Although Richard Nixon’s birthday is on January 9, I’ve decided to start my Year (or More) of Nixon a few days early. January 9, 2013 will mark the centennial of Richard Nixon’s birth, and I will be honoring that by reading and blogging through books by and about Richard Nixon for a year, perhaps more. At least that’s my plan, and we’ll see if I stick with it!
Why have I decided to do this? The main reason is that Nixon has long fascinated me. I identify with him because he has been characterized as an introvert, and that’s what I am. Nixon was also a conservative, yet he was a pragmatist and a reformer who was willing to use the government to accomplish good. I myself am sympathetic with certain conservative arguments, even though I consider myself to be a progressive. I also admire Nixon’s mind, specifically his ability to analyze issues, and I’m curious to learn about the issues that were on the table during Richard Nixon’s political career—-the post-New Deal period, the advantages and disadvantages of the Great Society, etc.
I have a number of books that are definitely on my list—-Stephen Ambrose’s trilogy, Nixon’s memoirs, Monica Crowley’s books, etc. But I also have in mind some books that I may or may not read. For example, I have the book Silent Coup, which presents a rather controversial thesis about Watergate. Then there’s Don Fulsom’s not-so-flattering (an understatement, I know) Nixon’s Darkest Secrets. I’ll play by ear whether or not I will read those books. I’ll probably read Fulsom’s, but I doubt that I’ll read Silent Coup.
Then there are the foreign policy books by Nixon. I’m tempted to read No More Vietnams, but I want to avoid too much redundancy: if I find that Nixon in his memoirs already extensively discusses Vietnam (and I don’t know at the moment if he does), then would I want to read his book on Vietnam, which may cover the same ground? There’s also Nixon’s book, 1999, which contains Nixon’s analyses and predictions about foreign policy. Would I want to read this? Perhaps it would be fun to see which predictions by Nixon (if any) panned out, but I’ve not made a commitment to this particular book yet.
I’m also contemplating reading books that are not primarily about Nixon, but that pertain to him. I think of Theodore White’s books on the 1960, 1968, and 1972 Presidential elections (in which Nixon ran), as well as Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland. What that means is that not every post that I write for my Year (or More) of Nixon will focus on Nixon specifically, for some will discuss people who (or issues that) were prominent during Nixon’s lifetime. We’ll see how that plays out!
The first book that I will read and blog through is Irwin Gellman’s The Contender: Richard Nixon, the Congress Years, 1946-1952. Based on documents that have not been considered by a number of other Nixon biographers, this book contends essentially that Nixon has unfairly gotten a bad rap as a corrupt and shady Red-baiter when it comes to his campaigns for and service in Congress (both the House and the Senate). I’ve wanted to read this book since I first saw it in Columbia University’s library about a decade ago (when I was a Jewish Theological Seminary student), but I didn’t have the time to read it. Now, I’ll be reading this book, and also some of the authors whom Gellman criticizes. It should prove informative, and fun!