Nixon Agonistes

I DON'T KNOW of a worse choice to review In the Arena: A Memoir of Victory, Defeat and Renewal by Richard Nixon (Book World, April 15) than Bob Woodward, the man who made a career and a fortune vilifying the former president (some would say "exposing" him, but it comes down to the same thing).

Would a defense attorney admit Woodward to a jury hearing a case against Richard Nixon now? Of course not. Then why is he qualified to do a book review in The Washington Post Book World? I wouldn't even bother to read a review so biased. F.W. VANCE REINIG Washington

Your choice of Bob Woodward to review Richard Nixon's In the Arena is surpassing strange and somewhat akin to a review of Leona Helmsley's memoirs by her prosecuting attorney.

This is not to say that refuting some of the self-serving Nixonia is in error. Quite the contrary. But your readers would be better served with someone more introspectively neutral, by a political heavyweight or world diplomat or at least one who had not collaborated on two books on the ex-president that were highly critical enough to become best sellers. The review can't escape seeming like a capsule version of those books.

Pro and anti-Nixonites will crow or be outraged because of the unfortunate choice. The true purpose of a review is defeated by coloring or tainting it with a presumed lack of objectivity, whether there or not. The reader is left guessing. LOUISE THORPE Harrisburg, Penna.

In his otherwise perceptive review of Richard Nixon's memoir, In The Arena, Bob Woodward mistakenly assumes that this book may be Nixon's "final statement on Watergate."

It would be wonderful if this would be the case. However, given what the public knows about Nixon's character and compulsive behavior, I fear that In The Arena will be only the first of many Watergate apologies by Nixon that will roll off the press up to the time that he meets his Maker.

He will write and write, and then write some more. His last words will surely be, "The liberals did me in." BURLING LOWREY Washington Wiesenthal

DAVID FISHER, in his review of Simon Wiesenthal's Justice Not Vengeance (April 22), refers to the paradox of the ordinariness of the Holocaust perpetrators. Evil and paradox are both extremely common; but in this instance, there is scholarly, scientific evidence that many of the Nazi leaders were not ordinary at all, but were disturbed, distressed individuals.

It is not surprising that Fisher, or anyone else for that matter, would not know about these studies, since they were published in a journal read mostly by psychologists. However, the findings would not surprise psychologists, who are quite accustomed to seeing people who appear ordinary but who are, only slightly below the surface, quite distressed. Nor, I suspect, would they surprise "ordinary" persons, whose common sense is offended by the notion that the Nazis were "just plain folks."

These studies, of course, directly challenge Hannah Arendt's hypothesis of the banality of evil. Her theory, and its wide-spread acceptance, have never made much sense to me -- must be a paradox! DAVID E. KEMP Sacramento, Calif.

David Fisher responds: I am grateful for David E. Kemp's letter pointing out that many of the Nazi leaders were "disturbed, distressed individuals." It is a relief to learn that they were -- otherwise Cardinal Newman's "aboriginal calamity" takes on a whole new and sinister meaning.

No doubt it's a Victorian hangup, this desire that evil-doers should look evil, saints saint-like. But in real life they don't and, stupidly, it still bothers me. I suspect that it probably bothers most people who are not clinical psychologists. Bookstores, Part II

THE READER (Book World, Letters to the Editor, April 22) who thinks that the staff at B. Dalton is underinformed would do well to stay away from Crown Books. When I inquired about The Diary of Samuel Pepys, I was asked whether I knew who wrote it. I was tempted to say Anne Frank.BARBARA BASSETT Alexandria

WILLIAM EASTERLY complained about the placement of books by Mario Vargas Llosa in a B. Dalton store. While I cannot excuse the clerk who was unaware of Vargas's new book The Storyteller, I do agree with placing the books under "L" instead of "V."

Unlike Easterly, the great majority of bookstore customers don't know that Vargas is not the last name of this author. Therefore, they look for his work under "L." I readily admit this is wrong but, as the owner of an independent bookstore, we must put the books where customers expect them.

I hope Easterly understands this and won't condemn a store for its solution. As for the question of knowledgeable help, I suggest he try one of the many fine independent books stores in the area. JEFF HIMES Frederick

After reading of William Easterly's Mario Vargas Llosa problems at B. Dalton, it only reinforces my strong commitment to the small independent bookstores. I'll never forget the first time I bought a Henry Miller book. It was at a small, crowded store that was rather dark. Once the proprietor saw my selection he filled me in on others. I left that little store with information on Blaise Cendrars, Anais Nin, Knut Hamsun and Edgar Varese. The books may cost more than the ones at the big chains, but your money goes to a person who truly cares about literature, and who provides the reader with exposure to other writers. BOB BURNETT Arlington

I was pleased to see someone else bothered by B. Dalton's inability to shelve doubly-surnamed Spanish language authors correctly. But it's certainly not limited to Dalton's nor to Vargas Llosa. Walk into virtually any bookstore these days and try to find Garcia Marquez under "G" or Bioy Casares under "B."

OK, OK, I'll concede this doesn't rank up there with apartheid or the ozone layer in the Grand Scheme of Important Issues. But it is another irritating manifestation of our cultural illiteracy by institutions that should know better. PETER FEKETY Chevy Chase

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