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Wednesday, November 14th, 2001


President Nixon: Alone in the White House

by Richard Reeves

A review by Adrienne Miller

If a human being can be defined by a list of the things he loves, here is a definition of one R.M. Nixon: football, naps, confident men with high IQs, cottage cheese, and the Kennedys. What he hated, according to Richard Reeves's new biography ("character study" is probably more accurate), was pretty much everything else. Drawing on archival materials, declassified documents and interviews, Reeves paints a picture that isn't pretty. Was Nixon really that much of a contemptible bastard? Was he really that ruthless, paranoid, humorless, insecure, manipulative, ungenerous? Was he really that small? Well...probably. But do we really need his biographer (who also wrote President Kennedy: Profile of Power) shouting Hate him! on every page? "He was a hater," Reeves writes, in case we weren't clear on this point. And, true, hatred seems to have been, as Reeves has it, Nixon's greatest talent. "'That little Jew cocksucker is the same guy who screwed us in the Eisenhower administration'" is one of Nixon's more charitable estimations of a clever enemy.

While this book lacks subtlety, it is interesting to see how Nixon's personality problems set the tone for his administration, and how they ultimately led to Watergate. The most fascinating words here are Nixon's weird memos to himself. He wrote many notes like this one, of Gatsbyish stangeness and poignancy: "'Need for joy, serenity, confidence, inspirational; Goals: Set example, inspire, instill pride; 1. Personal image of Presidency -- Strong, compassionate, competent, bold -- Joy in job.'" President Nixon: Alone in the White House is, above all else, a deeply sad book, and one that proves exactly what Nixon feared his whole life: that other people hated him as much as he hated them.

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