This masterly first volume of Richard M. Nixon's biography by the highly acclaimed biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower takes us from his birth in 1913 to his "last press conference" in 1962.
Ambrose presents Nixon as the major figure in world politics after the age of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt. Beginning in 1947, when as a freshman congressman he gave critical Republican support to the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan, and continuing through to 1985, when he advised President Ronald Reagan before the Geneva summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, Richard Nixon has been involved in every aspect of American foreign policy as a critic, adviser, participant, or decision maker. He is portrayed in this authoritative work as a man so complex that no one could invent such a character; here, indeed, is a case where the novelist envies the biographer.
Nixon's boyhood was marred by family illness and the death of two loved brothers. Hard work got him a football letter in high school as well as good grades, but he was known as Gloomy Gus. He won a scholarship to Harvard University but, because of financial problems, attended his hometown Whittier College and then went on to Duke University Law School. For a time he lived with a classmate in a shack in order to save money. Back home in Whittier, he practiced law and married Pat Ryan. His World War II Navy tour in the South Pacific brought him no fame, but he learned to play poker and earned the affection of his men. In 1946, he was chosen by a group of California businessmen to run against the incumbent, Jerry Voorhis, for a congressional seat. It was in that campaign, and in his subsequent campaign for the U.S. Senate against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950, that Nixon earned his reputation as a politician who could take the low road. His political rise was meteoric. In Congress, he became a national figure by nailing Alger Hiss. Nevertheless, as Ambrose points out, Nixon was a moderating influence on the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and often a centrist on domestic issues.
After only six years in Congress, Nixon was chosen by Dwight D. Eisenhower and elected Vice-President. Ike used him to neutralize McCarthy and to pacify the GOP's right wing, but his relationship with Nixon was marked by ambivalence. Ike's hot-and-cold attitude toward Nixon is portrayed here for the first time by the biographer of both men.
As Eisenhower's second term came to an end, Nixon looked anxiously for signs that the President would back him for the nomination, but Eisenhower delayed giving any word. When, finally, he was nominated, it was to run against John F. Kennedy, a man of his own generation who seemed younger and fresher, a fellow Naval officer who had emerged from the war a hero, a privileged, handsome, debonair Harvard graduate whose millionaire father had helped him get ahead in politics. The 1960 election was a squeaker. Nixon went back to California, where he lost the governor's race, quit politics for a few minutes, saying to reporters, "You won't have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore," and then started planning one of his life's numerous comebacks.
As with his definitive two-volume Eisenhower biography, Ambrose's exhaustive research taps many sources: the Nixon Vice-Presidential papers, the Eisenhower library, the minutes of NSC, Cabinet and legislative leaders' meetings, transcripts of Nixon's conversations with John Foster Dulles, and much inside information--diaries, memos, correspondence, speech drafts, oral histories, plus the author's own interviews with President Eisenhower.
"Nixon: The Education of a Politician" is penetrating and balanced. Ambrose illuminates this man, who was the object of so much passion and even distrust among his fellow Americans, and describes the emerging statesman who would eventually show brilliance and daring and win the respect even of some of his adversaries.
About Stephen E. Ambrose
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Published February 5, 2013
by Premier Digital Publishing.
Biographies & Memoirs, History.