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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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  421 Ratings  ·  34 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
Jul 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
”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
Sep 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Bob Wake
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I struggled finishing Gary Wills’ Nixon Agonistes, but finish it I did. The book’s first half comprising on-site 1968 convention reporting from Miami and Chicago is superb, as sharp and funny as Norman Mailer or Hunter Thompson at their best. The second half of Nixon Agonistes is a series of thinkpieces on the decline of American liberalism written in the bloviating manner of David Brooks or Thomas Friedman at their worst. Wills discussed a few book titles I haven’t read but am interested in che ...more
Joe
Feb 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mel
Jun 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-presidents
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
Feb 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
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
Al Maki
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dan Cohen
Aug 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
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
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Hotspur
Jun 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is hands down the best political analysis of American politics from 1960 to the present I've read. It is amazing how prescient and how correct Wills was almost 50 years ago.
William Korn
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
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
Alec
Jun 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sean B
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Nixon Agonistes is educational and a little heavier than your average biography. Actually the book is more about political movements in the 60s than Nixon himself.

The good:

It is clear why Nixon was able to win in 1968. The two principle reasons were his team was more politically astute than his opponents and the Left was a mess. While I knew the general history of the 1968 election, Wills does a good job in explaining the various groups on the Left. He also goes a little into the "southern stra
...more
Tom Buske
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is not at all a breezy read but an intensive look at Richard Nixon, the Presidential election of 1968 and the situations surrounding both of them. it is somewhat of a psycoanalysis of Nixon, the man and the politician but also an examination of US 20th Century political thought. The book combines history and philosophy in a sometimes spellbinding, sometimes slow-moving way. I'm pretty much of a wonk but occasionally this book was too politically deft even for me. Well worth the read ho ...more
Robert
May 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Michael Fineberg
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a difficult book that is very gratifying. It is brilliant about Nixon, about the Republican resurgence and how it fit into America at that time. It is insightful about the 60s and today, as well. But it's a tough, tough read with many portions that don't seem relevant until you read a lot more. But if you can, read it - it's worth it.
Tobias
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Not sure how well this book has aged - some sections don't feel especially relevant today - but Wills's book is an exceptional portrait not of Nixon so much as of the America that elected Nixon in 1968. Wills portrays Nixon as an avatar of the old authorities and shibboleths of American life that would be overturned by the convulsions of the late '60s/early '70s.
Carl
Jan 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kathy Kattenburg
Oct 21, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
Jake
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
John Petty
Jan 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I recently re-read this book, and was reminded of why I thought it was the best book on Richard Nixon I had ever read, and also why and how it established Garry Wills as one of the finest historians of our generation.
Keith
Mar 22, 2010 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.
Jeffrey
Mar 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
a towering analysis of Nixon prior to Watergate covering all of his flaws and imperfections.

Willis nails it.

Illuminating
John
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
David
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book!
GWC
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, top-10
Astonishingly good. I'm not sure I fully buy the main argument, but it's still an amazing book.
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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...