One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon
Henry Holt and Co. 384 pp. $30
By Melvin Small
Tim Weiner, winner of a National Book Award for Legacy of Ashes (2007), a history of the CIA, and a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, has turned his attention to Richard Nixon in the scathing One Man Against the World. Because of the continuing release of tape recordings, telcons, and other primary sources—a gift to historians that keeps on giving—Nixon books remain a flourishing cottage industry. Just this publishing season, Weiner has been joined by Evan Thomas (Being Nixon) and Irwin Gellman (The President and the Apprentice) who also promise new interpretations in part because of recently declassified or underused sources.
Whereas Thomas’s biography is balanced and Gellman’s history of Nixon’s vice presidency tilts toward a favorable conclusion, Weiner’s view of Nixon’s presidency is a Shakespearean horror story of mendacity, criminality, and paranoia. It is well-written and often thrilling, but for many it will be overkill. Allowing the main characters to speak for themselves, thanks in good measure to the tapes, the author appears to have mined his sources, many of which have been released over the past decade, for the most inflammatory and shocking conversations. Indeed, virtually all of his endnotes refer to the rich collections of primary sources—he rarely cites secondary sources and there is no bibliography. (Disclaimer—I am one of those who enjoys seeing his books cited).
Despite Weiner’s ostensible reliance on primary sources, and notwithstanding the publisher’s extravagant claims for the book, there is little or nothing that is new here. Most of his seemingly original findings have appeared elsewhere, though uncredited.