Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein

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Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein

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Buy Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A look at an era rather than just the man. It's more likely to repay the serious reader than someone looking for a serious but relatively easy read but it's a goldmine of information. Cautiously recommended.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 896 Date: July 2008
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-0743243025

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For my generation disliking Richard Nixon was just the way it was. He was Tricky Dicky, the man who made such a poor showing in the televised debates against Jack Kennedy and ultimately he was the man behind Watergate, the disgraced President and the only one ever to resign the office. There has to be another side to the story though – Presidents (George W Bush aside) do not get to that position without there being some merit and a lot of hard work and whilst Rick Perlstein's Nixonland doesn't set out to rehabilitate the man it does provide a more balanced view of Nixon himself and the USA of the Nixon era than any other book I've read.

Firstly, it's not a Nixon biography but rather an examination of the how the Nixon era laid the groundwork for today's political divide. Perlstein begins in 1965 when the Watts riots erupted in Los Angeles, only a matter of months after Lyndon Johnson's landslide victory in the race for the presidency. A country still raw from the assassination of Jack Kennedy had elected a liberal in preference to Barry Goldwater but was now about to react against Johnson as racial issues and the escalating problem of Vietnam took a stranglehold on his presidency. The way was open for a man whom everyone thought to be a failure to make the most amazing comeback of all time.

Secondly, if you're looking for a reasonably light read then this is not the book for you. Perlstein is an academic's historian and his writing is based on meticulous research. When he makes a point he backs it up with all the facts and then provides source notes at the back of the book. For anyone looking seriously at Nixon and this era the book is a gold mine: for the more casual reader there is going to be the regular wish that he would just cut to the quick and get on with it. Add to this the sheer size and density of the book and only the most committed of readers are going to get full value.

It is definitely worth persevering though and not just for what you'll find out about Nixon. People like Ronald Reagan don't just get a walk-on part. You'll know and understand the man a lot better – along with Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Spiro Agnew, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern and George Wallace. It's a portrait of an age with its racial tensions and the humiliations of Vietnam.

It's a portrait of a consummate politician too. Perlstein captures Nixon's learning curve as he realises where he went wrong when he was up against Jack Kennedy and sets about meticulously repositioning himself. He works hard, punishingly hard, to achieve what he wants. A close look at any politician of that (and quite possibly every other) era illustrates that honesty was rarely the best policy but the sheer amoral venality of Nixon takes your breath away. Nothing was a step too far if it gained him political advantage.

If you're serious about American politics then this is a book you must read. There's no shortage of books about Nixon, but many amount to little more than psychobabble. This is going to be a book which stands the test of time about the man and the era.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For another book which looks at the American political scene over a period of years we can recommend Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner. For the definitive book about the Kennedy era we think that it's difficult to better Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot.

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Buy Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein at Amazon.com.

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