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Zachary Jonathan Jacobson – On Nixon’s Madness: An Emotional History

August 25, 2023 @ 6:00pm-7:00pm


We are delighted to welcome you back to this in person event at our Manchester, VT store!

The author will examine Richard Nixon and one of his most notorious, risky foreign policy gambits: the madman theory – the idea that with strategic force and nuclear bluffing, he could coerce his foreign adversaries through sheer unpredictability.

When Richard Nixon battled for the presidency in 1968, he did so with the knowledge that, should he win, he would face the looming question of how to extract the United States from its disastrous war in Vietnam. It was on a beach that summer that Nixon disclosed to his chief aide, H. R. Haldeman, one of his most notorious, risky gambits: the madman theory.

In On Nixon’s Madness, Zachary Jonathan Jacobson examines the enigmatic president through this theory of Nixon’s own invention. With strategic force and nuclear bluffing, Nixon attempted to coerce his foreign adversaries through sheer unpredictability. As his national security advisor Henry Kissinger noted, Nixon’s strategy resembled a poker game in which he “push ed] so many chips into the pot” that the United States’ foes would think the president had gone “crazy.”

From Vietnam, Pakistan, and India to the greater Middle East, Nixon applied this madman theory. Foreign relations were not a steady march toward peaceful coexistence but rather an ongoing test of mettle. Nixon saw the Cold War as he saw his life, as a series of ordeals that demanded great risk and grand gestures. For decades, journalists, critics, and scholars have searched for the real Nixon behind these acts. Was he a Red-baiter, a worldly statesman, a war criminal or, in the end, a punchline?

Jacobson combines biography and intellectual and cultural history to understand the emotional life of Richard Nixon, exploring how the former president struggled between great effusions of feeling and great inhibition, how he winced at the notion of his reputation for rage, and how he used that ill repute to his advantage.


Northshire Bookstore
4869 Main Street
Manchester Center, VT 05255 United States
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(802) 362-2200
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