Picks and Pans Review: The Haldeman Diaries

updated 07/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Edited by Stephen Ambrose

What they lack in sensational revelations—there are none—these journals of Nixon White House Chief of Staff H. R. "Bob" Haldeman make up for in fascinating details of the day-to-day workings of the American political system and the large-and small-minded people who run it.

The diaries—which begin in January 1969 and end in April 1973, just before Haldeman's resignation at the peak of the Watergate furor—seem to have been left intact by historian Ambrose. Haldeman never tried to lionize his boss, although he never really criticized the President either. In the early Watergate entries, which begin two days after the June 1972 hotel break-in, Haldeman shows little alarm, certainly nothing to indicate he knew what was in the can of worms that had been so foolishly opened.

Most intriguing are Haldeman's tales of bickering among Nixon insiders. There was endless petty squabbling between National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and Secretaries of State and Defense William P. Rogers and Melvin Laird. Speechwriter Pat Buchanan once left an hour-long meeting with Nixon noting with embarrassment that he (Buchanan) had left his fly open the whole lime. Nixon himself comes across as much more compassionate than his public image, breaking into tears upon learning of the death of mentor Dwight Eisenhower and showing concern for the welfare of even low-level employees. Haldeman's meticulous detailing of the array of crises Nixon faced can also only generate sympathy for Nixon—or anyone who occupies the White House. (Putnam, $27.50)

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