : Book Review

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
"Being Nixon" a book by veteran political writer Evan Thomas is reviewed. The book takes a look at the driving forces of the 37th President of the United States.

Submitted: May 01, 2016

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Submitted: May 01, 2016



 I was enthused about reading Being Nixon by Evan Thomas because it intersected two subjects I enjoy reading about- the presidency and biography. But what got me turning pages was Richard Milhous Nixon; he occupied the oval office when I first became interested in the country’s highest office and in politics as well.

He has always had a very high bar to overcome since he presided over the Vietnam War protests as well as my SDS-era college days. “Tricky Dick”, flabby jowls, five o’clock shadow and all, has never earned any sympathy from me and it hasn’t been for lack of exposure. I read Nixonland and President Nixon by Rick Perlstein and Richard Reeves respectively and neither work stirred up any “poor leader of the free world” feelings.

The Richard Nixon that has always occupied my “pantheon of the most despised” is the president who called a group of Vietnam Veterans “bums” as they protested outside the White House fence. He taunted the press after being defeated in the 1962 California governor’s race with, “You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” And, of course, he resigned in disgrace when confronted with impeachment after the Watergate debacle.

So with my Nixon personal baggage in tow, I embarked upon what I thought would be a familiar spin with the 37th president of the United States at the hands of Evan Thomas. Yes, there was a lot of retelling of Nixon quirks like his disdain for Ivy League types and east coast intellectuals. There was Nixon feeling the rejection of the Whittier College literary group called the Franklins and having to settle for membership in the Orthogonians. Think the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”. And there was Nixon’s early family life, the death of two brothers, his saintly mother and not so saintly father.

Thomas guides the reader through Nixon’s political career from U.S, senator from California, Vice President of the United States, the failed presidential campaign against Kennedy in 1960 and two successful presidential campaigns. The author doesn’t rely on psychobabble, but through the narrative portrays Nixon’s inner turmoil and the conflict of Nixon being “an introvert in an extrovert’s business.”

Thomas shows the reader that, however, scary it feels to the average citizen, the presidency is a personality driven construct. For instance, Nixon had a tendency to shoot from the hip when he was angry at personnel. “Fire them all” is something he would tell staff when frustrated with those around him, but the advisors closest to him such as H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman knew how to navigate these emotional flares and basically would ignore the direction.

Although I would not say that reading Being Nixon has made me sympathetic towards Nixon, it has made me understand what it was like to be in his skin. This is, of course, the genesis of the book’s title which in turn signals the success of the work. It also makes me wonder as Nixon’s Secretary of State,  Henry Kissinger did as well, “what this man would have been like if somebody had loved him?”

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