Nixon: the Life, by John A. Farrell*****

richardnixonfarrellHistory buffs rejoice; the definitive Nixon biography is here.  John A. Farrell is the renowned biographer of Clarence Darrow. Now he gives us a comprehensive, compelling look at the only US president ever to resign from office under the cloud of imminent impeachment. This is the only Nixon biography that answers the many questions that left Americans—and those around the world that were watching—scratching our heads. Why, why, and why would he do these things? Farrell tells us. I read this book free and in advance, thanks to Net Galley and Doubleday, but it would have been worth paying the full retail price if I’d had to. It’s available to the public now.

Anytime I read nonfiction, I start with the sources. If the author hasn’t verified his information using primary sources, I go no further. Nonfiction is only fact if the author can prove that what he says is true—and I have never seen more meticulous, more thorough source work than what I see here. Every tape in the Nixon library; every memoir, from Nixon’s own, to those of the men that advised him as president, to those written by his family members, to those that opposed him are referenced, and that’s not all. Every set of presidential papers from Eisenhower on forward; the memoirs of LBJ, the president that served before Nixon took office; reminiscences of Brezhnev, leader of Russia ( which at the time was part of the USSR); reminiscences of Chinese leaders that hosted him; every single relevant source has been scoured and referenced in methodical, careful, painstaking detail. Farrell backs up every single fact in his book with multiple, sometimes a dozen excellent sources.

Because he has been so diligent, he’s also been able to take down some myths that were starting to gain a foothold in our national narrative. An example is the assertion that before the Kennedys unleashed their bag of dirty tricks on Nixon’s campaign in 1960, Nixon was a man of sound principle and strong ethics. A good hard look at his political campaigns in California knocks the legs out from under that fledgling bit of lore and knock it outs it out of the nest, and out of the atmosphere. Gone!

Lest I lend the impression that this is a biography useful only to the most careful students of history, folks willing to slog endlessly through excruciating detail, let me make myself perfectly clear: the man writes in a way that is hugely engaging and at times funny enough to leave me gasping for air. Although I taught American history and government for a long time, I also learned a great deal, not just about Nixon and those around him, but bits and pieces of American history that are relevant to the story but that don’t pop up anywhere else.

For those that have wondered why such a clearly intelligent politician, one that would win by a landslide, would hoist his own petard by authoring and authorizing plans to break into the offices of opponents—and their physicians—this is your book. For those that want to know what Nixon knew and when he knew it, this is for you, too.

I find myself mesmerized by the mental snapshots Farrell evokes: a tormented Nixon, still determined not to yield, pounding on the piano late into the night. I hear the clink of ice cubes in the background as Nixon, talking about Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, suggests that “The Indians need—what they really need—is a mass famine.”

I can see Kissinger and the Pentagon making last minute arrangements to deal with a possible 11th hour military coup before Nixon leaves office. Don’t leave him with the button during those last 24 hours, they figure.

And I picture poor Pat, his long-suffering wife to whom he told nothing, nothing, nothing, packing all through the night before they are to leave the White House…because of course he didn’t tell her they were going home in time to let her pack during normal hours.

The most damning and enlightening facts have to do with Vietnam and particularly, Cambodia. Farrell makes a case that the entire horrific Holocaust there with the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot could have been avoided had Nixon not contacted the Vietnamese ambassador and suggested that he not make a deal with Johnson to end the war.

Whether you are like I am, a person that reads every Watergate memoir that you can obtain free or cheaply, or whether you are a younger person that has never gone into that dark tunnel, this is the book to read. It’s thorough and it’s fair, and what’s more, it’s entertaining.

Get it. Read it. You won’t be sorry!

Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security, by Robert Guffey****

 

ChameleoastrangeChameleo is a twisted but true story of an addict who unwittingly becomes an experimental subject in a classified government research program, and the bizarre events that took place then and in the aftermath. My thanks go to the author, who provided me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Dion Fuller (not the person’s actual name) had been released from a psychiatric hospital in Southern California. He had procured some heroine and nodded off, permitting various equally marginal characters access to his home. Sometimes he was out of it and had no idea what was happening. It was likely during this time that the guy with the stolen classified documents and a couple dozen pairs of night-vision goggles belonging to the US government made his way into Dion’s apartment. The ensuing chaos proves once and for all that just because a person is crazy does not mean nobody is out to get them. Just ask Dion!

