Volume 94, Issue 24

Thursday, October 12, 2000


ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT

Ska music's royal family

Rosa serves it up with flair

DeNiro is devil dad

Bio bashes Nixon

Bio bashes Nixon



The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon
Anthony Summers
Viking



Few figures in modern American history continue to move people in the way Richard Milhous Nixon does.

The 37th president of the United States and the only one to ever resign in disgrace, remains both deeply reviled and greatly respected (depending on your point of view and politics).

It's hard to believe a quarter of a century after he left office and over six years after his death, any new book about Nixon could still spark controversy. After all, we already have endless volumes written on the man and his actions in the Oval Office. Yet Anthony Summers' new work has succeeded in doing just that.

Among Summers' most startling claims is that Nixon abused mood-altering drugs while in the White House to combat depression. The author also suggests Nixon was an alcoholic (a theory popularized by Oliver Stone's biopic on the man). Both allegations are highly suspect.



While Nixon was unquestionably a man of many moods and a volatile temper, there is no direct evidence or first-hand accounts of his making decisions as commander-in-chief, under the influence of narcotics. Even more unbelievable, is his disturbing claim the president physically abused his wife, Pat, on at least one occasion. Indeed, all of Summers' accusations can be traced back to second and third-person accounts of alleged incidents.

Another shocking claim the book suggests, is that Nixon interfered with President Lyndon Johnson's peace initiative in Vietnam. This was supposedly done in order to prolong the conflict there and aid his own 1968 presidential election campaign at the expense of his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

While this charge is again highly suspect, Summers seeks to present it as yet another example of Nixon's inherently evil nature. "He escaped full opprobrium for his behavior while he was alive, yet the evidence implies a sin and a cynicism worse than any of the offenses that would later make headlines," the book states.

It cannot be denied that Anthony Summers is a fine writer. The Arrogance of Power is an exceptional read, chock-full of interesting insights. He is not, however, a legitimate presidential historian. Rather Summers is a student of popular culture, a BBC network journalist whose past works include controversial biographies of such American celebrities as Marilyn Monroe.

This book fails to shed any new light on the Nixon administration's achievements or missteps and deals with the Watergate period in a fairly conventional way. In short, it's all been done before – only better.

– Rey Angelini


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Copyright The Gazette 2000