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Young, R.M. (1987). Citizen Hughes, by Michael Drosnin, Hutchinson, 1985, xii + 532 pages, pb £3.50.. Free Associations, 1J(9):142-143.

(1987). Free Associations, 1J(9):142-143

Citizen Hughes, by Michael Drosnin, Hutchinson, 1985, xii + 532 pages, pb £3.50.

Review by:
Robert M. Young

Biography is the genre in which what can be gleaned of people's private and inner lives is set against larger-scale historical and cultural forces in an effort to illuminate whatever it is that made that person an appropriate subject for a book: intellectual work, art, notoriety, political power, wealth. I've read many books about Howard Hughes but none approaches the light this one sheds on the pathologies of wealth and power. By a process which itself provides a fascinating tale, the author acquired the memos which Howard Hughes wrote on yellow legal pads to his staff in his last bedridden, reclusive, obsessive-compulsive, phobic, drug-dominated years.

The book is a narrative ethnography and shows what can happen when a person has the wealth and power to indulge his symptoms. The rituals for feeding him are meticulously described, down to which Kleenexes can touch other Kleenexes which have touched the bowl or the hand. His power over the Las Vegas community, and his ability to buy Presidents and presidential candidates, and delay (if not prevent) the nuclear tests which threatened his sanctuary are spelled out in frightening detail. Watergate turns out to have its innermost circle at his bedside in the relationship between his hold over Nixon and his hold over Larry O'Brien, whose office was the one bugged and burgled at the Watergate.

The power of Hughes’ whims over national and international politics and business was often as strong as was the effect of his racialism and taste in films over the television stations which he owned.

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