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                                                      James Worthen


"The Young Nixon and His Rivals is well researched and written in a very lively manner.  It will remain extraordinarily useful for many years to come."

    Kevin Starr, author, Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963


Over a career as an analyst and manager with the Central Intelligence Agency and as a writer on political history, James Worthen has been intrigued by the interaction of personality and behavior. 

At the CIA he prepared detailed profiles of foreign government officials.  These profiles documented their early lives, education, policy views, relationships, eccentricities—even their hobbies and food preferences.  US Government policymakers, from the President and Secretary of State down to sub-cabinet officials, consulted these assessments before entering sensitive negotiations with their foreign counterparts.  Knowing something about the lives and backgrounds of the people they dealt with gave American officials a leg up in achieving their policy goals.

The Young Nixon and His Rivals

Worthen’s CIA background provided a unique perspective on how personality and politics are interwoven.  After retirement, he decided to turn his attention to American political figures in recent history, beginning with those in his home state, California.  His goal in his current writings is to identify politicians who had strong or distinctive personalities and to assess the impact of those personalities on their career choices and the conduct of their official duties.

In his most recent book, The Young Nixon and His Rivals: Four California Republicans Eye the White House, 1946-1958, Worthen dissects the early career of Richard Nixon as he climbed past three fellow California Republicans who were determined to stand in his way.  Nixon was forced to confront the ambitions of Earl Warren, William Knowland and Goodwin Knight, all of whom shared his dream of becoming president.  The book traces his relationships with each man from 1946, when he was the least well known of the four, until 1958, when the experienced vice president facilitated the self-destruction of his two most dangerous rivals.

Sometimes, politicians use their personal magnetism to get elected to office but are unable to make it work for them once on the job.  Such was the case with Worthen’s first subject.  In Governor James Rolph and the Great Depression in California, he examines how the charismatic and charming Rolph swept to five consecutive terms as mayor of San Francisco between 1911 and 1930 but failed dismally after being elected governor of the state.  His humility, kindness and optimism got him as far as Sacramento but were of little avail in combating the serious economic problems of the Depression.

Worthen’s incisive writing and analytical acuity remind us that politicians are flesh-and-blood human beings capable of nobility and vision as well as arrogance and pettiness.  He helps us realize that all candidates for public office have personal flaws as well as strengths, and that we would be wise to examine and weigh both before making our selections.

Worthen's books are available at selected bookstores, online book retailers and McFarland Publishers.

Photo Credits: Detail from Paul Arlt, "California Politics," 1955.
California State Archives
California History Room, California State Library
Barrie Cleveland

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