... dazzling ... A lively writer, Graff explores the dramatic scope of the Watergate saga through its participants — politicians, investigators, journalists, whistle-blowers and, at center stage, Nixon himself ... With granular detail, Graff writes about the white-collar criminals, hatchet men and rogues who populated the outer circles of Nixon’s covert operations.
... a remarkably rich narrative with compelling characters, who range from criminal and flawed to tragic and heroic. As someone who played a small role in the drama while I was editing many of The Washington Post’s Watergate stories, I found that Graff convincingly populates and re-creates an extraordinary time in the history of the country and this city ... a challenging read at nearly 700 pages of text, detailing fast-paced, interlocking events over six years ... Yet, Graff succeeds in his stated mission to tell 'a more human story, one not filled with giants, villains, and heroes, but with flawed everyday people worried about their families, their careers, and their legacies.' The book is filled with apt sketches of its many characters, major and minor, from all the president’s men, and some of their spouses, to journalists, investigators, lawyers and members of Congress. It vividly re-creates all the key events, from Nixon’s overreaction to the revelation of the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War in June 1971 to his resignation in August 1974 ... Graff sprinkles his book with readable anecdotes and asides, some of them in the many footnotes dotting the bottoms of pages ... His book is weakest on the long-term impact of Watergate ... I’ve read a couple dozen books about Watergate, and I’ve written chapters about The Post’s Watergate investigation in two of my own books. I found Watergate: A New History to be engaging, informative and thought-provoking, more than earning its place on bookshelves alongside the old histories.
Based on existing primary and extensive secondary sources—the Nixon administration is one of the most documented in history—but no new interviews, this book succeeds in reprising the facts for those general readers unacquainted with them. Practicing historians will already recognize many of the incidents ... The 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in in 2022 will undoubtedly witness an abundance of books with which to compare this work.
A half-century after the Watergate break-in, this anniversary history becomes the standard-setting base line for all future ones ... Letting the story speak for itself, Graff intervenes principally to point to inconsistencies in participants’ testimonies or subjects for further investigation, such as a tantalizing thread of links to Chile. The text is a brisk, riveting, compulsively readable, comprehensive, up-to-date narrative of the entire tangled affair, and it’s hard to imagine it better told. While you learn new things about the major figures, people you’ve never heard of, all masterfully introduced and as numerous, colorful, deceitful, and laugh-inducing as characters in a Dickens’ novel, walk on stage. Back-biting, betrayals, interagency spying, wild improvisation, collective paranoia, and sheer White House chaos are running leitmotifs. Much of this is well known. Graff’s contribution is to bring it all together, add his sharp-eyed questions about what doesn’t make sense or still needs to be known, and energetically drive forward the story of what’s known from available evidence. The book’s principal limitations are its inattention to the outside pressures—legal challenges, mounting public outcry, and the like—that contributed to the scandal’s outcome and to historians’ contribution to the House Impeachment Inquiry. Graff also downplays the value of the Nixon tapes, which Michael Dobbs explored insightfully in King Richard. But in every other respect, this should be considered the authoritative history of its subject ... Now the best and fullest account of the Watergate crisis, one unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon.
Graff skillfully interweaves the perspectives of journalists and law enforcement officials investigating the Watergate break-in with the Nixon team’s attempts to 'use the organs of government to cover up their own rogue operation,' and incisively analyzes how the congressional inquiry into the scandal resulted in Democrats and Republicans coming together to uphold the Constitution and limit the powers of the president. Expertly researched and assembled, this is a valuable introduction to one of history’s greatest political scandals.
The Watergate story has been told many times, and the best accounts remain those by the American historian Stanley Kutler and the British journalist Fred Emery. Graff’s book, although very detailed and perfectly readable, adds virtually nothing to the story.