Conrad Black the Historian
The Invincible Quest is thorough, and Black gives credit to Nixon for his many accomplishments. Not least of these is Nixon's political genius, which is especially well described in passages dealing with Nixon's key role in the late-1940s and early-1950s Republican Party, his maneuvering into the Vice-Presidency, and some of the dramatic policy coups of his first term as President. Black treats Nixon's personality with sympathy, though he does not whitewash the man's moral flaws and cynicism.
Black, who had previously written a well-received biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, fondly peppers his life of Nixon with a few more FDR anecdotes. And though Black also shows much genuine admiration for Presidents Truman and Johnson, Black's outlook in The Invincible Quest is ultimately conservative. (He praises tax-cutting as uncritically as he bemoans supposed welfare cheats.)
Only Nixon could go to China; Black, on the other hand, lacks the left-wing credentials to seem a truly objective and disinterested Nixon apologist.
Black's Problematic Prose Style
The Invincible Quest is over one thousand pages long, but that is not inappropriate considering Nixon's fascination. What does make the book a taxing read is Black's turgid writing. A Canadian who renounced his citizenship to become a British Lord, Black is now imprisoned in the United States. His prose style is an odd mix of British and American idiom, and some rather florid and dubious diction. Even his title is semantically awkward (quests, strictly speaking, cannot win or be defeated).
Black's tendency toward periodic sentences, stuffed with subordinate clauses, further weighs down his style. For instance:
"Having been brutally assaulted by the police of one of the nation's greatest cities, demonstrating the barbarity of some urban police methods, they [the Black Panthers] had been taken up, as Nixon saw it, by the mindless, hemophiliac, bleeding-heart doyennes of New York society, who in their boredom and vacuity could be induced to attempt almost any sociological enterprise, no matter how asinine." (p. 651)
The Ironies of Black Writing about Nixon
It is difficult to separate The Invincible Quest from its author, who, oddly, seems oblivious to the darker Nixonian tendencies in his own personality. While writing the book, Black was being prosecuted in the United States for fraud and obstruction of justice, which he refers to obliquely in his Acknowledgments as "distracting circumstances." Black was later convicted, thanks in part to being caught on (video) tape trying to make off with evidence.
Also, as former head of London's Telegraph newspapers and founder of Canada's right-leaning National Post, Black fancied himself a media magnate on the model of William Randolph Hearst (an early Nixon supporter, as Black himself notes). But there is a streak of disdain when Black writes about the press, as in "Many journalists are extremely biased and destructive, but most of them are just doing their jobs like anyone else" (p. 939). Both Nixon and Black might have benefited from fewer viewings of Patton, and more of Citizen Kane.
One gets the impression, though, that Black's attempt to repair Nixon's reputation is a vicarious exercise. If history can pardon Nixon, perhaps it can pardon Black. He points out that Nixon made his "greatest comeback" after Watergate, but that is a stretch (especially since only one chapter is devoted to Nixon's "elder statesman" years). Had Black been as attuned to Nixon's weaknesses as to his strengths, he might have avoided his own downfall and brought unique insight to a monumental political portrait.