Essential Books on Richard Nixon
There are countless books on Richard Nixon, and it comes with good reason, aside from being elected America’s thirty-seventh President, he successfully ended American fighting in Vietnam, improved international relations with the U.S.S.R. and China, and became the only President to ever resign the office, as a result of the Watergate scandal.
“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of America’s most consequential figures to the height of political power, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best books on Richard Nixon.
Being Nixon by Evan Thomas
In this revelatory biography, Evan Thomas delivers a radical, unique portrait of America’s thirty-seventh president, a contradictory figure who was both determinedly optimistic and tragically flawed. One of the principal architects of the modern Republican Party and its “silent majority” of disaffected whites and conservative ex-Dixiecrats, Nixon was also deemed a liberal in some quarters for his efforts to desegregate Southern schools, create the Environmental Protection Agency, and end the draft.
The son of devout Quakers, Richard Nixon (not unlike his rival John F. Kennedy) grew up in the shadow of an older, favored brother and thrived on conflict and opposition. Through high school and college, in the navy and in politics, Nixon was constantly leading crusades and fighting off enemies real and imagined. He possessed the plainspoken eloquence to reduce American television audiences to tears with his career-saving “Checkers” speech; meanwhile, Nixon’s darker half hatched schemes designed to take down his political foes, earning him the notorious nickname “Tricky Dick.”
Campaign of the Century by Irwin F. Gellman
The 1960 presidential election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon is one of the most frequently described political events of the twentieth century, yet the accounts to date have been remarkably unbalanced. Far more attention is given to Kennedy’s side than to Nixon’s.
The imbalance began with the first book on that election, Theodore White’s The Making of the President 1960 – in which (as he later admitted) White deliberately cast Kennedy as the hero and Nixon as the villain – and it has been perpetuated in almost every book since then. Few historians have attempted an unbiased account of the election, and none have done the archival research that Irwin F. Gellman has done.
Based on previously unused sources such as the FBI’s surveillance of JFK and the papers of Leon Jaworski, vice-presidential candidate Henry Cabot Lodge, and many others, this book presents the first even-handed history of both the primary campaigns and the general election. The result is a fresh, engaging chronicle that shatters long‑held myths and reveals the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates.
Richard Nixon: The Life by Conrad Black
At the end of WWII, navy lieutenant “Nick” Nixon returned from the Pacific and set his cap at Congress, an idealistic dreamer seeking to build a better world. Yet amid the turns of that now legendary 1946 campaign, Nixon’s finer attributes gave way to unapologetic ruthlessness. The story of that transformation is the stunning overture to John A. Farrell’s magisterial biography of the president who came to embody postwar American resentment and division.
Within four years of his first victory, Nixon was a U.S. senator; in six, the vice president of the United States of America. “Few came so far, so fast, and so alone,” Farrell writes. Nixon’s sins as a candidate were legion; and in one unlawful secret plot, as Farrell reveals here, Nixon acted to prolong the Vietnam War for his own political purposes. Finally elected president in 1969, Nixon packed his staff with bright young men who devised forward-thinking reforms addressing health care, welfare, civil rights, and protection of the environment. It was a fine legacy, but Nixon cared little for it. He aspired to make his mark on the world stage instead, and his 1972 opening to China was the first great crack in the Cold War.
All The President’s Men by Bob Woodward
The most devastating political detective story of the century: two Washington Post reporters, whose brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation smashed the Watergate scandal wide open, tell the behind-the-scenes drama the way it really happened.
One of Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books, this is the book that changed America. Published just months before President Nixon’s resignation, All the President’s Men revealed the full scope of the scandal and introduced for the first time the mysterious “Deep Throat.” Beginning with the story of a simple burglary at Democratic headquarters and then continuing through headline after headline, Bernstein and Woodward deliver a riveting firsthand account of their reporting.
The Contender by Irwin F. Gellman
Unsurpassed in the fifteen years since its original publication, Irwin F. Gellman’s exhaustively researched work is the definitive account of Richard Nixon’s rise from political unknown to the verge of achieving the vice presidency. To document Nixon’s congressional career, Gellman combed the files of Nixon’s 1946, 1948, and 1950 campaigns, papers from the executive sessions of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and every document dated through 1952 at the Richard Nixon Library.
This singular volume corrects many earlier written accounts. For example, there was no secret funding of Nixon’s senate campaign in 1950, and Nixon won universal praise for his evenhandedness as a member of HUAC. The first book of a projected five-volume examination of this complex man’s entire career, this work stands as the definitive political portrait of Nixon as a fast-rising young political star.
The Blood Telegram by Gary J. Bass
This magnificent history provides the first full account of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s secret support for Pakistan in 1971 as it committed shocking atrocities in Bangladesh – which led to war between India and Pakistan, shaped the fate of Asia, and left major strategic consequences for the world today.
Drawing on previously unheard White House tapes, recently declassified documents, and his own extensive investigative reporting, Gary Bass uncovers an astonishing unknown story of superpower brinkmanship, war, scandal, and conscience. Revelatory, authoritative, and compulsively readable, The Blood Telegram is a thrilling chronicle of a pivotal chapter in American foreign policy.
Three Days at Camp David by Jeffrey E. Garten
Over the course of three days – from August 13 to 15, 1971 – at a secret meeting at Camp David, President Richard Nixon and his brain trust changed the course of history. Before that weekend, all national currencies were valued to the U.S. dollar, which was convertible to gold at a fixed rate. That system, established by the Bretton Woods Agreement at the end of World War II, was the foundation of the international monetary system that helped fuel the greatest expansion of middle-class prosperity the world has ever seen.
