Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power

by Robert Dallek

Hardcover, 2007

Call number

973.92 DAL



Harper (2007), Edition: 1, 752 pages


Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were two of the most compelling, contradictory, and important leaders in America in the second half of the twentieth century. Both were largely self-made men, brimming with ambition and often ruthless in pursuit of their goals. Tapping into recently disclosed documents and tapes, historian Dallek uncovers fascinating details about Nixon and Kissinger's tumultuous personal relationship--their collaboration and rivalry--and the extent to which they struggled to outdo each other in foreign policy achievements. He also analyzes their dealings with power brokers at home and abroad, including the nightmare of Vietnam, the brilliant opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, the Yom Kippur War in the Middle East, the disastrous overthrow of Allende in Chile, and growing tensions between India and Pakistan, while recognizing how both men were continually plotting to distract the American public's attention away from the growing scandal of Watergate.--From publisher description.… (more)

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LibraryThing member dougwood57
Any overview of the Nixon-Kissinger collaboration is necessarily going to be at least partially derivative and while Dallek leans on William Bundy's Tangled Web: The Making of Foreign Policy in the Nixon Presidency and to a lesser extent Walter Isaacson's Kissinger: A Biography, he also did his own exhaustive research, including access to much new material from Kissinger's archives. The resulting synthesis is an excellent one-volume overview.

Presidential historian Dallek presents here the full tale of the Nixon-Kissinger era for scholar and general reader alike. Dallek mostly allows the story to tell itself and is even-handed when he does insert his own views. Of course, even-handed means a largely negative evaluation. While Dallek rightly praises Nixon for the China opening and to some extent for detente with the Soviet Union, he also covers the criminal overthrew of Chile's elected Socialist leader Allende and their nearly catastrophic tilt toward Pakistan in its conflict with India - and of course, Vietnam.

As Dallek once again establishes, Nixon and Kissinger deliberately extended the Vietnam War to aid Nixon's 1972 re-election. They distinctly did not want the war to end too early and risk the premature collapse of the South Vietnamese house of cards in advance of the election. The exit of US ground forces was cynically calibrated to be just completed by the fall of 1972. And as Dallek relates they expanded the war to Cambodia and Laos with disastrous results for those peoples.

The story of the Nixon era ultimately becomes the story of Watergate. At bottom Watergate was about the tapes. After the discovery of their existence, Nixon's resistance to releasing them led to charges of cover-up, and their ultimate release confirmed his criminality. Dallek does necessarily delve a bit into the details of Watergate, but the best source for that story remains Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon by Stanley Kutler.

When the taping system was first installed, Haldeman asked whether Nixon wanted transcripts prepared. Nixon declaimed, "Absolutely not. No one is ever going to hear those tapes but you and me." The delicious unintended irony of this answer is irresistible, but also revealing. Nixon seems to have had the self-awareness to know in advance that his tapes were not going to be pretty.

Indeed, one of the strengths of Dallek's book is the extent to which the mostly repellent personalities of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger are on display: paranoid, ruthless, secretive, conspiratorial, and deceptive. Kissinger at least possessed a charm that Nixon completely lacked. Nixon did not like people much and people reciprocated.

While Dallek does not add any big new important pieces to our knowledge, his exhaustive research does add authoritativeness to what we thought we already knew. Dallek does highlight the shocking extent of Nixon's drinking - he was often drunk and asleep or out of control, in particular during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

'Nixon and Kissinger' is the work of a worthy professional historian and Dallek has given us a complete and even-handed treatment without polemics (however, his repeated suggestion that Nixon's aides and Kissinger in particular should have pushed Nixon's temporary removal under the 25th Amendment is perhaps the book's weakest point).

Dallek also made a special effort to make his work accessible to a younger generation of readers who did not live through the Watergate-Vietnam immersion experience. Highly recommended for both seasoned Nixon hands and newcomers alike.
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LibraryThing member cwhouston
I was really looking forward to reading this as I particularly liked `Flawed Giant' about the Johnson administration - having finished and enjoyed it, I'm also slightly disappointed. Most of the foreign policy issues faced by Nixon and Kissinger are covered in detail, but there is practically no coverage of domestic political issues. Nixon himself had no interest in `building outhouses in Peoria' but this does not necessarily mean that it should have been omitted from `Partners in Power'. For example, toward the end of the book we are told `...Schlesinger, who replaced Laird as Secretary of Defence,......" without even an explanation of why Laird was replaced.

