cover image King Richard: Nixon and Watergate—an American Tragedy

King Richard: Nixon and Watergate—an American Tragedy

Michael Dobbs. Knopf, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-35009-9

The unraveling of Richard Nixon’s presidency plays out in intimate detail in this vivid recreation of a key period in the Watergate scandal. Drawing on recently released tapes from Nixon’s secret White House recording system, historian Dobbs (The Unwanted) focuses on the six months between Nixon’s second inauguration, when he was riding high from his 1972 reelection landslide and peace treaty with North Vietnam, and July 17, 1973, when the press first reported on the existence of the recording devices, setting him on the path to resignation in August 1974. It’s a gripping story of decline under pressure as Nixon and his aides confront mounting extortion demands from the Watergate burglars—“You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten,” Nixon assures White House counsel John Dean in a discussion of hush-money procedures—and grow increasingly desperate and fractious as investigators close in. Dobbs skillfully quotes from the tapes to paint colorful, nuanced portraits of White House yes-men, a manipulative Henry Kissinger, and a Nixon who is vulnerable, melancholy, paranoid, and vengeful. (“We’re going to kill them... if it’s the last thing I do in this office,” he seethes about his media detractors.) The result is an indelible study of a political antihero. Photos. Agent: Raphael Sagalyn, ICM/Sagalyn. (May)