In making his decision, Nixon shocked world leaders, bankers, investors, traders, and everyone involved in global finance. Jeffrey E. Garten argues that many of the roots of America’s dramatic retrenchment in world affairs began with that momentous event that was an admission that America could no longer afford to uphold the global monetary system. It opened the way for massive market instability and speculation that has plagued the world economy ever since, but at the same time it made possible the gigantic expansion of trade and investment across borders which created our modern era of once unimaginable progress.
King Richard by Michael Dobbs
In January 1973, Richard Nixon had just been inaugurated after winning re-election in a historic landslide. He enjoyed an almost 70 percent approval rating. But by April 1973, his presidency had fallen apart as the Watergate scandal metastasized into what White House counsel John Dean called “a full-blown cancer.” King Richard is the intimate, utterly absorbing narrative of the tension-packed hundred days when the Watergate conspiracy unraveled as the burglars and their handlers turned on one another, exposing the crimes of a vengeful president.
Drawing on thousands of hours of newly-released taped recordings, Michael Dobbs takes us into the heart of the conspiracy, recreating these traumatic events in cinematic detail. He captures the growing paranoia of the principal players and their desperate attempts to deflect blame as the noose tightens around them. We eavesdrop on Nixon plotting with his aides, raging at his enemies, while also finding time for affectionate moments with his family. The result is an unprecedentedly vivid, close-up portrait of a president facing his greatest crisis.
Nixon: Ruin and Recovery by Stephen E. Ambrose
Watergate is a story of high drama and low skulduggery, of lies and bribes, of greed and lust for power. With access to the central characters, the public papers, and the trials transcripts, Ambrose explains how Nixon destroyed himself through a combination of arrogance and indecision, allowing a “third-rate burglary” to escalate into a scandal that overwhelmed his presidency. Within a decade and a half however, Nixon had become one of America’s elder statesmen, respected internationally and at home even by those who had earlier clamored loudest for his head.
Kennedy & Nixon by Christopher J. Matthews
John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon each dreamed of becoming the great young leader of their age. First as friends, then as bitter enemies, they were linked by a historic rivalry that changed both them and their country. Fresh, entertaining, and revealing, Kennedy & Nixon reveals that the early fondness between the two men – Kennedy, for example, told a trusted friend that if he didn’t receive the Democratic nomination in 1960, he would vote for Nixon – degenerated into distrust and bitterness. Using White House tapes, this book exposes Richard Nixon’s dread of a Kennedy “restoration” in 1972 drove the dark deeds of Watergate.
Nixon and Kissinger by Robert Dallek
Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were two of the most compelling, contradictory, and important leaders in America in the second half of the 20th century. Both were largely self-made men, brimming with ambition, driven by their own inner demons, and often ruthless in pursuit of their goals.
Tapping into a wealth of recently declassified documents and tapes, Robert Dallek uncovers fascinating details about Nixon and Kissinger’s tumultuous personal relationship – their collaboration and rivalry – and the extent to which they struggled to outdo each other in the reach of foreign policy achievements.
He also brilliantly analyzes their dealings with power brokers at home and abroad, including the nightmare of Vietnam, the brilliant opening to China, detente with the Soviet Union, the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, the disastrous overthrow of Allende in Chile, and growing tensions between India and Pakistan, while recognizing how both men were continually plotting to distract the American public’s attention from the growing scandal of Watergate.
One Man Against the World by Tim Weiner
Based largely on documents declassified only in the last few years, this insightful gem among books on Richard Nixon paints a devastating portrait of a tortured yet brilliant man who led the country largely according to a deep-seated insecurity and distrust of not only his cabinet and congress, but the American population at large. In riveting, tick-tock prose, Weiner illuminates how the Vietnam War and the Watergate controversy that brought about Nixon’s demise were inextricably linked.
From the hail of garbage and curses that awaited Nixon upon his arrival at the White House, when he became the president of a nation as deeply divided as it had been since the end of the Civil War, to the unprecedented action Nixon took against American citizens, who he considered as traitorous as the army of North Vietnam, to the infamous break-in and the tapes that bear remarkable record of the most intimate and damning conversations between the president and his confidantes, Weiner narrates the history of Nixon’s anguished presidency in fascinating and fresh detail.
Six Crises by Richard Nixon
Written at a low point in his career and one of the best books by Richard Nixon, Six Crises examines six major political situations that required crisis management on the author’s part.
Pat and Dick by Will Swift
In this necessary addition to the ever-growing index of books on Richard Nixon, biographer Will Swift brings his years of experience as a historian and marital therapist to this unique examination of a long-misunderstood marriage. Nixon the man was enormously complicated: brilliant, insecure, sometimes coldly calculating, and capable of surprising affection with his wife.
Much less is known about Pat. With the help of personal writings and interviews with family and friends, Swift unveils a woman who was warm and vivacious, yet much shrewder and more accomplished than she has been given credit for. From Dick’s unrelenting crusade to marry the glamorous teacher through the myriad crises of his political career, the Nixons’ story is filled with hopes and disappointments, both intimate and global.
The Fall of Richard Nixon by Tom Brokaw
In August 1974, after his involvement in the Watergate scandal could no longer be denied, Richard Nixon became the first and only president to resign from office in anticipation of certain impeachment. The year preceding that moment was filled with shocking revelations and bizarre events, full of power politics, legal jujitsu, and high-stakes showdowns, and with head-shaking surprises every day. As the country’s top reporters worked to discover the truth, the public was overwhelmed by the confusing and almost unbelievable stories about activities in the Oval Office.
Tom Brokaw, who was then the young NBC News White House correspondent, gives us a nuanced and thoughtful chronicle, recalling the players, the strategies, and the scandal that brought down a president.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Richard Nixon, check out our list of The 15 Best Books on President John F. Kennedy!