I never understood this "gate" thing when I was an ESL student.
June 21, 2008 6:16 AM   Subscribe

What is a good (the best?) book on Watergate, if I've just finished Rick Perlstein's Nixonland and want to know what happens next? No spoilers please.

Nixonland was great. (I thought the bit about price/wage controls would help with insomnia, but I ended up staying up all night + finishing the book.) What's a good book on what happens next with Watergate and ultimately Nixon's resignation?

Preferably, the angle/tone/focus of the book would be similar to Nixonland - centered around the characters first and foremost, and lots of rich details. Also, I'll be reading it on vacation, so breezy is cool. I imagine the White House tape transcripts wouldn't be the best place to begin.

Some possibilities I'd love to hear comments on:

All the President's Men. I saw the movie a long time ago late night + I was royally confused. Now that I have a better handle on the persons involved + the context, would this be a good place to start?

Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon. Perlstein mentions Stanley Kutler's book in his bibliography, I think.

The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate. Googling "best book on watergate" brings up varying choices. This was one of them.

posted by shortfuse to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Dude, All the President's Men. Woodward & Bernstein were the ones who uncovered the scandal, so it's a first-hand account of how the whole thing unfurled. Granted, it's from the reporters' view - not what you're looking for - but it reads like a mystery novel. And I think it's easier to understand, since two reporters were trying to piece the whole thing together, following leads and facing dead ends. Highly recommended.

I haven't read the sequel, The Final Days, but that's probably another one to check out.

I've read John Dean's Blind Ambition Can't remember much about it, but it's one of several tell-all books from the inside.
posted by adverb at 6:46 AM on June 21, 2008

Perlstein did that for me too. I've read all the President's Men, which is great, and because of Nixonland, I picked up Cutler's book.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:00 AM on June 21, 2008

I took a special class at the University of Texas on Watergate the year the school released the Woodward and Bernstein papers. We read a lot, and met most of the important figures who are still around and willing to talk. All the President's Men and Final Days are both good, but if my recollection is right Final Days isn't really about Watergate so much as the last days before Nixon's resignation. They are the classics, and worth reading, even though I have a fairly negative impression W&B generally.

The books by the principals, including books by Dean and Haldeman, have to be read carefully and with some skepticism. Haldeman, Nixon's Chief of Staff, had obvious reasons for spinning, but I enjoyed the perspective his book had. Dean just seems like a slimy character. You meet him, and you see this fairly clearly - and it's apparent, too, I think, from the way he's comported himself since the scandal, turning his complicity into something lucrative. Still, his memory is unreal and his books are a vivid if somewhat self-serving account of what happened. Read them, but when he presents himself as a hero of some sort don't buy it wholesale.

Kutler is the expert on the Nixon tapes, and when he came to speak he was very interesting. I read one of his books and found it very interesting, though it wasn't the one you mention above. He's an objective scholar who has more or less devoted his career to Nixon and Watergate, so I imagine his book is pretty good.

Finally, I really enjoyed Richard Reeves' biography of Nixon, and if I remember right it had a very good rundown of Watergate with more context than you will find in many of the other books. Plus, I think the portrayal of Nixon in that book is truly fascinating.

There was a lot more I read, but this was several years ago and I'm forgetting - and I'm far, far away from my book collection so I can't go browse. If I think of more, though, I'll write.
posted by ecab at 8:20 AM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

All the President's Men and The Final Days are both very good. And ecab's right; The Final Days is more about Nixon's leaving.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:20 PM on June 21, 2008

nthing All the President's Men. It's a gripping read.

man, I love Watergate.
posted by rhinny at 3:06 AM on June 22, 2008

« Older How best to swap apartments?   |   Best "make your own t-shirt" companies? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.