cover image The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It

The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It

John W. Dean. Viking, $35 (720 p) ISBN 978-0-670-02536-7

The secret conversations of President Richard Nixon chronicle an unfolding scandal in intimate detail in this absorbing history of the Watergate cover-up. Dean (Blind Ambition), Nixon’s White House counsel and a central figure in events, recaps hundreds of taped recordings of discussions between Nixon and his aides, many never before transcribed, on the brewing Watergate affair from the June, 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters to the July, 1973 dismantling of the recording system. The discussions transition quickly from confusion over the arrest of Nixon campaign operatives to an improvised plot to conceal the burglars’ connections to the White House and other Nixon Administration misdeeds through a farrago of hush-money and perjury whose deceptions compound over time. Dean weaves deftly edited excerpts of dialogue and shrewd commentary into a densely detailed but very readable narrative of the conspiracy as its principals cobble it together. He’s hardly a disinterested observer; much of the book centers on Nixon’s “defense” against revelations Dean offered to investigators—culminating in his sensational televised Senate testimony—and is thus also Dean’s defense of his own actions. Still, this is one of the best and fullest accounts of the Watergate cover-up, one that conveys in Nixon’s own voice the casual criminality of his troubled presidency. (July 29)