authors index

books index




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Arthur Woodstone
Nixon's Head
London, 1972
price: 60p
248 pages

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Jerry Voorhis
The Strange Case of Richard Milhouse Nixon
Popular Library
New York, 1973
price: 60p
352 pages

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Washington Post
The Fall of a President
New York, 1974
price: $1.75
234 pages

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Charles W Colson
Born Again
Hodder & Stoughton
London, 1976
price: 1.25
384 pages

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John Dean
Blind Ambition
London, 1976
price: 1.00
416 pages

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HR Haldeman
The Ends of Power
London, 1978
price: 95p
368 pages

'When the President does it, that means it is not illegal'
- Richard M Nixon

Being much, much too young for that kind of thing, I don't remember where I was when Kennedy got gunned down. But I do remember where I was when I heard that Spiro Agnew had resigned.

Agnew, for those who can't quite place the name, was Vice-President to Richard Nixon, and he was one of the few men who could make his boss look both liberal and principled. Curiously he was also one of the few men in the administration to have nothing whatsoever to do with Watergate, but he made up for it by taking backhanders elsewhere, and he was forced to jump ship just ten months before Tricky Dicky was pushed out. His replacement was the blandest of the bland, Gerald Ford, who went on to achieve the fantastic distinction of becoming the Leader of the Free World (®) without ever being elected as either President or Vice-President.

Nixon was the first international politician I ever became aware of. He seemed a perfect complement to our own Harold Wilson (who never got caught doing anything particularly naughty, of course). Maybe it's this combination of leaders that accounts for the deep sense of cynicism that my generation feels for politicians.

In any event, I was fascinated at an early age by the inexorable progress of Watergate. Mostly the interest was in the Greek tragedy of it all: watching a man being sucked down in a quagmire of his own making. One thing seemed to lead to another so inevitably, offering no possibility of escape, that it became hypnotic. The more Nixon writhed, and the more he pissed on the people beneath him, the worse his situation became. Of all the things that could cause a President to be driven from office, this was surely one of the most pointless: a bungled burglary that - even had it been successful - would have yielded virtually nothing of value to the Campaign to Re-Elect the President.

And then the real joy of the whole thing was the way that it just kept going. Nixon got dragged out of the Oval Office, kicking and screaming, but he did manage to extract a free pardon, leaving the rest of the gang to carry the can for him. Gradually as they were released from jail, they began writing their books, thus stoking up a market that had been in serious danger of decline since the initial spate of publications.

What we have here are a few representatives from both phases. The first three all cover the fall from a hostile perspective, from Nixon's Head - a nice early attempt at psycho-analysing the man at the centre of it all - to the staff of the Washington Post offering a series of essays and thoughts. Then there are a trio of post-prison writings by Nixon's henchmen. Of these, the Chuck Colson book is the funniest - seldom has a man appeared so unpleasant, so dislikeable in his own memoirs. The title stems from his alleged conversion to Christianity, though it's difficult to see quite what Jesus would have made of this thuggish little time-server. John Dean's version, on the other hand, is the most informative and convincing, whilst Haldeman's is far and away the most pompous, as befits a man who had delusions of statesmanship.

Bye bye, Mr President, bye bye

visit the Washington Post's pages celebrating the 25th anniversary of Watergate
non fiction