Thursday, September 17, 2015
Reagan follows young Ronald Reagan as his ambition for ever larger stages compelled him to leave behind small-town Illinois to become first a radio announcer and then that quintessential public figure of modern America, a movie star. When his acting career stalled, his reinvention as the voice of The General Electric Theater on television made him an unlikely spokesman for corporate America. Then began Reagan’s improbable political ascension, starting in the 1960s, when he was first elected governor of California, and culminating in his election in 1980 as president of the United States.
Employing archival sources not available to previous biographers and drawing on dozens of interviews with surviving members of Reagan’s administration, Brands has crafted a richly detailed and fascinating narrative of the presidential years. He offers new insights into Reagan’s remote management style and fractious West Wing staff, his deft handling of public sentiment to transform the tax code, and his deeply misunderstood relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on which nothing less than the fate of the world turned.
Reagan is a storytelling triumph, an irresistible portrait of an underestimated politician whose pragmatic leadership and steadfast vision transformed the nation. -- Doubleday
When I received the opportunity to review REAGAN: THE LIFE by H.W. Brands, I knew that my father would really appreciate this book... and he did. Here are his thoughts:
The life of Ronald Reagan is brilliantly portrayed in REAGAN, THE LIFE by H.W. Brands. He tells the reader of a young Reagan who grew up poor in Illinois as the son of an alcoholic father. He follows Reagan as a sports broadcaster in the mid-west and then on to Hollywood where he achieved some success as a B-movie actor, led the actors’ union, worked as a spokesman for General Electric, was elected governor of California and became the most influential conservative politician in America. It may be surprising to some that Reagan spent much of his life as a Democrat and admired Franklin Roosevelt throughout his life. Brands then follows Reagan’s climb in national politics and his election as the 40th President of the United States in 1980. Reagan actually ran for president two times before he won the Republican Party nomination and was elected president. Many of the major moments in the Reagan presidency are brought to life in this biography. The reader is reminded of the assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr.; first lady Nancy Reagans relationship with an astrologer; the Iran-Contra affair with John Poindexter, William Casey and Oliver North; the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 Marines; the air traffic controller strike and the nuclear reduction talks with Mikhail Gorbachev.
Brands also recounts the difficult relationship with Tip O’Neill and the presidential debate with Jimmy Carter where the famous “There you go again line” was uttered by Reagan. The reader is also given ample examples of the oratory skills that earned Reagan the title of “The Great Communicator.” Some of the more famous include Reagan’s address to Congress after returning from the Hinckley assassination attempt; the speech after the Challenger explosion; his speech at the 40th anniversary of D-Day; and his Berlin speech where he challenged Gorbachev to “tear down that wall”.
Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994 at age 83 and passed away in 2004 at the age of 93.
Author H. W. Brands believed the Ronald Reagan, along with Franklin Roosevelt were the two most influential politicians of the 20th century. However, Reagan’s success or failure as president is very much influenced by the perspective and political persuasion of the reviewer. I don’t believe this biography would change opinions that have already been established.
REAGAN, THE LIFE is overall a fair and balanced account of Reagan’s presidency, giving success and failure equal billing. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in modern U.S. history.
Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his review and thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.