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Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man
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Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  279 ratings  ·  26 reviews
From one of America's most distinguished historians comes this classic analysis of Richard Nixon. By considering some of the president's opinions, Wills comes to the controversial conclusion that Nixon was actually a liberal. Both entertaining and essential, Nixon Agonistes captures a troubled leader and a struggling nation mired in a foolish Asian war, forfeiting the loya ...more
Paperback, 640 pages
Published November 14th 2002 by Mariner Books (first published 1969)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”The disjointedness of the talk seemed expressed in his face as he scowled (his only expression of thoughtfulness) or grinned (his only expression of pleasure). The features do not quite work together. The famous nose looks detachable…, but the aspect that awes one when he meets Nixon is its distressing width, accentuated by the depth of the ravine running down its center, and by its general fuzziness (Nixon’s ‘five-o’clock shadow’ extends all the way up to his heavy eyebrows, though--like many ...more
Szplug
Originally assigned by Esquire magazine to cover the late stages of the 1968 presidential election from the vantage point of the Nixon campaign, featuring that political warhorse and his energetic team of legal associates and young fireballers, Garry Wills—under the prodding of his editor—turned a ruminative essay upon Tricky Dick into six hundred pages of analysis, diagnosis, deduction, induction, and reflection upon the state of the American national soul at the closing-out point of that tumul ...more
AC
I had to put this book down for several months - because I had to digest certain arguments (especially in Part IV) -- that went against long-standing views of mine, but are so brilliantly argued, that I simply couldn't go on until they had been simmered, stewed, and thoroughly digested.

Wills is one of the most intelligent, brilliant, sheerly logical writers I have read in a long time -- his classical and Jesuitical training evident on every page. As such, this book is utterly compelling. His th
...more
Hadrian
This is one of the most searing analyses I have read of Richard Nixon. An equal assessment might be when Hunter S. Thompson said in 1994 that Nixon was the death of the American Dream and that his body should be burned in a trash bin. This coarse yet logical analysis of the 'most artificial character in politics' also serves as a greater indictment of the contradictions of classical liberalism, as well as a view of the state of American society in the late 1960s, and how a Richard Nixon could co ...more
James
Wills convincingly argues for the view that Nixon was really a liberal in the modern political sense. His approach to Nixon, based on this premise, is both enlightening and intelligent. Richard Nixon was certainly a national enigma, our president of polarization--I personally saw that happen in my family. Considering the policies initiated by Nixon; for example, going off the gold standard, expanding major government programs like the EPA, and opening ties to Red China, the view of Nixon as a li ...more
Erik Graff
Nov 25, 2012 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
This is a rather remarkable book. I've read several, more recent books by Wills, but nothing quite like this. One presumes from the style of his writing--dense, sometimes almost lyrical--that he spent a great deal of time stitching together and revising the original National Review, Esquire, New Politics and Saturday Evening Post articles into this subtle analysis of American political culture.

This is not really a biography of Richard Nixon, though it does have many elements of biography, includ
...more
Mel
This book earned Wills a listing on Nixon's famous enemies list because of statements like "The belief that our electoral system guarantees the choice of the best men and policies can only give voters a sense that the whole operation is a mockery when Richard Nixon is freely chosen to preside". Overall, Wills treatment of Nixon is fairly balanced. I actually felt sorry for the misery Ike put Tricky Dick through before Nixon's 1952 Checker's Speech.

Some reviewers make the point that Wills postul
...more
David Bales
Written back when political commentary had more of an academic/elitist bent, Garry Wills explores the life and career of Richard M. Nixon from the lemon ranches of southern California to the White House. Published in 1970, Wills writes of the poisoned America of 1968, of LBJ's Vietnam War and how it disillusioned the public and how the cooly efficient political machine of Nixon is able to resurrect his dreams and emerge from a Republican pack of eager politicians that included Nelson Rockefeller ...more
Joe
This may well be the ultimate book on Nixon and his rise to power. However, I shan't pass judgment until I've read his autobiographical, Six Crises. While Perlstein's Nixonland is an insightful overview of the historical milieu that gave rise to Nixon, Wills' book explores not only the historical events that landed this self-made man in the White House, but the waves of American philosophical thought that lead to his rise. To put it more succinctly, Perlstein's book is an appetizer to Wills' mai ...more
Al Maki
I would recommend this book because Nixon is an important historical figure: he took the US off the gold standard, he opened relations with China, he withdrew from the Vietnam war and he invented the war on drugs. These acts still influence the US profoundly 40 years later. But even more because Nixon pioneered the use of polarization in modern electoral politics, a phenomenon that is still sticking like a spear out of the body politic 50 years later. But mostly because Wills is a great writer a ...more
William Korn
Wills starts by following the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon. From there, he goes on to examine what he calls "American Liberalism", which is quite different from what most people nowadays (or even thenadays in 1968) refer to as as "liberal". It turns out that Wills dislikes '50s and '60s era liberals as much as he dislikes Nixon.

