The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon

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9780140260786: The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon

The biographer of Hoover and Marilyn Monroe turns his skills to the complex story of Richard Nixon, and offers an intimate portrait of the man - and major new revelations. Drawing on the fruits of years of meticulous research (including the three hundred and fifty hours of Watergate era recordings released since 1996) and over 700 interviews, Summers reveals the bizarre behaviour that Nixon frequently displayed, his physical abuse of his wife, his embroilment with organised crime, and his procurement of vast sums of money. He makes numerous revisions of the received wisdom about Watergate, and, most serious of all, damning revelations about Nixon and Vietnam. He also offers a devastating psychological portrait, revealing that Nixon was not only a chronic and compulsive liar, he was also plagued by jealousy and paranoia, repressed emotions and psychological inadequacy. Finally, Absolute Power is a great read: Summers has an extraordinary ability to turn tens and thousands of documents into well-paced, atmospheric narrative.

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Review:

Anthony Summers is the past master of scandal, the man who brought you Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe and that unforgettable (alleged) eyewitness account of J Edgar Hoover in a flouncy black dress. The Arrogance of Power, certainly is one racy read. Summers depicts a Nixon stoned out of his mind on Seconal, single-malt Scotch, Dilantin, speed, and clinical paranoia, pummelling his wife, Pat (who was rumoured to have once been rescued by the Secret Service from nearly drunkenly drowning in a bathtub). Summers' Nixon apparently took Mickey Cohen Mob money to fund his anti-Semitic, salacious smear campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas to get his Senate start; framed Alger Hiss with a fake typewriter; traded gold for POWs with Vietcong; and issued orders to bomb Damascus and Jordan and nuke Vietnam and Korea (orders that were ignored until Nixon sobered up in the morning). His favourite limousine was the SS100X that JFK died in. Nixon's shrink reportedly also treated Rita Hayworth, spoke like Dr Strangelove, and used "Pavlovian technique" to "brainwash Nixon into becoming a better person." No luck.

Summers' Nixon favoured the Greek generals who tortured pro-democracy types, and took a bribe from Göring's pal Nicolae Malaxa, who, thanks to Nixon, traded his Romanian mansion (in which thousands of Jews were tortured and killed) for a posh Manhattan apartment. Summers' most fascinating stuff concerns the Howard Hughes/Castro/Watergate connection. Did Nixon order CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro? Did the Castro plot get JFK killed, as Haldeman suspected? Was the Watergate break-in (one of perhaps 100 Nixon break-ins) intended to seize information about Nixon's Hughes loans and Castro plots?

Summers tries to assess his massive data while he's presenting it, and he doesn't credit every wild tale equally. Still, without him, I would never have heard about Castro's alleged ex-girlfriend, "the Mata Hari of the Caribbean," hired by future Watergate burglars to re-seduce Castro and slip two poison pills in his coffee. But she hid the pills in her cold-cream jar, and when she took them out in their Havana Hilton bathroom, they'd melted. Besides, her close encounter with the leader left her "torn by feelings of love." The Arrogance of Power won't give you this feeling. --Tim Appelo

About the Author:

Anthony Summers is an investigative journalist.

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