From master storyteller and New York Times best-selling biographer H. W. Brands, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, comes the first full life of Ronald Reagan since his death.
Ronald Reagan today is a conservative icon, celebrated for transforming the American domestic agenda and playing a crucial part in ending communism in the Soviet Union. In his masterful new biography, H. W. Brands argues that Reagan, along with FDR, was the most consequential president of the 20th century. Reagan took office at a time when the public sector, after a half century of New Deal liberalism, was widely perceived as bloated and inefficient, an impediment to personal liberty. Reagan sought to restore democracy by bolstering capitalism. In Brands' telling, how Reagan, who voted four times for FDR, engineered a conservative transformation of American politics is both a riveting personal journey and the story of America in the modern era.
Brands follows Reagan as his ambition for ever-larger stages compelled him from a troubled childhood in small-town Illinois to become a radio announcer and then the quintessential public figure of modern America, a movie star. In Hollywood, Reagan edged closer to public service as the president of the Screen Actors' Guild before a stalled film career led to his unlikely reinvention as the voice of General Electric and a spokesman for corporate America. Reagan follows its subject on his improbable political rise, from the 1960s, when he was first elected governor of California, to his triumphant election in 1980 as president of the United States. Brands employs archival sources not available to previous biographers and dozens of interviews with surviving members of the administration. The result is an exciting narrative and a fresh understanding of a crucially important president and his era.
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Where's the beef?
This bio is rich in information but scant in insight. The author had his work cut out for him – Reagan was famous for being inscrutable, even to those closest to him. Hence, this bio relies heavily on the public record as well as Reagan’s speeches and interviews for material Brands does a good job chronicling Reagan’s presidency – there is rich behind the scenes details of the Reykjavik summit in particular, but you get the sense that Reagan’s aides and confidants either weren’t interviewed for the book or weren't in the mood to talk. What you get is a detailed but superficial (though not uncritical) bio but perhaps that is the best that can be expected, especially since the right has made Reagan such a venerated, unassailable figurehead. Readers hoping for a view into what made Reagan tick, or his personal life, will likely come away disappointed.
Comprehensive, fast-paced and well told