Behavior: Kicking Nixon Around the Couch

At last—the real truth about Watergate! Richard Nixon had this unconscious "need to fail," you see, which stemmed from guilt over his boyhood "sexual yearning for his mother." The forbidden Oedipal urge required punishment, and with a man as competitive as Nixon, failure was the worst possible penalty. So Nixon punished himself by "arranging his own failures" and became "his own executioner."

Or so concludes Manhattan Psychoanalyst David Abrahamsen in Nixon vs. Nixon: An Emotional Tragedy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $10.95), the latest entry in the burgeoning field known as "psychobiography.'' Psychobiographers seek to explain the lives of famous people by theorizing...

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