One of the first things that readers seeking a book about Richard Nixon will find is that there are no shortage of options available to them. Soon after his emergence on the political scene in the 1940s Nixon received enormous attention, resulting in a considerable and ever-growing library of books about him. Yet the sum total of these works provide an uneven examination of his life, concentrating mainly on his early years in politics, his campaigns for the presidency, his time in the Oval Office, and his ignominious fall from power. The result is that some periods of his life are surprisingly fallow, awaiting attention for the insights they might offer.
Victor Li's book is an example of what bounties lay with such a focus. In it he examines Nixon's life between defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial election and his election to the presidency six years later. These were years in which Nixon had ostensibly forsworn further runs for public office and went back to his earlier profession as a lawyer. Moving to New York City, he became a public partner at Mudge, Stern, Baldwin & Todd (subsequent renamed Nixon, Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, & Alexander), a respectable legal firm that was regarded as stuck in its ways. Drawing upon his political contacts, Nixon soon brought in new clients who admired the former vice president and who calculated that association with a possible future president might pay dividends later on.
Theirs was hardly a gamble, as Nixon soon demonstrated that he still harbored presidential ambitions. Li traces Nixon's ongoing campaigning, from his positioning to emerge as a compromise candidate at the 1964 Republican National Convention to his appearances on behalf of candidates in the 1965 and 1966 midterms. Here he demonstrates how this provided Nixon with ideal opportunities to collect favors and test out campaign themes, receiving credit for victories won while accruing no blame for candidate defeats. These efforts were supported by his firm, who benefited from the increased profile he supplied. When it came time to assemble his own campaign staff for his second attempt Nixon then drew from the ranks of the firm to staff it, most notably by naming a new partner, John Mitchell, as his campaign manager.
By focusing on Nixon's employment on Wall Street Li demonstrates the role that the firm and his time there played in Nixon's life and political career. As a lawyer himself, Li brings to the book an understanding of the world of legal firms that is lacking from other coverage of Nixon's life during this time, which helps to clarify many otherwise obscured or ignored details. The result fills a longstanding gap in our understanding of the life of America's 37th president, and should be read by anyone interested in learning about it or how he recovered from defeat to win the nations highest office.