I started Conrad Black's 2007 biography of Richard Nixon, entitled Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. I was initially hesitant to read Black's book for My Year (or More) of Nixon, since I already have enough books about Nixon to read, plus Black's book is really long (like, over 1,000 pages). But I found myself visiting Amazon repeatedly to see if the price of Black's book had gone down. I decided not to buy Black's book, but I checked it out from the library, so I could see if I wanted to read it. Now, I'm reading it. I'll see over time if I made a good choice!
read anything earthshakingly new about Nixon in Black's book up to this
point, and I had to get used to Black's prose. Moreover, after reading
Roger Morris' detailed and extensively-documented tome about Nixon's
early life and political career up to (and including) 1952, I found
Black's discussion of Nixon's childhood, college years, and time at Duke
Law School to be very disappointing. But I'm finding as I continue to
read Black's book that I am enjoying it more and more. Black has been
accused by reviewers of being pro-Nixon, of seeing Nixon in a
sympathetic light because Black himself has had legal problems (and that
accusation, incidentally, is one reason that I was motivated to read
Black's book). But, in my reading thus far, Black strikes me as
fair-minded. I think there are times when he acts as if he is some
God-like narrator who knows for certain what really happened, and that
gets on my nerves: at least Morris backed up more of his narrative with
eyewitness testimony. But I commend Black for sifting through the
strengths and weaknesses of pro- and anti-Nixon narratives. For
example, in his section on Richard Nixon's 1946 Congressional race
against Democratic incumbent Jerry Voorhis, Black disputes that the
Committee of 100 that asked Nixon to run were huge industrialists, yet
he also acknowledges that Nixon received a lot of money for his
campaign, and that Nixon's portrayal of Voorhis' record was not
particularly accurate. Overall, Black steers a middle-ground between
pro- and anti-Nixon narratives.
I also enjoy when Black calls out
Nixon's BS. For instance, Nixon in his 1946 campaign liked to appeal to
his background in the Navy in World War II, and Nixon would talk about
what his fellow Navy-men in the foxholes wanted in terms of political
policy. Black says that, for one, Nixon technically was not in a
foxhole, and, two, even if he were in a foxhole, the men with him
there would probably not be discussing politics with him!
noticing that Black keeps bringing up Franklin Roosevelt. Black
sometimes compares Nixon to Roosevelt: for example, Black notes that
both were not good businessmen. Black also defends Roosevelt against
the right-wing charge that he sold out Eastern Europe to the Soviets.
And Black appears to regard the New Deal as something that was
alleviating the Great Depression (on some level). Black is largely
regarded as a conservative, and he seems to understand the concerns of
business-people who were opposed to the New Deal. But I appreciate his
sympathetic, albeit three-dimensional, portrayal of Franklin Roosevelt.
Incidentally, Black wrote a massive biography of FDR, and I may someday
read that, alongside pro-New Deal and conservative anti-New Deal works,
as well as Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man. Black in his
biography of Nixon may be bringing up Roosevelt continually to remind us
that he wrote a book on FDR. I prefer to think, though, that Black
just can't get FDR out of his system!
This is not exactly the post
that I was planning to write today. I was intending to write about
what Black says about how Nixon's social challenges actually made him
into an effective politician. I think I'll save that post for tomorrow.