Reading the Nixon Bios
When John Taylor extended me the invitation to contribute occasional pieces to The New Nixon, I accepted immediately and knew instantly what I would point to in my first post: How I judge whether or not to read a new work on Nixon.
Here’s my test: I open the index and look for a few names. Names that only old Nixon hands know. Names that are not easy to unearth because of decisions made long ago to honor the confidences RN had entrusted to them.
You would be surprised to know how many people worked in close relation to Richard Nixon after he left the White House, first in San Clemente, then during his years in Manhattan and then in Saddle River. President Nixon spent nearly 20 very active years in non-retirement, years that were full of writing, conversation and travel. He was among the last century’s most accomplished, controversial and interesting figures, and the years from August 1974 through April 1994 were full of the sort of interesting stories that historians love to tell for the first time or enlarge upon with new details in subsequent recountings.
Most of the books about Nixon that have been published since he left Washington, D.C. either end abruptly with the wave from the helicopter or treat the last quarter of his extraordinary life with only the most cursory of treatments. But he was clearly one of the most influential private citizens on the planet during those years, and not just because of his steady output of best selling books, widely read op-eds or closely watched speeches. His private meetings, letters and conversations ranged from return visits to China and an official visit to Egypt for the Shah’s funeral to scores of quiet talks with senior leaders American leaders during the end game years of the Cold War.
Most of this record isn’t lost, just as yet unrecovered. The New Nixon will bring together more than a few old Nixon hands, and perhaps provide a guide to this amazing part of a unique life. Presidential historians should make a note of its appearing, and especially of those contributors like John Taylor who spent all or almost all of those years with RN. With any luck, other blogs serving a similar function for other presidents will appear and create the same sort of forum that historians will find at least a prompt and perhaps a guide for decades into the future