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Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the…
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Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008)

by Rick Perlstein

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Highly detailed and thoroughly documented retelling of the history of the turbulent 1960's in the United States and the political trajectory of Richard M. Nixon. This history leaves off with Nixon's re-election in 1968. Perlstein subsequently continued the history with THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE (which I had previously read).
Even though I lived through this period and have subsequently read other histories of this period, facts were revealed in NIXONLAND that managed to shock me. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Jan 25, 2016 |
Rick Perlstein is an amazing historian—capable of both marshaling a wealth of documentary evidence and arranging it into a coherent and gripping narrative. He's ostensibly telling a political narrative, but shines in being one of the few non-fiction writers I've ever read who really capture that ethereal feeling of cultural momentum (usually called the "zeitgeist"). His earlier book, Before the Storm, chronicled the rise of Goldwater before the 1964 election. It followed the activists determined to see him get the nomination, and led the reader through what was happening in the wider sphere of American culture (and why that made Goldwater seem angelic to some and deranged to others). While some were capable of shaping events—Clif White and LBJ among them—most others seemed carried along by them.

Nixonland, on the other hand, revolves around the psyche of its title character. Nixon, paranoid to the bone, was constantly striving for more power and haunted by the impression that others were plotting against him. As everyone knows, this eventually led to his undoing: commanding increasingly bold and decreasingly lawful activities that eventually came to a head in Watergate. But what people seem to have mostly forgotten is how Nixon got to be so powerful in the first place. It wasn't all by theft, but instead by rhetorically playing upon the internal divisions within America, amped up by the rise of civil rights movements and economic anxiety.

I'm not going to lie to you; this book is LONG, 750 pages before endnotes and a SOLID 750 pages at that. But it's such an excellent book, one that finally knits together all the subjects that have been covered piecemeal in books before or thoroughly defanged by sweeping & inoffensive pop-histories. This could easily become the definitive era's textbook, and the only thing standing in its way are the teeth. ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
Great read, especially the sections on the out of control police forces of the
50s and 60s, Nixon's incredible intelligence, and his twisted take on everything around him, which led him to destroy himself. ( )
  annbury | Jan 19, 2015 |
This is about how Richard Nixon formulated the narrative that the Republican Party still uses today, that of innuendo, outright lies, and the cognitive dissonance of saying one thing today and the opposite tomorrow, depending on what is expedient for purely political purposes; we still live in Nixonland. But Nixonland isn't just that, and not just the domain of Republicans anymore; his term applies to the complete vilification of the other party, and trying to get the public to believe that if their party isn't in control, then the country will be destroyed from within.

It's truly shocking to read of how much public fear was generated on a nearly daily basis in the summer of 1966, and how it was put to use in bringing down LBJ. There were riots in a number of cities, and the account of the Newark police shooting African-Americans just standing on their front porch or just on the street doing nothing is heartbreaking. No police or Guardsmen were ever indicted. As I write this, a grand jury recently refused to indict the policeman who murdered Eric Garner with a chokehold on a New York street. And this is nearly 50 years after that long, hot summer of 1966.

Then there's Vietnam. Nixon would alternate between criticizing LBJ for escalation or if he stopped the bombing. You see, it wasn't about ending the war; it was about Nixon positioning himself for the 1968 presidential election. If this sort of thing sounds familiar, well, I guess that's the point that Perlstein is trying to get across.

The fun really starts around page number 550, when Perlstein gets to quote Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Mitchell, and other various henchmen such G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, thanks to the Oval Office audio taping system and the Freedom of Information Act. It's sort of astonishing to think that they wouldn't turn off the tapes, when they were clearly engaging in extreme acts of obstruction of justice and talking openly about it. Am I the only one to be alarmed at Ehrlichman's suggestion that they assassinate the columnist Jack Anderson? Is that sound legal advice? ( )
2 vote nog | Dec 9, 2014 |
This was a great book, but it took me for-eva to read. I think I'm getting stupid. I used to be able to read non-fiction books much more quickly. ( )
1 vote megansbooklist | Nov 30, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Perlstein's Nixon is a cartoon figure, not in the mode of Herblock, whose caricatures, while vicious, were nonetheless original and uncomfortably recognizable to Nixon’s friends, but plastic, one-dimensional, and unrecognizable except to the most fervid of Nixon’s enemies. Relying largely on the psycho-babble of Fawn Brodie, the partisan fury of Leonard Lurie, and the genteel animus of Richard Reeves, Perlstein left no Nixonphobic screed untapped in the process of liming his portrait of Nixon as psychotic. And when he couldn’t find a previously published damning story to lift, he made it up, as in his phony reconstruction of Nixon’s meeting with the Southern Republican state chairmen in June of 1968.

A reader expecting to learn something new (or true) about the issues that roiled the public discourse in the 1960s is bound to be disappointed. Perlstein regurgitates the standard New Left line on the war in Vietnam . . . ; apes Todd Gitlin’s revisionist line on the history of the New Left . . . ; and concocts an elaborate Nixonian plot to thwart the integration of Southern schools as a payoff to Strom Thurmond while ignoring entirely the story (best told by Ray Price) of how those schools were, in fact, integrated without violence during Nixon’s first term. . . .

Nixonland is not history; it is polemics. Perlstein is out to poke Republicans (and conservatives) in the eye and “history” is his stick.

He shapes it to suit his purpose and wields it to achieve a political objective. No Perlstein “fact” can be relied upon as true, no event he relates can be assumed to be fairly discussed, and no grand idea advanced by him can be taken seriously.
 
But we could do worse than borrow Nixon's words on taking office in January 1969, when he said that his country suffered "from a fever of words; from inflated rhetoric that promises more than it can deliver; from angry rhetoric that fans discontents into hatreds; from bombastic rhetoric that postures instead of persuading."

Funnily enough, that sounds like a pretty good description of Perlstein's book.
 
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743243021, Hardcover)

Amazon Best of the Month, May 2008: How did we go from Lyndon Johnson's landslide Democratic victory in 1964 to Richard Nixon's equally lopsided Republican reelection only eight years later? The years in between were among the most chaotic in American history, with an endless and unpopular war, riots, assassinations, social upheaval, Southern resistance, protests both peaceful and armed, and a "Silent Majority" that twice elected the central figure of the age, a brilliant politician who relished the battles of the day but ended them in disgrace. In Nixonland Rick Perlstein tells a more familiar story than the one he unearthed in his influential previous book, Before the Storm, which argued that the stunning success of modern conservatism was founded in Goldwater's massive 1964 defeat. But he makes it fresh and relentlessly compelling, with obsessive original research and a gleefully slashing style--equal parts Walter Winchell and Hunter S. Thompson--that's true to the times. Perlstein is well known as a writer on the left, but his historian's empathies are intense and unpredictable: he convincingly channels the resentment and rage on both sides of the battle lines and lets neither Nixon's cynicism nor the naivete of liberals like New York mayor John Lindsay off the hook. And while election-year readers will be reminded of how much tamer our times are, they'll also find that the echoes of the era, and its persistent national divisions, still ring loud and clear. --Tom Nissley

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:23 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An account of the thirth-seventh presidency sets Nixon's administration against a backdrop of the tumultuous civil rights movement while offering insight into how key events in the 1960s set the stage for today's political divides.

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