Another look at Nixon

Cover of Richard Nixon The LifeRichard Nixon The Life
by John A Farrell
Doubleday, £30
(Buy at Amazon)

With Robert Mueller announcing the first wave of indictments in the investigation into the Trump presidential campaign’s relationship with Russian hackers, comparisons with Richard Nixon are already floating around. As a result, John Farrell’s biography of the disgraced president is particularly timely.

While he “could not possibly have known who would be president on the day his fine book was published”, the parallels between Donald Trump and Nixon “leap off the page like crickets”, says Jennifer Senior in The New York Times. Indeed, Nixon comes across as “an electrifying subject, a muttering Lear, of perennial interest to anyone”.

“As a former Nixon speechwriter, I see an overemphasis on the dark side,” though that is probably “inevitable” given “the abundance of material to be tempted by,” says John Coyne Jr in The Washington Times. Still, “Farrell brings fresh insights to many of these familiar events, defeats and triumphs, among them the SALT Treaty [on strategic arms limitations] with the Soviet Union and the trip to China”. The result is “a compact but comprehensive one-volume biography of perhaps the most complex and consequential president in our nation’s recent history” that is “strongly written, deeply researched and rich in anecdote”.

“Never in the history of American democracy have so many people loved to hate a man so much,” says Niall Ferguson, historian (and author of a defence of Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger), in The Sunday Times. So it’s no surprise that Farrell attacks Nixon’s foreign policy “in term that few of his fellow boomers will find objectionable”, even if such arguments are “misleading”.

Still, the author deserves credit for recognising that “on a host of issues, Nixon was in truth the most liberal Republican president of the modern era” and was “drawn to the kind of big government solutions that the Democrats had favoured since Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal”.