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Summary

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * “Do we need still another Watergate book? The answer turns out to be yes—this one.” —The Washington Post * “Dazzling.” —The New York Times Book Review

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Plane in the Sky, comes the first definitive narrative history of Watergate—“the best and fullest account of the crisis, one unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review)—exploring the full scope of the scandal through the politicians, investigators, journalists, and informants who made it the most influential political event of the modern era.

In the early hours of June 17, 1972, a security guard named Frank Wills enters six words into the log book of the Watergate office complex that will change the course of history: 1:47 AM Found tape on doors; call police.

The subsequent arrests of five men seeking to bug and burgle the Democratic National Committee offices—three of them Cuban exiles, two of them former intelligence operatives—quickly unravels a web of scandal that ultimately ends a presidency and forever alters views of moral authority and leadership. Watergate, as the event is called, becomes a shorthand for corruption, deceit, and unanswered questions.

Now, award-winning journalist and bestselling author Garrett M. Graff explores the full scope of this unprecedented moment from start to finish, in the first comprehensive, single-volume account in decades.

The story begins in 1971, with the publication of thousands of military and government documents known as the Pentagon Papers, which reveal dishonesty about the decades-long American presence in Vietnam and spark public outrage. Furious that the leak might expose his administration’s own duplicity during a crucial reelection season, President Richard M. Nixon gathers his closest advisors and gives them implicit instructions: Win by any means necessary.

Within a few months, an unsteady line of political dominoes are positioned, from the creation of a series of covert operations code-named GEMSTONE to campaign-trail dirty tricks, possible hostage situations, and questionable fundraising efforts—much of it caught on the White House’s own taping system. One by one they fall, until the thwarted June burglary attracts the attention of intrepid journalists, congressional investigators, and embattled intelligence officers, one of whom will spend decades concealing his identity behind the alias “Deep Throat.” As each faction slowly begins to uncover the truth, a conspiracy deeper and more corrupt than anyone thought possible emerges, and the nation is thrown into a state of crisis as its government—and its leader—unravels.

Using newly public documents, transcripts, and revelations, Graff recounts every twist with remarkable detail and page-turning drama, bringing readers into the backrooms of Washington, chaotic daily newsrooms, crowded Senate hearings, and even the Oval Office itself during one of the darkest chapters in American history.

Grippingly told and meticulously researched, Watergate is the defining account of the moment that has haunted our nation’s past—and still holds the power to shape its present and future.

©2022 Garrett M. Graff. All rights reserved. (P)2022 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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  • J.B.
  • 23-02-22

Elucidating

This is the story of Watergate. Retold again. One would think, enough already. Yet, after reading this book, this retelling is distinct and worth a read. Watergate, A New History, by Garrett M. Graff, and narrated by Jacques Roy, gives all the history, meaning it lays out the chronological story and interlaces each participant’s individual retell from their own tell-all stories. We get to see that remembrance and blames are, will differ from participant to participant. That is an interesting aspect of this work but not what makes it great.

This book is a reality check. Our leaders and I guess every nation’s leader, are humans having their unique frailties, which guide them into rational or stupid moves. The Nixon team was not very impressive. Many more stupid moves than rational. Nothing strategic for sure. If that was not enough the team was without moral character, and in fact, fatted in only moral turpitude.

What makes this publication a good work of art, is the preciseness of the retelling. Surprisingly, never leaving one with the feeling of too many tiny facts, it provides fact, after fact, after fact, inter-weaving into a retelling of that which has been many times told. That’s the book’s format, and suspiciously it works out very nicely. All in all this work of history is surprisingly captivating even though I living through it all (and daily reading the Wahington Post and New York Times, through it all, this new version intrigues me even today.