Guffey, the author, is a Cal State creative writing teacher who found himself involved in Dion’s situation. He had a free term at the same time that Dion, an old childhood friend, called for help. With a certain amount of necessary remove, he did his best to advise his friend while taking copious notes. Soon he became convinced that his old friend was not hallucinating.

“Imagine a ridiculous college fraternity with the resources of the entire black budget of the United States of America deciding to play one long prank on some faceless guy in San Diego. And imagine that the faceless guy is you.”

The author’s description of a malicious antic known as “Street Theater” in government circles reminded me of the dirty tricks that the Democratic Party played on the Nixon camp during the early 1960’s—cruising into town in advance, for example, and moving street signs around so that the Republicans would get lost and be late to a speaking engagement—which were later used in turn by Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President in 1972. Dion hoped that leaving his home, which was located very near a Naval installation, would make it all stop, and it did. He left California and headed cross country, but every time he got close to a US military installation, a whole train of personnel would follow him once more, like a trail of ducklings after their mother, right out there in the middle of the freaking desert.

Guffey’s story, which includes the Masons, the Illuminati (note the cover), and assorted other conspiratorial ingredients that would ordinarily cause me to stay completely fucking clear of this whacked out tale, follows Dion as far north as Minnesota, then oh dear God, to Seattle where Guffey was staying. But just as it seems it can’t get any more strange and stressful, the whole thing becomes hilarious! Your humble reviewer sat and laughed out loud about two-thirds of the way into the story, and the lighter tone that marks the book until near the end is what prevents the whole thing from degenerating into a bottomless abyss.
My only quibble with this story—and it’s a small one—is that if we must read entire transcribed passages of conversations, then the persons involved in the conversation in question should all be named, with no pseudonyms involved, so that the reader can use that transcript as a primary document if they want or need to. If that can’t happen, then some of these conversations ought to be summarized or paraphrased, at least in places. But this shouldn’t keep you from getting a copy of this memoir and reading it.

In fact, those that question authority and wonder just how far the US government has strayed from its stated ideals will welcome this strange little book, which is just well documented enough to convince me that it’s entirely true.

It’s available for purchase now.

Vietnam, by Mary McCarthy***-****

VietnamVietnam , an impassioned journalistic effort by Mary McCarthy originally published during the US war against Vietnamese freedom fighters, is a once-stirring piece of research that, while worthwhile as a period piece or for specific types of historical research, is in general terms too dated to be of great interest to most readers. Instead, it speaks to the innocence and disbelief Americans with no axe to grind in Southeast Asia felt when they came to grip with the actual facts regarding the war, and how many responded after becoming enlightened.

Thank you once and twice, first to Open Road Integrated Media, and next to Net Galley, for allowing me to read the DRC in exchange for this honest review. The book is now available for purchase.

In many ways, the American mindset can be divided into two contemporary periods: one before the Vietnam War, and one after it. Before the war against working people in Vietnam commenced, Americans by and large trusted their government and believed what its political leaders said was true. As layer upon layer of lies was peeled away from the startling nugget of truth at the core of this conflict, many people—in particular, the youth of the USA and around the world—were outraged at the many ways in which they had been deceived. Most of those smooth-faced but indignant youth are now grandparents now, and most have learned never to believe something is true just because a politician—even the president of the USA—says so.

McCarthy wrote this book during the metamorphosis of the American public from the former condition to the latter.

McCarthy went to Vietnam as a member of the press, and was astonished by both what she saw, and by the things that were told her. In 1967, when this book was written, the military leaders she interviewed told her that roughly ten percent of the population, or 1.5 million people, had become refugees, “casualties of war”, because the bombing had destroyed their homes and defoliated large swaths of jungle. It was unclear to me whether they were speaking about all of Vietnam or only South Vietnam; her time there seems to have been spent entirely, or mostly, inside the city of Saigon, which had become so Americanized that there were more English-speaking Caucasians there than Vietnamese.

At times, her outrage is sufficiently scathing to take this reviewer back to that time. I was just a kid, but the white-hot rage in the streets is hard to forget, even so.

In describing her visit to Saigon, she speaks about the ways in which officers and GIs alike regarded a hospitalized child, a victim of the bombing: because they showered her with candy, dollar bills, had photographs of themselves taken with her, and brought her toys, they considered her to be a very lucky tyke indeed. They made reference to her owning more dolls than Macy’s, and one soldier said fondly, “That girl is so spoiled.”

