William Safire Essay - Critical Essays

Safire, William


Safire, William 1929–

Safire is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, and novelist. He was a special assistant to President Richard Nixon from 1968 to 1973 and has since served as a columnist for the New York Times. Full Disclosure is his first novel. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed.)

John Kenneth Galbraith

On the very first page [of Full Disclosure] Safire makes the kind of mistake that gladdens the heart of the politically hostile reviewer—in an ostentatiously knowledgeable account of the origins of the Secret Service he tells us that it began during the Civil War when the banks were flooding the country with counterfeit specie. Specie is, in fact, just as good as gold (or silver), for that, precisely, is what specie is. Throughout, Safire is casual in his economics….

In spite of these aberrations, I soon found myself very much involved in Safire's story, and, more particularly, with his people….

I once before observed that the characters of amateur novelists are always called one-dimensional by the professionals. They will have trouble with William Safire, for his people are sharply and distinctively etched as to speech, political style and personal behavior. They are always interesting, they are frequently funny, and most are deeply unattractive….

[The] author also brings to his effort a nice sense of excitement and suspense. Some, I am sure, will read into his story a heavy moral—a good man like Richard Nixon harried unmercifully by ingrates, traitors, the networks and The Washington Post. I would like to think that Mr. Safire had only entertainment in mind and if so, he succeeds.

John Kenneth Galbraith, "Can President Ericson Hang In?" in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 12, 1977, p. 7.

William Greider

William Safire's columns in The New York Times occasionally sound like crank calls from a pun-crazed gag writer. He does have a weakness for word games. He also expresses outrageous opinions, sometimes persuasive and always provocative, even when wit dims his meaning. Safire is a gaudy flame on display in a gray museum, so every spectator pays attention.

Now comes Safire the novelist who is a compelling figure too. Improbable, occasionally offensive, but genuinely entertaining. The novelist has suppressed the polemical excesses of the columnist, though he still can't resist the aroma of a warm pun.

"Time wounds all heels," one character observes. The reader gulps. "I thought I heard a presidential seal bark," says another character. The reader thinks there is a fly in his soup.

Safire is not playing for cheap laughs, however. This is a serious Washington "what-if" novel, and given the limits of that genre, it is an entertaining story, sustained by marvelous plot complications and a feast of semi-believable character types. The mechanics are handled so adroitly, one admires the fictional house that Safire has built.

William Greider, "William Safire Strikes It Rich," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), June 19, 1977, p. K 1.

Charles Wheeler

All too obviously, it is the aftermath of Watergate that has inspired this deadeningly long-winded political adventure story [Full Disclosure]. Like earlier masters of the genre, John Erlichman and Spiro Agnew, Mr. Safire has built a central character out of parts of recently rejected presidents, surrounded his hero with a type-cast set of aides, and fleshed out his novel with indiscriminate doses of intrigue, corruption, hunger for power, violence and sex.

Charles Wheeler, "Heads That Go Bump," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), October 7, 1977, p. 1135.

Farley Clinton

This "novel" [Full Disclosure] is a long series of very bad sentences. The "characters" speak exclusively in stupid clichés. And he has a lot of trouble opening his chapters, poor Mr. Safire, which he copes with as best he knows how by being bright and snappy. In his White House, we feel that everyone has been chewing gum just before uttering the flat remarks that are his approximation of dialogue. That is all part of his cynical fabrication of a plot by which to convey his observations. But he has one or two authentic observations. They are of genuine interest. 1) Though this was not his intention, he makes one realize that even the White House no longer has a large staff of well-trained servants…. 2) Safire understands Nixon. (p. 106)

Farley Clinton, in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1978; 150 East 35th St., New York, N. Y. 10016), January 20, 1978.