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  • Stefan Filipovits
  • 22-02-22

An Excellent Account Of An American Scandal

I’ve been rather obsessed with Richard Nixon for quite awhile and unable to articulate or understand why. His politics disgust me, his personality repels me, and the effects he had on the American body-politic were so malignant we’re still feeling them today. However, any appraisal of Richard Nixon has to concede that he was an undeniably great and effective politician. His skill with diplomacy and foreign policy set the stage for him to become one of America’s great statesman and presidents. But the petty, grasping, paranoid man that was so often evident in Nixon’s interviews couldn’t help self-sabotaging and his entire legacy became bound to a presidential downfall so epic we discuss and study it to this day.
Watergate: A New History by Garrett M. Graff is the latest and feels like the most thorough account of the scandal since Woodward and Bernstein. While modern Americans might be a little “scandal’d out” and need no reminders our government is corrupt, the author keeps the unfolding (but familiar) scandal engrossing. The full scope of Watergate is analyzed, from its participants to the political landscape of the time. Yet, while the pace can sometimes feel glacial, the well-researched history and increasing tension of the encroaching scandal as it inches closer and closer to the White House is just as compelling now as the first time I learned about it. What I found particularly interesting in this book that I hadn’t really heard about in others is Nixon’s increasingly fraught and unpleasant clashes with his staff and those around him as Watergate unfolded. The Nixon White House during its last days has a very sad, tense, almost dangerous atmosphere that was just so compelling to learn about. We rarely get to study or discuss the physical, psychological, and social strain these moments in history had on the people who lived them. It’s also fascinating to see how insecurity, spite, and power-lust can drive someone to both greatness and infamy.
In conclusion, I enjoyed Watergate: A New History quite a lot. It’s thorough, exhaustive, engaging, well-researched, and strangely tragic. If you enjoyed it as much as I did and are looking for similar titles check out One Man Against The World by Tim Weiner, All The President’s Men by Woodward and Bernstein as well as Bernstein’s solo account, “The Final Days”, or The Fall Of Richard Nixon by Tom Brokaw.

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  • Eugene B.
  • 19-05-22

Best book on Watergate! Period

This is a complete, no opinionated, fantastic account of the entire Watergate affair. The story is put together well and the reader was one of the best I have experienced.

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  • Anne Canfield
  • 08-09-22

Interesting and thorough, but ...

The problem with this book is best demonstrated by one of the author’s acknowledgements. He writes, “Ben Wittes, Jack Goldsmith and Stephen Bates Goldman together fought for the release of the impeachment road map, which they call, ‘the last great still secret Watergate document.’” With this statement, Graff implies that it was this trio that got the road map released; that is a misrepresentation. As Mr. Graff knows full well, or should know, the road map was unsealed in response to a petition that only has one name on it; the name of Geoff Shephard, author of The Nixon Conspiracy (https://www.audible.com/pd/The-Nixon-Conspiracy-Audiobook/B09JHSYD2R) , which was released a few months before Graff’s book.

Mr. Shephard was a young attorney in 1974, and stood at the back of the room in the White House as he watched Nixon give his farewell speech to his administration and staff; Shepherd had served in the Nixon administration for several years, eventually becoming a member of Nixon’s defense team. In recent years, he has done extensive original research and uncovered much new material.

Graff’s complete disregard for Shephard’s work is inexcusable. It is especially galling because Graff has clearly read mountains of books on the subject of Watergate (in fact, he as much as says in his acknowledgements that avoided doing original research). If Graff didn't use Shephard's work because didn't think it was accurate, it would have been very interesting to hear the basis for his disagreement. Graff's silence implies that he didn't have a basis for disputing Shephard's research.

Shephard has documented, for example, mainly from Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s papers, that Judge Sirica held numerous ex-parte meetings with the special prosecutors; had this come to light at the time, at the very least, the defendants’ convictions would have been vacated. Also according to Shephard, Jaworski arranged for all the defendants’ appeals to be heard by all nine DC district court judges (“en banc”), knowing that this would make it almost impossible for the appeals to succeed, given that court’s liberal Democratic majority (one did succeed anyway). This was done because of Jaworski’s concern about Sirica’s incompetence, and the desire to avoid the embarrassment of having multiple convictions overturned. Nothing like this had ever been done before; it constituted a gross violation of the defendants’ rights.

Another glaring difference between the two books concerns one of the key events in the entire scandal – the phone conversation that Fred Larue had with John Mitchell on March 21st, 1973, in which Mitchell authorized Larue to pay hush money to E. Howard Hunt. Shephard explains that, at the cover-up trial, Larue testified (under oath, subject to cross-examination and perjury charges) that, to the best of his knowledge, that call took place the morning of the 21st, which means it happened before Dean and Nixon discussed the payoff. If that’s true, then Nixon didn’t authorize the payoff to Hunt, which discredits one of the key accusations that brought Nixon down. Graff avoids this problem altogether, simply saying that Dean and Nixon spoke the morning of the 21st, and later that day, the payment to Hunt was made. Graff thus gives the clear and misleading impression that there is absolute proof that Nixon authorized the payment to Hunt.

