Shelf Life: The Cast Behind the Watergate Scandal

Tom Mallon's new book, Watergate, will be released February 21.
(Photo by Jessica McConnell Burt)

It isn’t often historical fiction writers meet their subjects.

But in 1968, on the Hempstead Turnpike in Long Island, a 16-year-old Thomas Mallon shook hands with then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, whose involvement in the nation’s most infamous political scandal is the subject of Dr. Mallon’s latest book.

Watergate, to be released next week by Pantheon, follows seven real figures during the Watergate era—including Fred LaRue, a Nixon presidential aide who was in charge of delivering payment to the burglars, and Alice Longworth, daughter of Theodore Roosevelt and longtime friend of Nixon—providing their perspectives as the scandal unfolds.

This book was four years in the making for Dr. Mallon, whose Foggy Bottom residence looks right at the Watergate complex, where five men broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17, 1972.

“I think the subject, even 40 years later, still tantalizes and interests people,” said Dr. Mallon, a professor of English at GW. “Nixon has such a combination of the good and the bad, with both his accomplishments and his ‘dastardly deeds.’”

His eighth novel, Watergate has already received extensive recognition, including placement on Newsweek’s “12 for 2012” and O Magazine’s “17 Books to Watch for in February.”

“The Watergate, which Nixon claimed never to have been in, figured more in the story than I thought,” said Dr. Mallon. “The book goes in and out of the complex a lot … and I hadn’t imagined that at first. I just thought of it as a place where the burglaries took place.”

Dr. Mallon said he was drawn to Nixon in part because the infamous president was “such an enormous figure” in his own life. Dr. Mallon was an undergraduate at Brown University when Nixon was president, and his own father was a “passionate supporter” of the man.

“Nixon was certainly one of the people who shaped the world that we live in, and he was a brilliant man who was so tangled up in his personality that he couldn’t help himself,” said Dr. Mallon. “There were times when his rational capacities—which were considerable—and his analytical capacities—which were great—were overruled by these dark impulses he had.”

(Continue reading the story by GW Today’s Julia Parmley.)

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