In his magisterial new biography, H. W. Brands brilliantly establishes Ronald Reagan as one of the two great presidents of the twentieth century, a true peer to Franklin Roosevelt. Read more...
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In his magisterial new biography, H. W. Brands brilliantly establishes Ronald Reagan as one of the two great presidents of the twentieth century, a true peer to Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan conveys with sweep and vigor how the confident force of Reagan's personality and the unwavering nature of his beliefs enabled him to engineer a conservative revolution in American politics and play a crucial role in ending communism in the Soviet Union. Reagan shut down the age of liberalism, Brands shows, and ushered in the age of Reagan, whose defining principles are still powerfully felt today.
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.
- ISBN-13: 9780385536394
- ISBN-10: 0385536399
- Publisher: Doubleday Books
- Publish Date: May 2015
- Page Count: 816
- Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-04-06
- Reviewer: Staff
This biography by Brands (The Man Who Saved the Union), a historian at the University of Texas at Austin, is a reminder of how difficult it is to construct a clear historical portrait of Ronald Reagan and his wide-ranging career. Reagan remains an extremely polarizing figure; sympathetic authors tend to soften his rough edges, while others willfully ignore his successes or vilify him outright. Brands generally falls in the former camp. He admirably summarizes Reagan’s life and times; the writing is clear and the progression of events moves swiftly. Worth noting is how Reagan, “a radio man himself,” learned from F.D.R.’s fireside chats. As governor of California, Reagan effectively employed divisive language in dealing with student protesters—“cowardly little bums”—and, as president, successfully wrangled with both Mikhail Gorbachev and the White House press corps. But Brands’s apologetic tone can muddy the issues at hand. For instance, when addressing the film industry’s blackballing of those who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he writes that “creative work suffered when fear ruled. But the risk was worth taking, for the good of the country.” Is this Brands’s opinion, or that of his subject? This is a thorough overview, but it adds little to the existing narrative of Reagan. (June)
A popular president's life and legacy
Ronald Reagan is trending. Everyone from Ted Cruz to Barack Obama sings his praises. Why is Reagan so popular? Was it his movie-star looks? His cowboy swagger? His “America first” doctrine? H.W. Brands covers it all in his thorough biography, Reagan.
Don’t look for any new ground to be broken here. But if you admire the 40th president as much as many politicians do, you’ll enjoy Brands’ telling of familiar stories.
The author takes us on a journey from Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois, to Hollywood, where he became a reliable B-movie actor. Reagan got his footing in politics as president of the Screen Actors Guild, where he cooperated with the FBI during the Red Scare. During his two-term presidency, he was credited with being tough on Russia and cutting the size of the federal government.
Brands, who has written five previous presidential biographies, argues that Reagan rivals FDR as the greatest president of the 20th century. While his detailed biography is thorough, there is a shortage of arguments to help Brands make his case. Reagan’s two terms in office ended in 1989, and there is a longing for Brands to add perspective in a postscript. Having had 25 years to ponder, surely this accomplished writer could help us understand why Reagan remains so beloved.
No matter. Despite its flaws, there’s little doubt this book will be as popular as the former president.
CORRECTION: This review has been updated to reflect the fact that Reagan left office in 1989.