Richard Nixon Book Summary - Richard Nixon Book explained in key points
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Richard Nixon summary

John A. Farrell

The Life

4.3 (111 ratings)
37 mins
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    Richard Nixon
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    Thirty-four-year-old Representative Richard Nixon started his term in Congress with glowing write-ups in the press. “As typically American as Thanksgiving,” wrote the Washington Times Herald.

    That wasn’t wrong. His parents were an angry Scotch-Irish Protestant called Frank, and Hannah – a quiet, reserved Irish Quaker. When Richard was born in 1913, in a bungalow Frank had built, they were struggling badly. Frank’s aspirations as a lemon grower in the tiny town of Yorba Linda, California, fell flat. He eventually gave up and opened a gas station over in Whittier, which would expand to sell groceries as well.

    There were four Nixon boys – Harold, Richard, Donald, and Arthur; a fifth, Edward, arrived much later. Tuberculosis claimed two: Arthur in his childhood, and Harold as a young man, after six years of illness. Frank had ignored doctors’ warnings about drinking the family cow’s raw milk, a known source of TB infection. Reserved, repressed Richard took these tragedies hard.

    Yet Dick – as people called him, despite his mother’s protestations – excelled at school. He read books about great men, performed in plays, and played the violin. He even made the football squad, though he was far from a jock; he preferred wearing carefully ironed shirts. In the yearbook of his high-school sweetheart, Ola, he apologized for his shyness. He resolved to study law and enter politics so he could do good.

    After four years at Whittier College, he headed to Duke University in North Carolina. He worked hard – both academically and to earn money. In his senior year, he and three other students lived in a two-bed cabin in the woods with no electricity or plumbing.

    When Dick graduated in spring 1937, third in his class, he stared failure in the face: he had been rejected by several New York firms, as well as the FBI. After graduation, he sulkily squeezed back into the family car. His mother had gotten him a job at a law firm back in Whittier.

    Poor, bitter Dick – never a gracious loser – struggled at first. He made a hash of his very first case, costing his firm a $4,800 settlement, and the prim young Quaker squirmed hideously when handling divorce cases. But he eventually found his feet – and even became a partner. On the side, he made a few local enemies when an entrepreneurial foray into frozen orange juice quickly went bankrupt.

    Awkward though Dick was, he knew love when he saw it. He met Thelma Ryan, known as Pat, in a local theater production, and spent months humbly trying to secure a date. Intrigued by his sincerity and drive, she eventually agreed. They married quietly in 1940.

    Their happy early years of marriage were shadowed by the specter of war. Dick could have escaped the draft, but he realized that time in service would be vital for anyone wanting a future in politics. In August 1942, he began his naval officer training, and the following year he was off to the South Pacific.

    He acquitted himself well, but he was thrilled to return to Pat and discover what their future together might hold. Despite his background, his lack of connections, and his uptightness, he wondered whether he could, nevertheless, go far.

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    What is Richard Nixon about?

    Richard Nixon: The Life (2017) is a thorough biography of one of the most controversial American presidents. Tracing Nixon’s life from his humble upbringing through his meteoric political ascent to his crashing downfall in the Watergate scandal, it reveals a complex, troubled, and sentimental man.

    Who should read Richard Nixon?

    • US-politics aficionados
    • Biography enthusiasts who love a scandal
    • People looking to deepen their knowledge of American history

    About the Author

    John A. Farrell is a writer and journalist. He previously worked on the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe and has also written biographies of Clarence Darrow and Tip O’Neill. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for Richard Nixon: The Life.

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