Graff also ignores an entirely new view of what he calls “the smoking pistol” tape, (usually referred to as “the smoking gun” tape) which was the final nail in Nixon’s political coffin. According to Shephard, who was one of the first of Nixon’s defense team to hear that tape, he has since learned that Nixon’s instruction to Haldeman to prevent the FBI from interviewing two potential Watergate witnesses was not about preventing the investigation of Watergate; instead, it was about preventing the discovery of campaign contributions from Dwane Andreas (of ADM), and several wealthy Texans, all of whom were prominent Democrats, and all of whom had made their contributions only on assurance of complete confidentiality. Shephard says that John Dean makes the same point in his 2014 book, quoting Dean as writing, “the smoking gun was shooting blanks.”

Another crucial point that is made clear in the Shepard book, but which is omitted from the Graff book, is that you cannot understand the Watergate scandal without understanding that Nixon was subject to unprecedented scrutiny. One hundred highly partisan prosecutors combed through every aspect of the Nixon administration, going back to the day he came into office. One wonders, if Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman or Roosevelt had been subjected to the same level of scrutiny, what would have been found, and how would their reputations have suffered.

Nonetheless, the Graff book is a useful history of the Nixon administration, and it covers all the scandals corruption of the Nixon reelection campaign. If anything, it is too thorough, but even a lot of the irrelevant details are interesting. However, because Graff’s book is an entirely orthodox retelling, and doesn’t break any new ground, and completely ignores important new research into the history of Watergate, I can only recommend the Graff book if you also read the Shephard book.

The narration by Jacques Roy is absolutely outstanding.

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  • drsh
  • 16-05-22

Everyone should read or hear this book

Impressively researched. Well read. A respectful author’s voice - respectful of the importance of this narrative as well as its complexity, required detail, and still unknown elements. The readers voice respects listeners-remaining calm and clear as, at least this reader, felt again shock, fear, rage, and sadness in response to the story. I defended the criminal president throughout my highschool years (1973-77). Then, to pass the summer before college I read every book written by the other criminals and those tasked with prosecuting them, and Pres. Ford’s insufficient explanation. It took little time to learn the terrible truths and realize the still unpunished depth and breadth of N’s mendacity and contempt for the people, nation, law, democracy, presidency, and really anyone but himself and everything except money & a certain kind of power. I refused to help him recover financially and read for free as much of his lie filled memoir. In graduate school, I wrote an excellent critical analysis of his ridiculous and so revealing of the man resignation speech-not cathartic but such fun! This excellent work allowed me to learn new things, refresh what I had learned across the years, and to begin to wonder how we allowed IMPOTUS to rise with this history so many voters lived. Nostalgia? Amnesia? Both characterized the redemptive comments at RMN death. So many things done by RMN were done gleefully by IMPOTUS. And nearly no GOP stood for the nation-nearly none honored their oath. Lessons of history. Anyway-listen.

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  • mike
  • 04-05-22

Excellent

Excellent book that fully gives us the full story of Watergate. Great analyst of all the players involvement. A must read for history buffs.

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  • Greg Friedman
  • 12-04-22

Fresh, thorough, compelling

I lived through Watergate as a college student. This book has thoroughly chronicled and with new insights gained from the intervening years, given me a complete picture of what can be known about Watergate. It's told in an entertaining and sometimes even humorous style, but it also with thorough attention gives gives the reader a look at all the players and all their actions It gives the best conclusions available with the history that is known. The footnotes are entertaining and helpful. All in all, a great read!

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  • Joan E Robbins
  • 09-04-22

Great book!

I am one of those people who lived through, never fully understanding the full impact of Watergate. I lived this book.

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  • PearlGirl
  • 28-03-22

Pretty thorough

I've read a lot on Watergate and this book told me things I didn't know.

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  • MommaL
  • 20-09-22

Wonderful!!!!

So good that within the year I hope to listen to this again. Watergate and the cover up is complicated, and this book, laying out the players and facts in a logical and compelling way, was so helpful to me. Great narration. So many details, and still the book is compelling and interesting.