The Nixon Tapes
by Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter
(Click for Amazon book review)
Click here for 9 full quotes from Richard Nixon in the book The Nixon Tapes, by Douglas Brinkley.
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OnTheIssues.org BOOK REVIEW:
This month marks the 40th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation. Accordingly, three new books about Nixon were released just in time for the "festivities."
You'll note that all three new books mention the White House tapes; the final set of tapes was released a year ago, in August 2013. So was it necessary to wait a whole year just for the 40th anniversary? Well, yes, because that's how long it takes to transcribe tapes and make them into a book. John Dean says he spent 4 years transcribing 600 new conversations from Nixon's tapes (those are the old tapes, from September 1972 through April 1973, of which 250 conversations had been previously transcribed). Brinkley claims in "The Nixon Tapes" a similarly tedious process to transcribe the new set of tapes, which cover the years 1971-1972.
- The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972, by Douglas Brinkley & Luke Nichter, released July 29, 2014
That's this book; reviewed below; Brinkley also wrote Tour of Duty, which OnTheIssues excerpted and reviewed.
- Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate, by Ken Hughes, released July 29, 2014
- The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It , by John W. Dean, released July 29, 2014
Dean claims he spent four years transcribing White House tapes for this book. Dean, who served in Nixon's administration, previously wrote Worse Than Watergate, which OnTheIssues excerpted and reviewed.
Will there be more books derived from the same transcripts? Probably yes. Brinkley notes, "To fully transcribe Nixon's tapes would take perhaps 150,000 pages, a task that may never be completed." This set of conversations is just a selection. Other selections are possible, from which future historians can draw other conclusions.
Brinkley's conclusions are intended to add to the knowledge about Nixon which the world already knows, but really Brinkley is adding depth rather than breadth of knowledge. There are no shocking new revelations here -- unsurprising after 40 years -- but those four decades lend some retrospective, which Brinkley adds in a preface to each transcript, explaining its context and outcome. OnTheIssues excerpted and reviewed a predecessor set of White House tapes, the Watergate Transcripts, published in 1974. That book was news reporting at the time; this new book is a retrospective analysis instead.
Will there be future books derived from transcripts from other presidents? Unlikely. Watergate revealed that Nixon had a taping system; later presidents shunned them (or at least, we don't know about them!) because of the trouble they caused Nixon. Also, Nixon's system was continuously taping -- it had numerous microphones in the Oval Office and elsewhere, plus a mixing device -- capturing a total of 3,700 hours, which is more than all of Nixon's predecessor combined (p. x). Presidents since FDR have taped, but only specific conversations, not continuously. As Brinkley describes:
We at OnTheIssues are split over the value of books like this one. One editor says, "Why should anyone care about long-dead politicians? We all know what the new tapes show: Nixon was great at foreign policy but lousy at domestic policy." Yes, this new book does say that, and not in a particularly novel way. But I note that one of the most popular TV shows this year is "House of Cards," which is about the inner machinations of the White House. This book is the real thing -- and shows the inner machinations before Nixon's house of cards collapsed.
Shortly after he was inaugurated on January 20, 1969, he ordered the dismantling of Lyndon Johnson's recording system. Two years later, he changed his mind. Nixon mused that none of his predecessors had employed sound-activated devices to capture everything. He wanted to be the first. Nixon presumed that his White House tapes would be an invaluable source for his memoirs. He believed, however, that in order to create an accurate record of his presidency, he should record everything, without discretion. What Kennedy did - taping moments of crisis like his ExComm meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis - struck him as window-dressing history. Nixon wore a pagerlike device provided by the Secret Service, and when it was within range of one of the taping locations, recording started automatically. There was no on or off switch. While not all are decipherable due to intermittently poor audio quality, the Nixon tapes represent a trove for historians unlike any record left by other presidents during the nation's history.
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, OnTheIssues.org, August 2014
| OnTheIssues.org excerpts: (click on issues for details)
With open homosexuality, vitality goes out of society.
Families & Children|
Smart girls don't swear; it reduces their femininity.
No official criticism of USSR's mistreatment of Soviet Jews.
Going to China forced Russia to hold US summit meeting.
Use American power to create world peace for decades.
China summit and Russia summit give Americans hope.
Principles & Values|
JFK created a mythology; we should too.
A book called "1972" would be a helluva good book.
War & Peace|
Bomb North Vietnam and let U.S. protests go up in flames.
The above quotations are from The Nixon Tapes
by Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter.