I started Roger Morris’ tome, Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician. Morris’ book covers Richard Nixon’s life up to and including 1952. It also talks about people, places, and events prior to Richard Nixon’s birth.
I was initially reluctant to include Morris’ book in My Year (or More) of Nixon, since I don’t have a desire to read every single book about Richard Nixon that was ever written. Eventually, I want for my Year (or More) of Nixon to come to an end, so that I can move on to other books that I want to read! But I decided to include Morris’ book for a variety of reasons. First, I was intrigued by Morris’ story when I found out who Morris was. Morris served under Henry Kissinger in Richard Nixon’s National Security Council, and Morris resigned because he disagreed with Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. In both volume 2 of his memoirs and In the Arena, Nixon appears to take some whacks at Morris, without mentioning Morris’ name. Second, I was interested in an alternative view on key events in Nixon’s early political career, such as the Alger Hiss case and Nixon’s controversial fund. By and large, the books that I have read assume that Alger Hiss was a Communist spy, and Morris seems to disagree with that. I’d like to read what Morris has to say. Third, the book was really cheap on Amazon. Of course, there are a lot of books that are cheap on Amazon, and I don’t necessarily want to buy them. But Morris has been cited so often in some of the books about Nixon that I have read, that I just have to give him a read.
A while back, I was reading a New York Times‘ review of Irwin Gellman’s book about Richard Nixon’s early political career, entitled The Contender, and the review praised Morris for his eloquence. Personally, I find that I’ll have to get used to Morris’ writing-style. As I look through the book, however, I have a hunch that I will enjoy reading it. What stands out most to me is Morris’ extensive research (which he gained through interviews and other sources), as well as his attention to detail. While Morris will undoubtedly cover ground that I have already read in other books, I believe that I will learn things about Nixon from Morris’ book that I have not learned from other sources.
Morris’ discussion of events prior to Nixon’s life also impressed me. It gives me a cozy feeling when Morris goes into aspects of the history of the state of California, as well as discusses Quakerism and Richard Nixon’s grandparents. I do not entirely know what effect Morris believes these factors had on Richard Nixon himself, but I found something on the inside jacket of the book to be intriguing: “The story begins with the false promise of boomtime California during the early days of the century. The second son of a Quaker family beset by tragedies large and small, Richard Nixon is first seen as the earnest boy pledged to success in a small town riven by hypocrisy and class division.” Reading this reminded me of Stephen King’s IT in that the passage seemed to be implying that a town could have a certain character, if you will.
Something else that stood out to me was the quote that introduced the book. Morris quotes Nixon’s grandmother, Almira Burdg Milhous, who said, “If thee had gone up as thee came down, thee would have come down as thee went up.” I have to really ponder this to understand what Morris is getting at when he introduces the book with this quote. Morris’ book is essentially about how Nixon went up—-his rise as a politician. My impression from reading others is that Morris’ book will be rather critical of Nixon: it will present Nixon as ambitious, as one who did not hesitate to destroy others, even as shady. Morris may believe that these character flaws would contribute to Nixon’s downfall in Watergate. Perhaps Morris’ point is that, had Nixon started his political career with the sort of humility that he had attained in the aftermath of Watergate, his outcome would not have been as bad. But that’s just my guess.
I’m not entirely sure how I will proceed in terms of my write-ups on this book. I don’t really want to get into the weeds of Nixon’s 1946 congressional race, the Hiss case, Nixon’s 1950 Senate race, what Nixon did and did not do at the 1952 Republican National Convention, and the fund, comparing what Morris says with what other authors have said. I may do some of that, but I don’t want it to turn out to be a consuming research project. I could just write about the passages that stood out to me, whether or not that allows my posts to capture the essence of Morris’ arguments. In any case, we’ll see how my posts turn out!