What Wills is talking about is a series of "markets" - moral, economic, and political - which pander to the larger "myth" of what people used to believe made America gr
...more
Dan Cohen
Good book - very thought-provoking. I found it gave me some new insights (albeit fuzzy ones - hard to pin down) into American politics and social thought that is hard to pick up from more conventional sources. For example, the distinction between the Presidential and non-Presidential parts of the political parties. In a sense, it's not really about Nixon at all but about ways of thinking. Some sections (eg. on the nature of liberalism) were fairly hard work.
Jeffrey Thiessen
Maybe the best book I've ever read? It's certainly up there. An incredibly great insight into the most savage president ever sworn in, and makes some really tremendous arguments in terms of how his policies would be placed today.
Alec
This was the most stunningly intelligent books I have ever read. Over forty years old at this point, I found it as salient today as the day it was written, and devastatingly incisive. The terrifying question that this begs is: how have we changed so little in the last half a century?

The first 3/5 of the book consists of a series of anecdotes which roughly Sketch our the 1968 Republican primary, as well as its background, and the surrounding environment at the time. He uses this setup to begin to
...more
Kathy Kattenburg
My first printing library copy of this book was missing seven pages -- pages 509 to 516 were not there. Quite annoying and frustrating. So if you want to read the book, look for a later printing or a softcover edition.
Robert
A book that I wish I had read about 8 years ealier. It taught me not only that I really enjoy reading Gary Wills, but also gave me some insight into the value system of Robert E. Lee and how it contrasts with that of the folks who engineered the diaster in Vietnam. It was also one of the earlier discussions of the distinction between economic and social realism and the extent to which Nixon had a claim to the traditional liberal label.
Jake
Just a fucking amazing, thought provoking book. Putatively about the 1968 election, it's more about the american political tradition and the fracturing of the new deal coalition. Also, great stuff on Nixon and how bizarre a character he was.
Carl
Terrific character study by one of the top intellectuals of the last fifty years. Wills does a brilliant job with this intricate character -- his writing is as fluid as that of any historian I have ever read.
Keith
Man! Maybe the best book on U.S. politics I've ever read, edging me even further toward believing that Woodrow Wilson remains the most insidious influence on how America defines role in the world.
John
Read this long ago. Have always thought of it as one of the better books that I've ever encountered on American politics, as well as being a fascinating plunge into the Nixonian psyche.
Patrick
If you can fight your way through Wills' thickets of prose it seems we haven't learned squat since 1968. The big question is, who is the most Nixonian - Obama, Clinton or McCain?
L.mayville
I'm going to read this book again before I try to explain to anyone else what it is actually about. All I know is that I loved it.
Jeffrey
a towering analysis of Nixon prior to Watergate covering all of his flaws and imperfections.

Willis nails it.

Illuminating
Brad
An unreadable mess. All tangent, no main point. No way this author wasn't on bennies and/or grass.
GWC
Astonishingly good. I'm not sure I fully buy the main argument, but it's still an amazing book.
Keith
Mar 22, 2010 Keith added it
Was written when Nixon was campaigning before he took office in 1968. Nevertheless a remarkable psychological portrait. Wills observes Nixon, the things he says, and reveals some interesting sidebars on Spiro Agnew and Rockefeller. The "Checkers Speech" is also covered and investigated.
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Garry Wills is an author and historian, and a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books. In 1993, he won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction for his book Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America, which describes the background and effect of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

More about Garry Wills...
Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America What Jesus Meant James Madison (American Presidents, #4) What Paul Meant Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit

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