This type of rationalization, the notion that after wounding and possibly orphaning a child with bombs that destroyed her village and left her full of shrapnel, she had become “so spoiled”, is characterized by McCarthy as “Pharisee virtue”, a phrase I found startlingly eloquent.

There are other moments when she appears a bit confused, and appears to be unconsciously using the terminology of the very military and government forces that she opposes. My own youngest child is half Asian, and when I read an expository sentence in which McCarthy referred to the local children as “slant-eyed”, I almost dropped my reader. What the hell? She refers to the Vietnamese policeman that works for the US army as a “small Vietnamese policeman”, and from context, I got the distinct impression that he was not noticeably smaller than other Vietnamese men, and that in fact his size had nothing to do with anything. If she were still alive today, I would advise the author to check her terminology, and then check her own assumptions about what “normal” looks like. It appears she was carrying around some ingrained racism that came out despite her finest intentions.

One more strange factor here was her reference to the uniforms worn by the National Liberation Front, (otherwise referred to pejoratively as the “Viet Cong”, a term she uses freely), as “black pajamas”. Did McCarthy not understand that this was an expression used by the US military which was intended to demean Vietnamese fighters by suggesting they did not know how to design a uniform? Vietnam is a very warm place, and it’s humid as hell, which is why they used lightweight cloth to make uniforms. The jungles were dark and virtually impenetrable, and this is why black was a really good choice of uniform color. Pajamas are something one sleeps in. The Vietnamese soldier didn’t get a lot of sleep, and he did not fight wearing sleeping apparel.

McCarthy is not always blind regarding the power of terminology however: she points up the fact that napalm, which had been made even more horrific in that it now adhered to things (and flesh) while burning, had been name-changed to “Incinderjell”, making it sound like a children’s dessert. Officials could publicly state that napalm was no longer in use, because now it was called something different. Likewise, defoliants were referred to as “weed killer”.

The only photographs are of the author.

For those that want to travel back to the time when Johnson was president and America’s youth were waking up to the fact that the US government did not always behave in accordance with its stated democratic ideals, this is a good work to drop into your reader. It’s very brief, and you can finish it in a weekend.

I also recommend this work to students and other researchers looking at this volatile and transformational period in American history. Since she personally went to Saigon while the war was being fought, her own experiences constitute a primary document, and in such a case, I would not rate this book a 3 star work, but rather 4 stars.

The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology, by Aldon Morris*****

thescholardeniedMorris considers DuBois the father of American sociology, and Morris is right. This is, of course, not the first time a Black man was robbed of credit for an accomplishment that was instead credited to a Caucasian American. It happens all the time. But until I ran across this scholarly study, I hadn’t thought about DuBois and sociology because I had never studied the latter. As an admirer of DuBois’ historical and political role, I was drawn to this book when I found it on Net Galley. Thank you to that excellent site as well as University of California Press for the DRC, which I was given in exchange for an honest review.
It is available for purchase now.

DuBois was a venerable intellectual, an academic light years ahead of most Americans of any racial or ethnic background. He was the first Black man to graduate from Harvard University, and in addition to his graduate work there, he also studied in Berlin under such luminaries as Max Weber and others. In Europe, he was treated as an equal by those he studied with, and I found myself wondering a trifle sadly—for him, not for us in the USA—why he chose to return here. And the answer is so poignant, so sweetly naïve, that I wanted to sit down and cry when I found it. Because once he had the empirical facts with which to debunk the whole US-Negro-inferiority mis-school of mis-thought, he genuinely believed he would be able to elevate African-Americans to a state of equality in the USA by laying out the facts. The racists that created Jim Crow laws in the south and an unofficial state of cold racism that let Black folk in the Northern states know where they were welcome and where they were not, would surely roll away, he thought, if he could reasonably haul out his charts, his graphs, his statistics, and demonstrate flawlessly, once and for all, that discrimination against Black people was based on incorrect information.

See what I mean? I could just cry for him.

So although DuBois was the first American to go to Europe, study sociology, and return with more and better credentials than any American academic, he could not persuade anyone with authority to bring about change, was not even allowed to present his findings to anybody except Black people in traditional Black colleges, because another school of sociologists, the Chicago school, were busy promoting armchair theories based on little data, or bogus data, all showing that Black people simply were not smart enough to become professionals or take on anything above and beyond manual labor, and of course, he was Black, so he must not be that smart, right?

