From acclaimed historian Richard Norton Smith comes the definitive life of an American icon: Nelson Rockefeller—one of the most complex and compelling figures of the twentieth century. Fourteen years in the making, this magisterial biography of the original Rockefeller Republican draws on thousands of newly available documents and over two hundred interviews, including Rockefeller’s own unpublished reminiscences. Grandson of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Nelson coveted the White House from childhood. “When you think of what I had,” he once remarked, “what else was there to aspire to?” Before he was thirty he had helped his father develop Rockefeller Center and his mother establish the Museum of Modern Art. At thirty-two he was Franklin Roosevelt’s wartime coordinator for Latin America. As New York’s four-term governor he set national standards in education, the environment, and urban policy. The charismatic face of liberal Republicanism, Rockefeller championed civil rights and health insurance for all. Three times he sought the presidency—arguably in the wrong party. At the Republican National Convention in San Francisco in 1964, locked in an epic battle with Barry Goldwater, Rockefeller denounced extremist elements in the GOP, a moment that changed the party forever. But he could not wrest the nomination from the Arizona conservative, or from Richard Nixon four years later. In the end, he had to settle for two dispiriting years as vice president under Gerald Ford. In On His Own Terms, Richard Norton Smith re-creates Rockefeller’s improbable rise to the governor’s mansion, his politically disastrous divorce and remarriage, and his often surprising relationships with presidents and political leaders from FDR to Henry Kissinger. A frustrated architect turned master builder, an avid collector of art and an unabashed ladies’ man, “Rocky” promoted fallout shelters and affordable housing with equal enthusiasm. From the deadly 1971 prison uprising at Attica and unceasing battles with New York City mayor John Lindsay to his son’s unsolved disappearance (and the grisly theories it spawned), the punitive drug laws that bear his name, and the much-gossiped-about circumstances of his death, Nelson Rockefeller’s was a life of astonishing color, range, and relevance. On His Own Terms, a masterpiece of the biographer’s art, vividly captures the soaring optimism, polarizing politics, and inner turmoil of this American Original.
Praise for "On His Own Terms"
“[An] enthralling biography . . . Richard Norton Smith has written what will probably stand as a definitive Life. . . . On His Own Terms succeeds as an absorbing, deeply informative portrait of an important, complicated, semi-heroic figure who, in his approach to the limits of government and to government’s relation to the governed, belonged in every sense to another century.”
—The New Yorker
“A nightmare for political handlers, the man who claimed ‘a Democratic heart with a Republican head’ poses no small challenge for a biographer. But after a decade of exhaustive research, Smith delivers a compelling portrait of a man who defied the simplifying ideologies of his age. . . . Complete and balanced, a biography of exceptional substance.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Richard Norton Smith has brought us a gripping, magisterial, deeply researched life of one of the most intriguing figures in American political history. In Smith’s vivid rendering, Nelson Rockefeller is exuberant, talented, conflicted, apparently unstoppable, and then, ultimately, poignant amid the frustration of his Ozymandian ambitions. Along with the tale of Rockefeller’s life, On His Own Terms also brings us a timely, knowing close-up view of what used to be called—at its zenith, which now seems so long ago—the ‘Rockefeller wing’ of the Republican party.”
—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789–1989 and The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941–1945
“The amount of first-class scholarship Richard Norton Smith undertook to write about Nelson Rockefeller is utterly remarkable. This is one of the greatest cradle-to-grave biographies written in the past fifty years. It’s never dull and always joyfully lucid. Highly recommended!”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite and The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
“No one knows more about the American presidency than Richard Norton Smith. In On His Own Terms, readers will marvel, laugh, and delight in Smith’s long-awaited biography of almost president Nelson Rockefeller. In history writing at its best, Smith’s insightful account of the struggle for the soul of the Republican Party fifty years ago sounds at many moments uncannily contemporary.”
—Ronald C. White, Jr., author of A. Lincoln: A Biography
“Perhaps no American in public life has had as varied a career as Nelson Rockefeller—art collector, real estate developer, Latin America policy czar, presidential candidate, and governor of New York for fifteen turbulent years. Richard Norton Smith brings Rocky back to life in all his ebullience. Warning: This is, appropriately, a long book and one that’s impossible to put down.”
—Michael Barone, American Enterprise Institute, senior political analyst, Washington Examiner, and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics