Blink Book Review #12: “In the Shadow of the White House” by Jo Haldeman

The 50th anniversary of Watergate this summer struck a real chord with me bringing back snippets of news stories from the summer I was eleven and heading into the sixth grade.

An NPR podcast got me curious to dig a little deeper into that dark time in our nation’s history where trust in government was at a low point (sound familiar?). After reading old news stories, listening to several podcasts, and browsing through a number of books on the subject, I settled on reading “In the Shadow of the White House,” a memoir by Jo Haldeman, the wife of Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. She wrote the book in 2017 when she was 88 to make sure her grandchildren understood their grandfather’s role in history.

Jo Haldeman was a devoted housewife, stay-at-home mom of four children and LA native in 1968 when her husband, Bob, was picked to be Richard Nixon’s chief of staff. Jo embraced the family’s move to DC and her role as the wife of a senior White House official, tending the home fires by day and accompanying her husband to ritzy black tie events at night. 

This book is her story of how Bob, a former advertising executive, ended up at the center of one of the nation’s biggest scandals and how his demise impacted not only the nation, but also – and more importantly – his family. Jo writes with navel-gazing accuracy about her family’s daily life based on journals and notes she kept. This level of detail gives the book an interesting foreshadowing that probably wouldn’t have been possible if she had relied solely on her memories and those of others. 

What drew me in the most about this book is how Jo chronicles the transformation of her gentle-spoken family-focused husband into a chronic workaholic who claimed, even after his conviction, that he knew nothing of the Watergate break-in. It also gives some human insight into some of the eccentricities of President Nixon and the failings of his administration.

This is not a hard-hitting political tome exposing the underbelly of the Nixon administration. Rather it’s one person’s perspective on a piece of our nation’s history that I remember just enough of to want to know more. For the more hard-hitting version, next on my list is revisiting “All the President’s Men” that I last read for a journalism school assignment in college.

Knowing what’s happening around us in national politics right now, this book reminded me of the old saying that “those who don’t remember history will be doomed to repeat it” is frighteningly true.

My summer challenge is to get off the screens and back to books. My accountability is to write a dozen-ish short Blink Book Reviews of 300-ish words. Join my summer Blink Book Review FB group to get the reviews and book suggestions from others. Or email me at rebahcampbell@gmail.com with your own favorites.

Published by Reba Campbell

Reba Hull Campbell established the Medway Group in 2020, bringing more than 35 years of professional success in politics, government relations, organizational leadership, fundraising and communications to her clients and her teaching.

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