Pause to allow your primal scream. It’s galling stuff.

Caucasian professors in Chicago had done a bit of reading, and with regard to Black people, decided that their craniums were too small to hold enough brain-iums. And just as there is one reactionary in every crowd that the newspapers will flock to in order to show that there is across-the-board agreement, so did Booker T Washington stand before any crowd that would listen to him (and the white academics just loved him), in order to say that it was the truth, that it was going to be a long time before the Negro was “ready” to do the difficult tasks involving critical thinking that had been so long denied him. Tiny steps; patience; tiny steps. Meanwhile, he extolled his fellow Black Americans to enroll their sons and daughters in programs teaching “industrial education”, so that they would be ready to do manual labor and put food on their families’ tables.

All of the studies that backed this line of thinking were deductive, starting with the answer (inferior beings, manual labor) and then finding the questions to fit that answer. DuBois had done inductive research because he was searching for information rather than looking for a rational-sounding way to keep a group of people entrenched in an economic underclass.

DuBois made the connection between the socialist theory he had studied and the material evidence before him: there were people getting rich off the backs of dark-skinned people, and they had a vested interest in maintaining Black folk as an underclass. Ultimately, he turned to political struggle, and that is how I knew about him, not as a sociologist, but as a Marxist. He also became the father of the interdisciplinary field of African-American studies. He helped found the NAACP.

This scholarly work, like just about anything produced by a university press, is not light reading. Rather, the author presents his thesis and synopsis, and then carefully, brick by brick, starts back at the beginning to build his case. His documentation is flawless, and his sources are diverse and strong. There is some repetition in the text, but that is appropriate in this type of writing. He is not there to entertain the reader, but to provide an authentic piece of research that will stand the test of time, so there is a little bit of a house-that-jack-built quality to the prose.

For serious admirers of DuBois’s work, this will be an excellent addition to your library. For those interested in sociology as a field, this is for you, too. And to those with a literacy level that permits you to access college-level material and who have a strong interest in African-American history and/or civil rights, this is a must-read.

For these readers, I recommend, in addition, The Souls of Black Folk, which I had not regarded as sociology-based material until now, though I have read it twice; and a collection of speeches by DuBois, which I have been intending to review for some time, and which will soon grace this page of my blog.

Morris has done outstanding work, and I like to think that if DuBois were here, he would be proud to see it.

One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, by Tim Weiner*****

onemanagainsttheworldQuestion: What do an old typewriter, a copy machine, Scotch tape, and a razor blade share in common?

Answer: They were all tools used by White House employee Howard Hunt, at President Richard Nixon’s request, to forge a cable that would make (dead) President JFK appear to have ordered the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem.

My, my, my. The things you can learn once you start digging. This is by no means the most important part of the Nixon story as told by veteran political writer Tim Weiner, nor even the most humorous, in a grim, gallows sense; it’s just a small sample of the bizarre, the paranoid, and above all, the crooked, reprehensible deeds committed by Nixon and his creepy co-conspirators during his administration. And by now I am already supposed to have told you that I read this book free, thanks to Net Galley and Henry Holt Company.

So, can we find a way to go back and make it look like I told you during the first paragraph, like I was supposed to? And for God’s sake, don’t tell anyone.

How much will it cost to keep this thing quiet?

I was just a kid during Nixon’s first term. But as young as I was, I have to tell you, dear reader, that the times were so polarized, so politicized (not unlike the time in which we now find ourselves) that issues like Civil Rights and the Vietnam War could not be relegated to the more traditional venues, such as the evening news or the newspaper. As soon as someone opened the newspaper, or turned on the television, or started to talk about something they had seen on the news, everyone within hearing range erupted in one direction or another. It happened at home; it happened at school; and it probably happened in workplaces. Even if I hadn’t been so fascinated, there was no getting away from it.

During the time Nixon was in office, most of the media criticism of his behavior was initially soft-pedaled out of respect for his office. It took awhile before anyone in the journalistic community used the word “lie”, for example. The words I heard were “discrepancies” and “evasions”. And all of us, kids and adults alike, were stunned by the number of times the words “expletive deleted” were used.

