The presidency of Richard Nixon /

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Main Author: Small, Melvin
Format: Book
Published: Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, 1999.
Series:American presidency series
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Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In this installment of the University Press of Kansas's American Presidency series, Small joins the ranks of the many scholars who have attempted to know and understand Richard Nixon. He gently inverts the conventional wisdom that the Nixon presidency was more notable for its foreign policy than for its domestic achievements. As he tackles his subject with a topical rather than chronological approach, beginning with the Vietnam War, Small takes pains to present all of the domestic and global issues demanding the attention and affecting the decisions of Nixon and his staff at the time. While acknowledging the success of Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in China and the Soviet Union, Small damns the administration for its less-publicized forays in foreign policy, including American involvement in Pakistan, Chile and the Middle East. On the domestic front, however, Small argues that Nixon was the author of unheralded successes. Nixon was the first president to call for welfare reform, and his administration was responsible for enforcing much of the progressive social legislation of the 1960s. Thus, Small credits Nixon with the desegregation of Southern schools, achievements in women's rights and following through on environmental initiatives. Devoted more to the intricacies of policy than to either the dramas of electoral politics or Nixon's tragic character, Small's book is engaging enough to serve as a good introduction for readers who are as interested in the Nixon presidency as they are in Nixon's personality. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Small (History/Wayne State Univ.) renders a carefully balanced assessment of a complex but accomplished and important president. From the 1948 Alger Hiss investigation, when Congressman Richard Nixon first emerged into the national consciousness, until his departure from the White House in disgrace in 1974 and his death 20 years later, the presence of Nixon, even in defeat and failure, defined American politics, so much that Small argues that the Cold War era can be considered largely ``an age of Nixon.'' In contrast to recent interest in Nixon's political beginnings (e.g., Irwin F. Gellman, The Contender, p. 936), Small focuses here on the substantial accomplishments and misdeeds of Nixon's turbulent presidency, as well as his enigmatic character and his lasting influence on America and its political institutions. Small finds little to dispute the post-Watergate perception of Nixon as a nasty, ruthless, and deceitful politician who attempted to subvert the American political system. The author charges that ``no president before or after ordered or participated in so many serious illegal and extralegal acts that violated constitutional principles'' and that Nixon bequeathed a toxic legacy of cynicism and mistrust of government that haunts us still. However, taking up such issues as d‚tente toward the Soviet Union and China, his often adroit stewardship of domestic programs and the economy, Small gives Nixon credit for significant achievements, the influence of which may be equally lasting. Without developing an elaborate argument in support of his point, Small suggests that Nixon's foreign policy achievements, while substantial, have been oversold (marred by his intransigent handling of the war in Southeast Asia), and his solid domestic accomplishments unfairly overlooked. Small argues that Nixon's environmental initiatives make him the most environmentally conscious president since Theodore Roosevelt, and that he dramatically expanded funds for medical research and the arts and humanities. A valuably fair assessment, which avoids the extremes of rehabilitating Nixon and vilifying him.

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