Quietly reading the paper and drinking coffee, David Nichols former academic dean, sat at College Hill Coffee, taking a break from his book signing tour. One of his stops was Southwestern College, April 4.
“I have a bad habit of working over food and drink,” said Nichols. “People have to put up with me at College Hill Coffee sitting around and working.”
Working in places such as College Hill Coffee lead to his recent publication, Eisenhower 1956. This book is about the former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s leadership during the world’s first nuclear crisis.
Nichols said he was pitched this idea from Susan Eisenhower, who is the granddaughter of the late president. “I had done a pervious book on Eisenhower and Civil Rights, so we had gotten to know each other before,” he said. “So she said to me that one of the neglected subjects in her grandfather’s presidency was the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. I really hadn’t thought about it until then. I investigated it and of course she was magnificently correct. It is the greatest international crisis of Eisenhower’s eight years in the presidency and yet there wasn’t an important American book on it,” he said.
In addition to his connection with Eisenhower, Nichols currently lives in Albany, where the Eisenhower Library is located. “I live close enough to go and spend a lot of time looking at those documents,” he said.
He said his admiration for the former president also triggered him to write this book. “Every author falls in love with their subject,” he said. “You have to be careful, but he truly is a remarkable man. I feel like I know him fairly well.”
In his perspective, Nichols said the book is a profile on courage. “The particular drama in this story is that he had two major illnesses during the year I cover, massive heart attack and abdominal surgery,” he said. “Both of which were serious and life threatening and at the same time he was dealing with the middle east crisis.”
Nichols said there are hundreds of secret documents, which have been declassified in the last 10 years asking it possible for him to really tell this story.
With a story as important as this, Nichols said he initially had concerns. “There are always concerns because for me, I had not done a book on foreign policy before. There are a lot of people around the country who are in foreign policy or history diplomatic experts, I wasn’t. So this was me plowing into a new field, at my age, which is an interesting challenge,” he said.
With a book as important as this, Nichols said he never experienced writer’s block. “I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block. I think writer’s block is more common with people who write fiction, where they have to be imaginative,” he said. “I tell people, ‘I’m not very imaginative.’ If I don’t have documents to tell me a story, I don’t make it up. I don’t imagine it,” he said.
What’s next for Nichols? He said for now spending time with his family and friends. “Because writing a book is a self absorbing activity. It takes your life over,” he said.
For now, Nichols is busy on his book tour, finishing the month off in places as far as Miami and Washington D.C. “Until we get all of that done, I just can’t concentrate on another project,” he said. “But I’ll probably do another Eisenhower project.”
Nichols is a 1961 graduate of Southwestern College. He has served as SC’s vice president for academic affairs and academic dean for over 25 years. In addition to his current book, he has published A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution, which was published in 2008.
Alejandra Rojas is a senior majoring in communication. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.