|Six Crises, first edition, 1962
Richard Nixon was born on a citrus ranch in Yorba Linda, California in 1913 to a devoutly Quaker family. As a small child he was taught to read by his mother. Already knowing how to read when he entered school enabled him to skip from the first to the third grade. In his book RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon Nixon writes of his early life in Yorba Linda -- "After homework and chores, I often sat by the fireplace or at the kitchen table immersed in a book or magazine. We took the Los Angeles Times, the Saturday Evening Post, and the Ladies' Home Journal. Aunt Olive, my mother's youngest sister, and her husband, Oscar Marshburn, lived in nearby Whittier and subscribed to the National Geographic. Nearly every time I visited them I borrowed a copy. It was my favorite magazine."
|Young Nixon, c.1925
In RN Nixon says that he had to turn down scholarships to Harvard and Yale because his family could not afford the cost of travel to the East Coast. Instead he stayed at home and attended the Quaker-affiliated Whittier College. At Whittier, an English professor encouraged him to read the works of Tolstoy. Nixon recalls that his favorite of Tolstoy's novels was Resurection but "I was even more deeply affected by the philosophical works of his later years. His program for a peaceful revolution for the downtrodden Russian masses, his passionate opposition to war, and his emphasis on the spiritual elements in all aspects of life left a more lasting impression on me than his novels. At that time in my life I became a Tolstoyan."
|Leaflet from Congressional campaign, 1946
Like many politicians, Nixon often exaggerated the humbleness of his origins. His mother's family, the Milhouses, were among the most prominent and affluent families in the Whittier area. One of Nixon's many Milhous relatives living nearby when he was growing up was his cousin Jessamyn West. A decade older than Nixon, after graduating from Whittier College and doing graduate work at Oxford University, West went on to a successful career as a fiction writer, including numerous stories published in The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and other top literary publications.
|Movie starring Gary Cooper
as a character based on Nixon's
Although he wrote ten books over the course of his lifetime, Nixon struggled with putting his thoughts down on paper. He much preferred thrashing out issues in a debate forum where his exceptional ability to retain information came into play. It was only after losing to John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election, when it seemed possible that his political career was over, that former Vice-President Nixon reluctantly turned his attention to writing a book.
|Senate campaign, 1950.
|On television with Jack Paar holding Six Crises, c.1962
In September 1961, Nixon announced his candidacy for governor of California, rejecting the opinions of his advisers who said he was out of touch with California politics and that he would not have the full support of the state's Republican Party. Nixon, his assistants, and Doubleday worked quickly to get the memoir finished and released by the spring of 1962 when the gubernatorial campaign would go into full swing.
|Life cover, 1962
Biographer Ambrose calls Six Crises "as complex as the author himself...It reminded voters that [Nixon] had been Vice-President for eight years, that he had vast experience in government, and that he could be a good loser...He told some fibs, was guilty of some exaggerations, but overall wrote an accurate, if partisan and one-sided, record of the events he described."
|RN, first edition, 1978
Though the 1962 campaign was a disaster, Six Crises was a great success that Nixon took pride in for the rest of his life. Ambrose writes -- "Six Crises took on a life of its own, until Nixon began referring to it almost in the third person, as if he had nothing to do with its creation. During Watergate, he would constantly urge his aides to read Six Crises for inspiration and insight."
|Nixon with Diane Sawyer, 1978
(photo by Harry Benson)
Living in relative seclusion at this home in San Clemente, California Nixon worked on his memoirs over the next three years. Wearing a suit and tie, he would arrive at his office on the San Clemente compound early in the morning ready to work. According to Jonathan Aitken in Nixon: A Life, Nixon's attitude towards what would go into the book was "We won't grovel; we won't confess; we won't do a mea culpa act; but we will be one hundred percent accurate."
One of Sawyer's tasks for Nixon was to make a chart delineating the events of Watergate. Sawyer explained to Parade -- "I had read all the transcripts of the tapes that were public at the time and all the legal books and I could weirdly say, 'Oh, that’s on page 253,' when something was mentioned. I went out as a kind of researcher. I didn’t go out knowing initially that he was going to write a book. I guess I could have extrapolated it, but I didn’t know enough to know, I guess.”
|Arabic translation of 1999
The release of RN renewed charges of profiteering. Some stores refused to sell the book. A Washington, DC based group called the Committee to Boycott Nixon's Memoirs created merchandise including bumper stickers and t-shirts with the slogan "Don't Buy Books from Crooks." According to Craig Fehrman in the New York Times the anti-RN group gained considerable media attention including an appearance by the group's leader on national television, favorable words from syndicated columnist Mary McGrory, and Dan Ackroyd waving around one of their t-shirts on television's Saturday Night Live.
Ranker.com RN is number fifty-six on the Publisher's Weekly list of top-selling non-fiction of the 1970s, well above Woodward and Bernstein's The Final Days at number seventy-two.
The success of RN was a major part of Nixon's comeback as a public figure. In 1980, he moved from San Clemente, which he found isolated and too far away from the centers of power, to Manhattan. He later lived the New Jersey suburbs of New York.
Nixon went on to write eight other books -- The Real War (1980), a blueprint for ending the Cold War; Leaders (1982), biographical profiles of world leaders with whom he interacted during his political career including Leonid Brezhnev and Golda Meir; Real Peace (1983), which advocates peace through detente and improved East-West economic ties; No More Vietnams (1985), which calls for the U.S. to take a new approach towards developing nations; 1999: Victory without War (1988), which asserts that conflict between nations is inevitable; In the Arena (1990), a memoir which offers more details about his early life and political career; Seize the Moment: America's Challenge in a One-Superpower World (1992), about the challenges facing the U.S. after the collapse of the Soviet Union; and Beyond Peace (1994), a posthumously published outline for U.S. foreign and domestic policy in the twenty-first century.
Richard M. Nixon, a volume in The American Presidents Series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., calls the Nixon-penned books "mostly turgid and not very revealing, and though there were interesting passages, he shaped the past as it suited him. There's no clear evidence that his writings had a substantive impact on policy, but aside from producing income, they were part of Nixon's elaborate effort to merchandise himself as a sage."
Presidential historian Robert Dallek writing in the Los Angeles Times says -- "No politician in American history had a longer and more controversial career than Richard Nixon. His actions during his forty-eight years as a congressman, senator, vice president, gubernatorial candidate, president, writer and world statesman provoked uncommonly strong expressions of support and opposition...Nixon's nine post-presidential books, ranging from his memoirs, RN, published in 1978, to his discussions of political leadership, Vietnam and American foreign policy in a Cold War and post-Cold War world, will become documents in the search for understanding [of Nixon]."
In April 1994, Nixon suffered a stroke while at home in New Jersey working on his final book Beyond Peace. He died a few days later at a hospital in Manhattan at age eighty-one.
Here's more information --
Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, Yorba Linda, California.
Interview with Jessamyn West, The Art of Fiction, no.67. The Paris Review, Fall 1977.
The Committee Room. Time spent with TCR is never wasted.