Author John A. Farrell lights up Bee Book Club with inside info about Richard Nixon

John A. Farrell explores the life of President Richard Nixon

Award-winning journalist and biographer John A. Farrell talks about his new book "Richard Nixon: The Life."
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Award-winning journalist and biographer John A. Farrell talks about his new book "Richard Nixon: The Life."

Best-selling author and award-winning journalist John A. Farrell mesmerized a crowd of 130 people at the Sacramento Bee Book Club Wednesday night, as he shared fascinating anecdotes about former president Richard Nixon. He was in conversation with Jack Ohman, the Sacramento Bee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist.

Farrell is the author of the new biography “Richard Nixon: The Life,” which scrutinizes the 37th president from his childhood in Yorba Linda to his death in 1994 (Doubleday, $35, 752 pages).

Farrell and Ohman had the crowd laughing with their spontaneous impressions of Nixon and their spirited back-and-forth dialogue, but also had its rapt attention as Farrell revealed behind-the-scenes details of Nixon’s private life and political career.

“I didn’t come to actually like him (as I was researching and writing the book), but I did come to have a lot of sympathy and empathy for him,” Farrell said of Nixon.

“He was frustrating, both in his (self-deprecation) and his paranoia. Yet he was successful at nearly everything he did. It was his driving anger that gave him his initiative; as someone once observed, ‘After insulting the cannonier, Nixon stuck his head into the mouth of the cannon.’ Every time something good would happen to him (on his career path), he would credit it to luck and not his hard work. Sometimes I wanted to (metaphorically) grab him by the lapels, slap him and shout, ‘Stop it!’ 

Nixon was very much a product of his upbringing, Farrell said, growing up in poverty with an abusive father and a distant mother and losing two brothers to childhood diseases. “Nixon once told someone, ‘I can’t remember one time my parents said they loved me,’ ” Farrell told the audience. In a sense, Farrell added, Nixon looked at his personal and political lives as a series of betrayals.

Bee Book Club events are held at the Hive Center for Learning and Innovation at The Bee, 2100 Q St., Sacramento.

The next Bee Book Club author will be Georgeanne Brennan, the chef-author of more than 30 cookbooks and winner of major honors, including a James Beard Award and an International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Cookbook Award.

“The kind of cooking I do is really more ingredients-driven, made in simple ways. If you know how to sauté – melt some butter or heat some olive oil in pan – you can cook an awful lot of dishes,” she said recently.

Brennan’s new cookbook is “La Vie Rustic: Cooking and Living in the French Style” (Weldon Owen, $35, 292 pages). Meet her on Thursday, May 18, at the Bee Book Club. Tickets are at

Information: 916-321-1128.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe