Anthony Summers is the past master of scandal, the man who brought you Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe and that unforgettable (alleged) eyewitness account of J. Edgar Hoover in a flouncy black dress. Greater experts than I must rule on Summers's exhaustively researched portrait of Richard Nixon, The Arrogance of Power, but it sure is one racy read. Summers depicts a Nixon stoned out of his mind on Seconal, single-malt Scotch, Dilantin, speed, and clinical paranoia, pummeling his wife, Pat (who was rumored to have once been rescued by the Secret Service from drunkenly drowning in a bathtub). Summers's Nixon apparently took Mickey Cohen Mob money to fund his anti-Semitic, salacious smear campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas to get his Senate start; framed Alger Hiss with a fake typewriter; traded gold for POWs with Vietcong; and issued orders to bomb Damascus and Jordan and nuke Vietnam and Korea (orders that were ignored until Nixon sobered up in the morning). His favorite limo was the SS100X that JFK died in. Nixon's shrink reportedly also treated Rita Hayworth, spoke like Dr. Strangelove, and used "Pavlovian technique" to "brainwash Nixon into becoming a better person." No luck.
Summers's Nixon favored the Greek generals who tortured pro-democracy types, and took a bribe from Göring's pal Nicolae Malaxa, who, thanks to Nixon, traded his Romanian mansion (in which thousands of Jews were tortured and killed) for a posh Manhattan apartment. Summers's most fascinating stuff concerns the Howard Hughes/Castro/Watergate connection. Did Nixon order CIA/Mafia plots to kill Castro? Did Robert Maheu (said to have inspired Mission: Impossible) arrange "sex services" and "assassination planning" for the CIA, and spy on Jean Peters and Ava Gardner for Howard Hughes? Did Hughes give big money to Nixon under the guise of saving the fast-food "Nixonburger" franchise of Richard's brother Donald Nixon (whom Richard had the FBI spy on)? Did the Castro plot get JFK killed, as Haldeman suspected? Was the Watergate break-in (one of perhaps 100 Nixon break-ins) intended to seize information about Nixon's Hughes loans and Castro plots?
Summers tries to assess his massive data while he's presenting it, and he doesn't credit every wild tale equally. Still, without him, I would never have heard about Castro's alleged ex-girlfriend, "the Mata Hari of the Caribbean," hired by future Watergate burglars to re-seduce Castro and slip two poison pills in his coffee. But she hid the pills in her cold-cream jar, and when she took them out in their Havana Hilton bathroom, they'd melted. Besides, her close encounter with the leader left her "torn by feelings of love." The Arrogance of Power won't give you this feeling. --Tim Appelo