Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In the Arena by, Richard Nixon

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out when the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena... - Theodore Roosevelt

In the Arena was the eighth book written by Richard Nixon, published in 1990, and one of his most candid. The subtitle of the book is "A Memoir of Victory, Defeat, and Renewal" and Nixon opens with one example of each. For victory, the former President talks about his groundbreaking visit to China in 1972. For defeat, it is his resignation and self-imposed exile to California. His previous memoir, RN, ended with Nixon and Pat boarding the helicopter on the White House lawn, and the chapter on defeat picks up the night before, dealing conversations with his daughters, who wanted him to fight. He then talks about a sever bout of phlebitis, which sent him to the hospital for a surgery that almost killed him, and his years in the wilderness. For renewal, it was the writing of his memoirs and the television interviews with David Frost that helped him rediscover his purpose and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

Nixon critics who want to hear about Watergate shouldn't look here for answers (RN is better for that), as the President barely mentions the scandal. After the trio of chapters on victory, defeat, and renewal, the book is divided into five page mini-essays, each on a one word topic (e.g. faith, family, war, peace). He offers advice for politicians or anyone in a leadership role based on his years in office and things he learned from some of the big names of the 20th Century like Churchill, Eisenhower, and de Gaulle. The last chapter, "Twilight", is all about the importance of keeping active and mentally sharp as you age.

This is the third Nixon book I've read, and the man could write. He was also a very clear thinker and knew how best to communicate his ideas. It seems funny to say it about the only U.S. President to resign from office, but he writes at great lengths about duty and honor. If any politician lifts from his chapters on power, privacy, or governing, they'll have my vote.

Democrats hate Nixon for Alger Hiss and Watergate. Republicans hate Nixon for the EPA, OSHA, and wage and price controls. Conservatives should be heartened to know that in this book, Nixon says the wage and price freeze of 1971 was a mistake and he would not take that action if he had to do it over again.

In the Arena is a great read that I'd recommend to any student of American politics or history.

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