The fact that President Nixon referred to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as “black of course…dumb as hell” was redacted until after Marshall’s death. The horror.

All that was a long time ago, of course, and Weiner is unfettered by any of the above considerations. His story is remarkably complete yet succinct, and oh so darkly funny. Even though others in my household do not share my absorption in things Nixon-related, I can’t get through more than three pages of this book without having to stop and repeat something on the page to whoever is walking through the room. For example, after having invaded Cambodia without the consent of Congress, and in direct violation of every US and international military law on the books, Nixon announced the invasion to the American people on television thusly:

“This is not an invasion of Cambodia.”

One more thing: Nixon’s cover up; the vast number of dead people, mostly young, who should have emerged alive and unhurt rather than killed against their will in an unjust war; the outrageous wrongdoings that unfolded in our capital and that were paid for with our tax dollars; and the outright theft of Federal monies for personal gain…the parallels that shake out between Nixon and Stalin, whose biography I reviewed two weeks ago, are disquieting.

And that much really isn’t funny.

Weiner, whose journalistic pedigree to date may make him America’s finest living political writer, does an outstanding job of eloquently stating what needs to be said and its significance without tossing in a lot of arcane trivia to muddy the water. Unlike most that have written about Watergate, he had no role in the crimes that took place and has no personal ax to grind. So if you want to just read everything that gets printed about Watergate, as I have so far, then read this along with everything else. But if you weren’t around during this time in American history and want to read one—and just one—book about Watergate and Richard Nixon’s resignation, then let this be it.

At the end of the book is a treasure trove of web links that will take the reader to primary resources, very valuable to those doing research.

Read it for your own political education, or look at it as grim, terrible humor, whichever suits you. For me, I guess it was some of each. But if you want to avoid stepping into the abyss, whether here in the USA or in whatever nation you call home, you’re better off being aware of what took place in the past.

Because it’s better to be watching, participating, and engaging in honest dialogue, and better to back your statements with actions that demonstrate integrity, than it is to hide in the fucking basement and scheme against enemies, real or imagined. Honest social and political discourse carried out as citizens of the world are what keep the rest of us from going down that rabbit hole.

Weiner’s masterpiece will be available starting July 21, but it’s probably best to order your copy now. So much of the future depends on what we know of the past.

The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It, by John Dean *****

the nixon defenseJohn Dean is a man with a mission, one that has lasted him most of his adult life. This comprehensive tome is the sort of documented, primary evidence that is only done by someone who’s got a large stake in setting the historical record straight. Dean is that man.

It goes to show that even though the First Amendment has become narrower in some ways, what with the NSA helping itself to all of our phone records and no reporters or photographers being permitted in war zones anymore, yet in some ways it has become much broader. If you are curious about these transcripts yourself, you can get onto the website Dean offers at the very beginning of his missive, or you can do as I did, and go to YouTube. I don’t know whether all of the transcripts are there; I wasn’t on a mission with a scope as large as Dean’s, and there were so many, many hours of taped conversation, but YouTube has so much material, some of it historical and/or arcane. But during my surf I did note that there was a lot of what would previously have been considered restricted material there. It wasn’t just the resignation and the Checkers speech; it was a tremendous amount of data. Send out your thanks to the gods of technology, which is what made Dean’s newer and more comprehensive transcription possible.

I was in high school during the Watergate scandal, and I wasn’t in Seattle then, but in a nearly 100% Caucasian,mostly affluent Republican suburb outside Portland, Oregon. My high school peers said things like, “Oh well of course he lied, but he’s still a better president than McGovern would have been”, and “Wow. Rose Mary Woods. Now there’s loyalty!”

My own father, a conservative Republican, scowled at my sister and me as we avidly viewed the presidential resignation speech. He poured himself another, another and yet another glass of bourbon and shook his head, telling us that the president was a fine man who had been viciously hounded by a liberal press. So, for those of us who lived through this American political saga, it’s about context.

For those who seek less detail than is included here or want a novel-like story arc, I would recommend “All the President’s Men”, which is a briefer and less repetitive narrative told by one of the investigative journalists who uncovered the Watergate scandal. For those who are sticklers for detail, either for academic or professional reasons or because, like me, you are addicted to Watergate material, this will be a deeply satisfying read.

To put it another way: if, like me, you had to get a copy of The Pentagon Papers and read what the US government tried to suppress, then you also ought to read this book.

