Monday, October 30, 2006

Nixon

It is rare that a book will annoy me so much that I'll give up reading it. However, I really can't stomach any more of Anthony Summers' The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. While it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that Nixon was just a deeply misunderstood man, this book goes to the other extreme as a vicious and vindictive character assassination. Summers clearly has no time for his subject, dwelling endlessly on Nixon's alleged alcoholism, drug abuse and mental instability, whilst also heavily suggesting that he was an abusive husband and a compulsive liar. What comes through it all is Nixon as a lonely and troubled man, dominated his whole life by the overbearing presence of his mother, Hannah Nixon, and a terrible fear of failure.

Nixon was undoubtedly a complex character and there were dark facets to his character but Summers doesn't appear at all interested in getting into what made Nixon tick. Instead his book is just one assertion after another, backed up with very little evidence and sources, which are questionable in their impartiality. Yet, Summers makes no attempt to address this or balance up the views he presents. It is all a one-sided swipe at Nixon, demonising a man, who whilst in office did much good.

As an example, Summers attacks Nixon's war record. This after dismissing in a brief sentence that Nixon actually volunteered to serve; he could have been excused on the basis of his Quaker beliefs. Summers then attacks the fact that Nixon was according to sources far from the action and was never in any real danger. A war is a war wherever you happen to be and Summers remark is indicative of the manner in which he attempts to impeach Nixon's character at every turn.

The film Nixon by Oliver Stone feels a much more honest reflection of its subject. Yes, it deals with the dark side of Nixon and doesn't play down his trouble with drink and drugs nor his occasional irrationality. It also shows Nixon as a great statesmen, a charismatic leader and a man who ultimately succumbed to his personal demons. More than anything, Nixon's story is a tragedy and it is simply not good enough for Summers to suggest that Nixon was a rotten man through and through.

I am just glad that I only borrowed this book from the library and didn't actually buy it!

1 comment:

Carla said...

Hooray for libraries!