The Strong Man
John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate
By James Rosen
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385508643, 640pp.)
Publication Date: May 20, 2008
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The Strong Man is the first full-scale biography of John N. Mitchell, the central figure in the rise and ruin of Richard Nixon and the highest-ranking American official ever convicted on criminal charges.
As U.S. attorney general from 1969 to 1972, John Mitchell stood at the center of the upheavals of the late sixties. The most powerful man in the Nixon cabinet, a confident troubleshooter, Mitchell championed law and order against the bomb-throwers of the antiwar movement, desegregated the South’s public schools, restored calm after the killings at Kent State, and steered the commander-in-chief through the Pentagon Papers and Joint Chiefs spying crises. After leaving office, Mitchell survived the ITT and Vesco scandals—but was ultimately destroyed by Watergate.
With a novelist’s skill, James Rosen traces Mitchell’s early life and career from his Long Island boyhood to his mastery of Wall Street, where Mitchell's innovations in municipal finance made him a power broker to the Rockefellers and mayors and governors in all fifty states. After merging law firms with Richard Nixon, Mitchell brilliantly managed Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign and, at his urging, reluctantly agreed to serve as attorney general. With his steely demeanor and trademark pipe, Mitchell commanded awe throughout the government as Nixon’s most trusted adviser, the only man in Washington who could say no to the president.
Chronicling the collapse of the Nixon presidency, The Strong Man follows America’s former top cop on his singular odyssey through the criminal justice system—a tortuous maze of camera crews, congressional hearings, special prosecutors, and federal trials. The path led, ultimately, to a prison cell in Montgomery, Alabama, where Mitchell was welcomed into federal custody by the same men he had appointed to office. Rosen also reveals the dark truth about Mitchell’s marriage to the flamboyant and volatile Martha Mitchell: her slide into alcoholism and madness, their bitter divorce, and the toll it all took on their daughter, Marty.
Based on 250 original interviews and hundreds of thousands of previously unpublished documents and tapes, The Strong Man resolves definitively the central mysteries of the Nixon era: the true purpose of the Watergate break-in, who ordered it, the hidden role played by the Central Intelligence Agency, and those behind the cover-up.
A landmark of history and biography, The Strong Man is that rarest of books: both a model of scholarly research and savvy analysis and a masterful literary achievement.
JAMES ROSEN is a Washington correspondent for Fox News. He has covered the White House and State Department, and reported from dozens of foreign countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq. His writings on Watergate and other subjects have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper’s, the Atlantic Monthly, National Review, and Playboy, where he is a contributing editor. He lives with his wife and son in Washington, D.C.
PRAISE FOR THE STRONG MAN
“James Rosen has brought us a fascinating and provocative account of John Mitchell’s life. Using fresh and unexpected sources, The Strong Man dispels some of the mysteries that still linger around this central figure of the Nixon administration and Watergate. Rosen has achieved the difficult task of showing us heretofore unseen facets of the subculture that led to the greatest scandal in American history.”
—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789–1989
“James Rosen’s The Strong Man is excellent. Few novels read as well as this first-rate blend of history and biography. Crammed with new information and steeped in deep research, political street smarts, fresh insights, and crisp, clear writing, it is a major contribution to the history of Watergate and the Nixon presidency.”
—Dan Rather, CBS News White House correspondent, 1969–1974
“The Strong Man is a fascinating work: a sympathetic portrait of John Mitchell, the Big Enchilada, Richard Nixon’s campaign manager and attorney general, who went to prison rather than talk about Watergate—and then took his secrets to the grave.”
—Richard Reeves, author of President Nixon: Alone in the White House
“Rosen has captured the players in Watergate as if he were on duty at the White House during the scandal. It is a tragic story that reads like a novel . . . The most accurate book on Watergate and the president’s men—and the president—yet to be published.”
—Dwight L. Chapin, special assistant to President Nixon
“For anyone who lived through Watergate or has studied it since, John Mitchell was always the dour, jowly, menacing embodiment of the nefarious Nixon administration. James Rosen’s original and penetrating portrait of Richard Nixon’s attorney general, the only alumnus of that office ever to land in prison, unveils the more complex figure lurking beneath the caricature. The Strong Man sheds important new light on a defining episode in American history.”
—David Margolick, author of Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink
“This book is a veritable hologram. You feel that you are watching John Mitchell, The Strong Man, move and bend wills, whack and get whacked—right here!—in real time!—and at the end you will feel it neurally, in the solar plexus, when he pays the stiff price of D.C. Hold ’Em politics.”
—Tom Wolfe, author of A Man in Full and I Am Charlotte Simmons
“Relentless...engrossing...Displays wide-ranging and obsessive reporting, especially about the Watergate story...John Dean comes across as a duplicitous manipulator, Jeb Magruder as a spineless liar, Gordon Liddy as a maniacal soldier of misfortune." -- Washington Post
"Engrossing...unfailingly honest reportage...Rosen makes a convincing case that perjured testimony, especially from White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, formed the basis of the case that made Mitchell the highest-ranking government official ever to serve time." -- Robert Novak, Weekly Standard
"[A]s both detective and investigative reporter, Rosen cuts through conflicting accounts of Mitchell's life, tapping into previously unpublished documents...and presenting a thoroughly documented but vibrant portrait of a complicated and deeply flawed public figure." -- Jonathan Karl, Wall Street Journal
"Superb...Rosen, a reporter for Fox News, has performed Herculean labors in unraveling Mitchell’s career...arguing persuasively that Mitchell was essentially ambivalent about, if not opposed to, the machinations of Nixon’s subordinates." -- Jacob Heilbrunn, The National Interest
“A surprisingly fresh look at the scandal...Rosen makes a compelling case that Mitchell was more sinned against than sinning in Watergate.” -- Boston Globe
"The most revealing and insightful book I’ve read about that era. Profoundly researched for 20 years by a reporter scrupulous about source notes, it is both a sympathetic and an unsparing character study of a complex historic figure previously portrayed as the caricature of a villain. I knew the dour Mitchell almost ‘in full’ and can attest to this being a Pulitzer-quality biography.” -- William Safire, New York Times Magazine