Robert Dallek: No revelations but rich portraits of Nixon and Kissinger

Historians in the News

... “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power” makes a valuable contribution to the study of American policy making during the turbulent years from 1969 through 1974. Partly, it does this by transcending the stale polemics that have surrounded the study of Nixon and Kissinger. But its more significant, if not wholly convincing, achievement is to connect the unevenness of their policy-making performance with the ups and downs of their peculiar personalities. “The careers of both Nixon and Kissinger,” Dallek asserts, “reflect the extent to which great accomplishments and public wrongdoing can spring from inner lives.”

This isn’t the first time Dallek, a prolific biographer of American presidents, has challenged simplistic characterizations of public men by delving into their private behavior. In 2003, his best-selling study, “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” drew on long-secret medical records to describe Kennedy’s epic struggles against a variety of ailments. “Nixon and Kissinger” contains no such spectacular revelations. Indeed, Dallek’s extensive use of recently declassified material — millions of pages of national security documents, 2,800 hours of Nixon’s secret tape recordings and 20,000 pages of transcriptions of Kissinger’s phone calls — seems to have turned up nothing to revise the broad contours of either man’s life. Rather, Dallek exploits this new material mainly for the quotations and fresh details that enable him to paint rich portraits of his two subjects....

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