The best books to understand Watergate

Who am I?

As a reporter for The Washington Post, I was responsible for recording what has been called "the first rough draft of history." But I was always aware that there was more to the story--whether it was the collapse of communism or a big political controversy in the United States--than I or other reporters were able to uncover at the time. It can sometimes take decades for the real story to emerge as historians gain access to secret documents, diaries, and other unpublished materials. The secret Nixon tapes provide a unique insight into events that were off-limits to reporters and other outsiders. Writing King Richard, I felt like a fly on the wall of the Oval Office with the reader by my side, as we eavesdrop on conversations we were never meant to hear. For anyone who is curious about how politics really operates, it is a thrilling, sometimes shocking experience that can leave you laughing at the craziness of it all when you are not shaking your head in disbelief.

I wrote...

King Richard: Nixon and Watergate--An American Tragedy

By Michael Dobbs,

Book cover of King Richard: Nixon and Watergate--An American Tragedy

What is my book about?

I wrote King Richard as the Shakespearean tale of the leader who made himself- and then destroyed himself. Another journalist, Theodore White, wrote a series of acclaimed books titled The Making of the President, but how often does one get to tell the even more remarkable story of the unmaking of a president, from the inside, as it happened? In January 1973, Richard Nixon had just been inaugurated after winning re-election in a historic landslide. By April 1973, his presidency had fallen apart as the Watergate scandal metastasized into a full-blown cancer, in the phrase of White House counsel John Dean. I take readers behind the scenes in the White House to relive the tension-packed hundred days when the Watergate burglars and their handlers turned on one another in a desperate attempt to defect blame. At the center of the drama is Nixon himself, a man whose strengths, such as his determination to win at all costs, became his fatal flaws.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Richard Nixon: The Life

By John A. Farrell,

Book cover of Richard Nixon: The Life

Why did I love this book?

In order to understand Watergate, you first have to understand Richard Nixon. This is the best, single-volume biography that chronicles Nixon's life in a balanced and fair way that gives us great insight into his character and motivations. Published in 2017, it is a model of its kind. Farrell attempts neither to vilify Nixon nor to defend him, but to explain him, in the context of his times. He gives us the extraordinary story of the self-made man from a struggling Quaker family in California who rose to the top through his own efforts - and then threw it all away through his own fatal flaws. Many of Nixon's gambles succeeded. Watergate was the one that failed.

By John A. Farrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Richard Nixon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a Sunday Independent Book of the Year

A deeply researched, superbly crafted biography of America's most complex president.

Award-winning biographer John A. Farrell examines the life and legacy of one of America's most controversial political figures, from Nixon's early days in the Navy to his political career as senator, vice president, and finally president, and his downfall in 1974 following the Watergate scandal.

Richard Nixon is a magisterial portrait of the man who embodied post-war American political cynicism - and was destroyed by it.

Book cover of The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House

Why did I love this book?

There was no one closer to Richard Nixon as Watergate unfolded than his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman. Every evening, Haldeman dictated an audio diary that is an essential source for understanding the Nixon presidency and the chain of events that led to its unraveling. While Haldeman admired Nixon, he was also well aware of his faults. He records the triumphs, failures, and personal quirks of his boss on an almost minute-to-minute basis. I think that Haldeman has it right when he concludes that Nixon did not know about Watergate in advance, in the sense that he did not order the break-in, but certainly caused it, in the sense that he created the culture that spawned all the abuses. Ultimately, these abuses led to Haldeman's own resignation and eighteen months in prison for Watergate-related offenses.

By H.R. Haldeman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Haldeman Diaries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Never-before-published diaries from Richard Nixon's late Chief of Staff offer a meticulously detailed behind-the-scenes account of his years at the White House that included Agnew's resignation, Cambodian bombings, and Watergate.

Book cover of Will The Autobiography Of G. Gordon Liddy

Why did I love this book?

Gordon Liddy was an extraordinary character, a swaggering former FBI agent who was on a self-imposed mission to save America from "communism," even if it meant breaking the law. Even Nixon thought that Liddy was "a little nuts" but needed him as part of his campaign to get even with the Democrats and opponents of the war in Vietnam. In heading up the Watergate break-in, Liddy turned out to be a bungling amateur whose incompetence led directly to the failure of the operation. Nevertheless, he wrote one of the best books about Watergate--one that is both entertaining and revealing in its outrageous frankness and colorful descriptions of his fellow conspirators. A self-described admirer of Adolf Hitler, Liddy is a forerunner to the "patriots" who stormed Congress in January 2021 to "defend democracy." = Liddy's 1996 autobiography is key to understanding the mentality that led to Watergate and continues to pose a threat to American democracy.

Book cover of Blind Ambition: The White House Years

Why did I love this book?

Dean's book is essential to understanding the psychodrama that led to the unraveling of the Watergate conspiracy. An ambitious lawyer picked to serve as White House counsel at the age of thirty-one, Dean feared that he was being set up to take the blame for Watergate. He was the first Nixon aide to appreciate the legal perils of the cover-up and the risks he was being asked to run. In order to save himself, he had to exit the conspiracy, betraying the president who was relying on him to throw a blanket over the scandal. In this 1976 memoir, Dean provides a candid account of his state of mind as he led a double life - Nixon loyalist by day, prosecution informant by night. Juggling the conflicting pressures, he began drinking ever more heavily, leading to a crisis in his marriage that provides a dramatic personal counterpoint to the crisis in the White House.

By John W. Dean,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blind Ambition as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A six-month New York Times bestseller: "Not only the best Watergate book, but a very good book indeed" (The Sunday Times).

As White House counsel to Richard Nixon, a young John W. Dean was one of the primary players in the Watergate scandal-and ultimately became the government's key witness in the investigations that ended the Nixon presidency. After the scandal subsided, Dean rebuilt his career, first in business and then as a bestselling author and lecturer. But while the events were still fresh in his mind, he wrote this remarkable memoir about the operations of the Nixon White House and…

Book cover of Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes

Why did I love this book?

Had Nixon not taped himself in secret, it is doubtful that he would have been forced to resign as president of the United States. While some of the most incriminating tapes were released as a result of a Supreme Court order, the remainder became the subject of a long legal tussle that continued for several decades. Nobody did more to secure the full release of the tapes than the historian Stanley Kutler who published highlights in his 1997 book, Abuse of Power. The tapes provide a unique insight into the functioning of the modern-day presidency, and Nixon's own personality, that is unlikely ever to be matched. Thanks to Kutler's efforts, we are able to hear Nixon in his own words and feel his pain and bewilderment as his world disintegrates around him.

By Stanley I. Kutler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Abuse of Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No President has taped Oval conversations so thoroughly or found himself in as much trouble as Richard Nixon. He and his heirs fought for years to keep hours of these sensitive recordings from ever being released. Now Stanley I. Kutler, an emminent historian and one of the principle parties to the lawsuit that forced the tapes release, has edited and annotated every tape concerning abuses of power from Nixon's entire presidency. Among the breathtaking revelations are evidence of Nixon's direct role in the obstruction of justice during the 'Watergate' investigation to the proposal for a $5 million scheme to secretly…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in politics, Watergate, and international relations?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about politics, Watergate, and international relations.

Politics Explore 609 books about politics
Watergate Explore 14 books about Watergate
International Relations Explore 231 books about international relations

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Time and Chance, The Great Shark Hunt, and Being Nixon if you like this list.