Here we have proof, if any be needed, that really good books about Presidents in mid-term are not possible. The modern standard for such books remains Robert J. Donovan's Eisenhower (1956). Written by a first-rate reporter with maximum help from the incumbent President, even it was flawed by the necessary reticence of the subject and his associates. The columnist-authors of this book, Evans and Novak, are masters of “inside” journalism, the kind that relies essentially upon confidence in the veracity of officials who, in their own interest or in the supposed interest of their chiefs, are willing to talk out of school to favored reporters. The result at its best, and here as in the Evans- Novak newspaper column we have the best, is a perceptive and just characterization of “the shrouded, brainy, brooding, contradictory man” in the Oval Office--his ambivalence; the fantastic inefficiencies of planning, programming, coordination that his preoccupation with staff structure and efficiency actually produces--but an account that, some intriguing details aside, any regular reader of an adequate newspaper, must already know and sense. The authors are no closer to the hidden “Nixon in the White House” than anybody else in their Trade has been able to get.
Also a frantic effort, with inserts and footnotes, to keep the book updated into the fall of 1971 mars the whole. Evans and Novak are outstanding when they examine the interplay of politics and policy (as in their excellent account of Nixon's civil rights performance), but they are at their worst when they try to compete between hard covers with yesterday's New York Times.
By TNR Staff