Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Jim Patrick

What I Read: The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: The Last of the President’s Men by Bob Woodward is an odd, but fascinating, addition to the voluminous published works about the Watergate scandal that forced President Nixon from office in 1974.  The recent New York Times review describes the book as “slight but readable” and “decidedly slender.”  The book consists of 182 pages of text, followed by a 77-page Appendix of previously unreleased White House memos and correspondence.  The reason the book is appearing now, 40 years after Woodward and Bernstein’s influential All the President’s Men, is that in 2014 Alexander Butterfield decided to entrust Bob Woodward with a draft of an unpublished memoir and several boxes of notes and documents from his days as a Nixon administration presidential aide.

When questioned at a congressional hearing, Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of Nixon’s secret taping system.  This testimony was crucial in the unraveling of the Watergate cover-up, but until now Butterfield has not shared the inside details of his years serving as “Haldeman’s Haldeman” (i.e. as chief aide to Nixon’s top assistant).

What I Thought: This book is not the first title I would recommend to someone unfamiliar with Watergate.  Rather, it brings to life the tense moral dilemma faced by Alexander Butterfield when, questioned under oath, he felt compelled to disclose his knowledge of the White House tapes.  Woodward skillfully recreates the story (and impact) of Butterfield’s testimony.  He also conveys the conflicted mix of pride and melancholy that Butterfield still feels today with respect to his role in exposing the Watergate cover-up.  The personal cost to Butterfield is also chronicled, including an abrupt end to his acclaimed military career and widespread ostracism by former friends and colleagues. 

The book includes several revealing anecdotes about Nixon’s obsessions and neuroses.  For example, Nixon was angered by the number of White House offices displaying photographs of John F. Kennedy.  The book includes memos detailing the planned “sanitization” of these photos.  Similar memos are included about the invitation lists for presidential dinners and church services.  Butterfield’s impressions of Nixon are of a brilliant statesman who was personally isolated and consumed by his hatred of his perceived enemies.  These impressions are not unique to Butterfield, but, as told by a member of Nixon’s inner circle, they are especially powerful, poignant, and credible.

Readalikes: The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat by Bob Woodard; The Nixon Defense by John Dean

Or look this book up on NoveList!