At first, I thought Dean’s tone was a little too plaintive, given that he had cooperated in a cover-up himself, albeit under protest, for nearly a year. Once I got into the trial material and saw the vindictive and purposeful way Richard Nixon and those who worked for him set about to “destroy Dean”, I no longer felt that he protested too much. The machinations of Nixon’s revenge are worth a thesis unto themselves, so I will let that bit go and move on. You’ll have to read the book if you want more about Nixon’s vengeance.

What did Nixon know? I started to provide it in bullet points here, and realized it was just no fun that way. Let me say this much: Dean does answer the question. Nobody living knows more about this subject than John Dean. It has become his life’s work. If you invest yourself in 700+ pages of text, you will not come away feeling cheated, unless you skim and miss things. I didn’t.

It was not only Nixon’s self-righteous attitude when it was clear that he was legally and morally wrong that I found disturbing, but also the tone. The racist and sexist remarks that punctuate the conversations he has with his highest-level advisors cannot simply be written off as relics of that point in history. It is appalling.

What is equally appalling is that upon learning of the burglary at the Democratic headquarters, Nixon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman find no moral objection to what has been done; hell, they’ve authorized far worse things, as we later learn. No, what disturbs them is how badly the job was done, how unprofessional the burglars were. It sounds like something out of a Godfather sequel.

And it just gets worse. By the time Dean decides that Nixon cannot be redeemed and goes to the prosecutor to explain what has happened and try to gain immunity, we see Nixon vow first not to speak to him and to fire him as White House counsel; then to “destroy” him, which is ugly but can have multiple meanings, literal and figurative…and then ultimately Dean must enter a witness protection program for awhile because of the mountains of death threats that are received daily. Dean’s counsel wants to know whether Nixon would try to have him killed, and at first Dean, who did not ruffle easily, thought not. But then he mused that it was possible the president would arrange something through his pal, Bebe Rebozo.

I had heard from friends who had read more than I had that Mitchell, Haldeman and Ehrlichman were serious thugs. This transcript and the brief paraphrasing that connects its pieces (not unlike Sheehan’s Pentagon Papers) makes all of it quite real. This man was supposedly the leader of the “free world”! He used public monies to bring down retribution on his enemies (his own word), and used other people’s tax dollars to fund a remodeling and extension of his home in San Clemente. He continually revised the truth according to what was convenient for him.

At first, I wondered: did the guy have some sort of psychiatric disorder that made him unable to process clearly? But as the story unfolded, I could see exactly how well he tracked events. His temperament and loyalties were ever-changing and always in line with his own self-interest. He could not, absolutely could not bear for the burglary scandal to touch his dear friend and former law partner, John Mitchell, who headed up the Committee to Re-elect the President. Absolutely not! It was unthinkable, but only until the jig was obviously up. And when Mitchell had to be sacrificed, then Nixon just didn’t talk to him anymore. That was it, over, done. And then, everything was Mitchell’s fault; his old friend was more like a waste basket by the door. When you see a problem, toss it onto the Mitchell pile. He did it.

Then of course he had other two best friends, Haldeman and Ehrlichman, who were the only people he still trusted (and though this book is about politics, I found it interesting that the First Lady is never mentioned; he doesn’t eat dinner with her, doesn’t have her out on the presidential yacht…we hear from Tricia and Julie, his daughters, during the peak of crisis, but the guy’s wife was practically invisible).

But Haldeman and Ehrlichman should not be culpable for all the illegal things they had helped him plan and execute, and so he decided that his counsel, John Dean, should serve as the go-between, so that everything that was told to Nixon by Dean would (he thought) be covered by attorney-client privilege. And this is when Dean begins to squirm, as things that are illegal, immoral, and untenable are sent via him as the presidential filter. At first he just does what the boss says; then he starts to tentatively warn him that he’s getting into some deep water here; and eventually he is laying it on the line, and Nixon tells him that of course, those discussions never occurred, and these things never happened.

Later, when Dean realizes that he cannot work with Nixon without breaking the law, he goes to the prosecutor, hoping to avoid prison. Then, Dean is no longer the guy Nixon trusts, and in fact every bad thing anyone who ever worked for Nixon ever did, is said to have been done by Dean. It is a fascinating transformation. And the way Nixon first clings to Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and seems to actually be a little afraid to fire them, but he then is ready to lay blame at their door (while suggesting to Haldeman on the side that he can pardon him when the whole thing is over). Fascinating. It is so dreadful that I found myself tempted to add this book to my “horror” shelf.