Other gripes include the remarkably scant coverage of the role of Spiro Agnew, who is mentioned briefly on only four or five occasions, and the inadequate coverage of the effects of Nixon's bombing of Cambodia and the means by which N&K illegally sought to cover it up. I also felt that more direct quotes, which are readily available, would have brought more life to the content.

However, Dallek does provide in-depth coverage of Vietnam, Yom Kippur War, OPEC crises and détente with the PRC and USSR, and the writing style easily maintains interest. The best aspect of the book (and to be fair the main objective) is the portrayal of the relationship between the president and his national security advisor. Startling similarities become apparent, and the author provides a particularly interesting analysis of the inner drivers motivating each man.

Overall, this is a very well written and enjoyable account of some aspects of the Nixon presidency and an intriguing study on the use and abuse of executive power. Kissinger was right when he said in 1968 `that man is not fit to be president'.
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LibraryThing member LisaMorr
I read Partners in Power: Nixon and Kissinger earlier this year and found it to be very interesting.

I never realized how similar these two guys were, especially how paranoid Kissinger was. Neither one of them treated people very well at all - people quitting and/or having nervous breakdowns seemed faily common.

The book covered both Nixon's and Kissinger's somewhat humble beginnings separately, and then intertwined their biographies when they got together.

Vietnam, China, the USSR are all covered, as well as Watergate. It was interesting how Nixon continued to downplay the importance of Watergate almost to the end.

A well-written book, however sometimes it seemed to jump back and forth in time, as several strings were being followed. Not the easiest of reads.
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LibraryThing member jdpwash
Amazing how history repeats itself. Bush is no Nixon but the politics of fear and deception seem to be perennial.
LibraryThing member moekane
Extremely lucid writing illuminates the Nixon and Kissinger personalities and their entwined foreign policy and Watergate machinations. Hard for me to believe this was 40 years ago, Dallek's narration is very accessible and his analysis, as other reviewer have noted, is evenhanded. I really appreciated the clarity of his writing style. I was hoping for a more in-depth analysis in the last segment - it was complete but I just wanted more.' Fraid this means more reading....
I listened to the unabridged audiobook and Conger's narration is also first-rate, very engaged,
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
Nixon: "Our hand doesn't show on this one though."
Kissinger: "We didn't do it . . . "
Nixon: "That is right. And that is the way it is going to be played . . . "

This one wound up being grueling, especially on holiday, especially on holiday during the World Cup. There is considerable stomach turning detail. The idea that both men were thin-skinned and manipulative percolated my own internal inventory. It makes one wonder. This book is strictly an account of the foreign policy of the Nixon Administration and the role Kissinger played in executing such. This continues until Watergate at which point the narrative delineates the relative madness of the White House until Nixon's resignation.

The above quote is about Chile, not domestic dirty tricks. The sections detailing the "handling" of the Vietnam War were brilliant history though one larded with excessive detail and too many full quotes of both men being vulgar and unreasonably optimistic, given the circumstances on the ground.

I made a conscious effort to avoid politics this week and perhaps for the entire World Cup. Certain images and political retreats were still able to grab me, but I will stop here before making any parallels with the infamous personalities detailed in Dallek’s book.
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LibraryThing member olegalCA
I finally finished this book about a year after my father lent it to me! Very, very dense but fascinating in a way... it's amazing that two men with such similar dysfunctions ended up guiding the US in foreign policy for 5 years. It was sad too... I can't help feeling sorry for Nixon. There was something about him that made him incapable of admitting wrong-doing and so he brought a lot of unnecessary suffering upon himself.

I won't read it again but I don't regret the year!
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
This is the 4th book by Dallek I've read--having read his JFK bio on May 5, 1998 and his ist volume on LBJ on 18 June 1998 and volume II of his LBJ bio on July 11, 2003. This book on Nixon and Kissinger is a lucidly written and workmanlike study concentrating on the years Nixon was president. Much of it is determinedly factual, though there are judgments expressed and those judgments are I thought valid. For instance, Dallek faults the subjects for not making peace in Veitnam much earlier than they did, and rightly assigns them blame for the thousands of lives lost during the four years the war went on for no worthwhile reason. On the other hand, it si clear that the opening to China was a good move, for which Nixon deserves credit. The years 1973 and 1974 were saturated with the Watergate saga, and one disliking Nixon gets some satisfaction reading about those exciting times and is grateful that Kissinger was able to rein in Nixon as he descended to his doom.. This is a 700-page book, and well worth reading simply to recall those eventful years when Nixon was President.… (more)




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