Here’s the obvious analogy I see: when people go to the zoo, some of them want to see the giraffes, the hippos, the monkeys, and then they get their cotton candy and take the kiddies home.

But others have to visit the small dark building where the reptiles slither around.

And so it is with Nixon buffs: we cannot help but be transfixed by that which seems so sinister, so repulsive to our own humanity. We look because we can’t stand not to look. Once we look, we cannot look away.

Dean’s revenge is in having the last word about what was done during that terrible time, and in making absolutely plain what the truth is. He is painstaking in using new technology to improve the historical record. Payback is sweetest when you are absolutely correct, and if there is a theme to this publication, there it is. And now most of the ugliest players are dead and cannot come back to wreck havoc upon the living anymore. May they rot where they lie.

If like me you cannot look away, read Dean’s record of this criminal conspiracy to cover up covered up obstructed justice by the man who held more power than any other politician, and by his loyal minions. The repetition of the conversations in some ways is entirely appropriate because it shows the level of obsession, and in particular, of Nixon’s obsession with the power that his presidency provided, at least for a time, and how badly the public’s trust and resources can be misused and abused.

If you read it at night, you may want to leave the light on when you go to sleep. Nixon is dead, but you just never know who the hell is out there.

What Women Want, by Deborah L. Rhode *****

What Women Want

Yes, thank you, I am a feminist. And in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision around the Hobby Lobby’s so-called “right” to deny its female employees the contraception of their choice via their health insurance, Rhode’s manifesto could not be more timely. The book is not only right on the money politically, but it is scholarly, accessible, and written by a woman whose credentials cannot be questioned. Rhode is a Stanford law professor who clerked for Thurgood Marshall. She founded the school’s course on gender, but still sees plenty of room for improvement…everywhere. She’s right. Thanks to Net Galley for promoting this important book.

Rhode points out that in spite of the all-too-common mistaken perception that gender bias is a thing of the past, women constitute less than one half percent of the content in the average history textbook. Furthermore:

In virtually every major dimension of social status, financial

well-being, and physical safety, women still fare worse than

men. Sexual violence remains common, and reproductive

rights are by no means secure.

Women are still primarily responsible for child care, and they are still penalized for this on the job. Abortion providers are rare due to local laws and increased insurance premiums, courtesy of virtually unfettered terrorism against women’s health clinics. Wealthy women will always be able to terminate an unwanted pregnancy because they can travel, but the poor, who often have the most urgent need to exercise this choice, are stuck if they can’t get to a county or state where the service is available, and pay for attendant travel costs associated with other red-tape hurdles such as waiting periods.

The USA has the second-highest rate of reported rape in the world, and a quarter of all women experience violence from their intimate partner; a fifth are raped or experience attempted rape.

Are you listening?

Rhode carefully delineates every problem faced by women in the USA today, and she argues, blow by blow, citation by citation, what is needed. Women should be organizing. We aren’t, at least not in the numbers that we need to in order to bring about social change. In fact, this reviewer would suggest that we are losing ground, and it is because so many of us don’t show up to carry a sign, wear an armband, or carry a bullhorn.

The only weak place in Rhode’s release, if there is one, has to do with women of color. Her analysis there is shallow. However, the other sections apply to all women, regardless of color or ethnicity. We all need respect in the workplace and parity with our male coworkers or colleagues in pay and advancement. We all need affordable–if not free–childcare. We all need reproductive freedom that is between ourselves and our doctors. And we all need to be able to speak up and be perceived as “assertive” rather than “aggressive”. We are not there yet.

This reviewer has twice marched in Washington DC for women’s right to reproductive freedom, and cannot believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is dead. What’s that about?

If you are female or care about someone who is, you should get this book. Rhode is crystal clear and absolutely correct; if women cannot be equal now, then when?

The American Sisterhood: Writings of the Feminist Movement from Colonial Times to the Present, by Wendy Martin*****

Please note that this resource is copyright dated 1972. You’ll have to consider the word “present” in the title with a grain of salt. It would be great to see an updated version published, but right now, the word “feminist” carries such strangely negative connotations that no new edition may be printed…at least, until the pendulum swings back where it belongs. This, like most political assertions, is a matter of perspective. Now you have mine.

This out-of-print, unpretentious-looking volume is a treasure trove of speeches and letters from feminist luminaries, from Sojourner Truth and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, on up through Emma Goldman and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, to the so-called radical feminists of the 1960’s, such as Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. If you are interested in American history, the history of women’s rights, or in need of primary sources regarding same, snap up a copy of this if you can lay your hands on it. Mine is in woeful condition, and the ISBN page fell out; I had to get it from Amazon’s website! A scholarly edition I am so glad to have kept over many years, many moves, and the occasional furtive looting of my shelves by children no longer at home. A must-have for students of the history of women.

Rebel Streets, by Tom Malloy *****

This is the first novel I have read about what are referred to in Belfast as “The Troubles”. The protagonist, Jimmy Fitzgerald,is a Catholic youth and a member of the IRA. Virtually all the young men in the Catholic (i.e., working class)neighborhood there belong. And in the opening scene, Jimmy is being tortured. He is being treated in ways that the Geneva Convention was created to prevent, yet it doesn’t. He is a “terrorist”, and so he can be treated any way they like, proof or no proof. The scene goes so far as to have him placed in a helicopter after the beating is over and he has regained consciousness. They drop him from the helicopter…and he goes only ten feet before he hits the ground. He is broken. After spitting in their faces, after beating after beating in which he will only swear at his interrogators or say “I love Ireland”, he is broken. He only wants to live, and to be gone, and we might hope that the information he gives them is false…but it isn’t. He gives up safe houses. He gives up friends. He does it with the condition that his closest friend since boyhood, Louis Duffy, will be spared.

When it’s over, he is assigned to be an informant.He must meet with Detective Ian McDonald, whose perspective we also gain later in the book. He is outwardly an ordinary man, a man who can look himself in the mirror and like what he sees every morning, one who is responsible for enforcing the law, upholding order, and stopping the Irish attacks on the British troops that make their lives hell. He has a wife and a little boy he loves, and he thinks that he is a good person. Some might see him as merely cynical. I went into this book with a bias, and I see a monster there. I hope that others who read this book will think so, too.

Catholics are considered a lower class, Finian dirt on the floor of Belfast. We learn early on of a job Jimmy and his “Da” were given cleaning out the coal cellar of a Protestant family. The family, clearly enjoying a much higher standard of living, is converting to gas central heat, but they warn Jimmy and his Da that they have inventoried and expect everything to be there when they are done. Jimmy and his father are horrified and seething at the suggestion that they might walk off with their one-day-employer’s coal in their pockets. This kind of rage beats in the hearts of most native Irish (as opposed to the Orangemen imported generations ago by the Brits to give some credence to the lie that Belfast is majority Protestant).

Later, much later in the story, after British cops have kicked in doors all over the neighborhood looking for IRA members, after the family furniture in one residence (and we can infer, many others) has been shredded, mirrors broken, the family’s only television set smashed, an Irish mother turns to her small son and asks, “Who was it put your Grandpa in prison?”
The lad replies,”The Brits”.
“Who?”
“The Brits.”
“Aye…Who wants to get your Da and lock him away?”
“The Brits.”
“Who?”
……..
“Why did they do this to ye?”
“Because I’m Irish.”
“An’ who is it that hates the Irish, who is it robs the Irish, who is it murders the Irish?”
“The Brits.”
(first person, quoting author here)”She took his head in both her hands to whisper, “An’ who will protect yer mother from the Brits when he’s a strong young man?”
“I will.”
“Why?”
“Because I’m Irish.”
The mother calls her son a “wee man” and a “brave Belfast boy”.

This novel spoke to me deeply. I was a supporter of Sinn Fein during the hunger strikes of the 80’s, and I, along with many other Irish Americans of whatever generation, gave money for humanitarian aid. Two-thirds of the funds that paid for Irish independence came from Irish American pockets. The same has held true for the cause of making Ireland free and united once more.

Not everyone will appreciate this novel as I did. The IRA has had press that likens them to serial killers when “The Troubles” took place, and very few rejoinders sent to large newspapers ever saw the light of day.

But if your heart beats for one united Ireland, or if you enjoy one helluva ride and you are neutral or undecided on the Irish Question, then buy this book. Read it. You haven’t read anything like it lately, I promise.