From Publishers Weekly
Using dozens of interviews with Pres. Ronald Reagan's closest advisors, historians Knott (Alexander Hamilton and the Persistence of Myth) and Chidester attempt to circumvent what many labeled Reagan's "wall," to find the man at the heart of the (carefully calibrated) presidential image. Because this charmingly "opaque" politician didn't publicly ponder on his presidency (even in his autobiography), Knott and Chidester depend on those around him. With both fondness and a clear effort at objectivity, the authors largely let the interviewees speak for themselves, including high-ranking officials like Caspar Weinberger, Edwin Meese and James Baker. Discussion is candid, but often contradictory; indeed, the most interesting and revealing moments of the book come from the discrepancies, invariably tied to the era's most famous controversies: SDI, Iran-Contra, the Cold War. (Further, many advisors use their spirited defense of Reagan's legacy in order to pin blame on other advisors.) For all the insider stories, none actually goes behind the wall of the 40th president-the subjects, in fact, labor to reinforce that wall-and Knott and Chidester's own synthesis is thin, unable to answer the overarching question of Reagan's success, concluding that he was "too decent" to be great.
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The force of Reagan's character and outsized personality has made us overlook the important role and knowledge of his supporting cast. Jeffrey Chidester and Stephen Knott have performed a valuable service in synthesizing the extensive oral histories they compiled over the last decade. At Reagan's Side will become a standard reference work for future historians of Reagan. (Steven F. Hayward, William Simon Distinguished Visiting Professor, Pepperdine University Graduate School of Public Policy, Senior Fellow, Pacific Research Institute)
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Stephen Knott and Jeffrey Chidester have produced a balanced, insightful, rare gem of scholarship on Ronald Reagan, drawn from the people who knew the man and worked closely with him. The primary-source information in this book is a treasure trove of must-read material on President Reagan. . . . Knott and Chidester rightly appreciate the impact, importance, and influence of the Reagan person and presidency . . . in an engaging, readable style. (Paul Kengor, Grove City College, author of The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism)
With both fondness and a clear effort at objectivity, the authors largely let the interviewees speak for themselves, including high-ranking officials like Caspar Weinberger, Edwin Meese and James Baker. Discussion is candid, but often contradictory; indeed, the most interesting and revealing moments of the book come from the discrepancies, invariably tied to the era’s most famous controversies: SDI, Iran-Contra, the Cold War. (Publishers Weekly 2009-08-01)
The book is full of insights into Reagan's character and principles and the achievements and failures of the Reagan years. It also offers behind-the-scenes surprises, such as a moment of praise from Reagan for Jesse Jackson....Many will find it useful. (Library Journal 2009-08-01)
Beginning in 2001, scholars of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia conducted an oral history of Ronald Reagan's political years, beginning with his first campaign for governor of California through his last public speech in 1993...Mr. Knott and Mr. Chidester...intersperse their narrative with quotations ― short and long ― from the oral history interviewees. These comments provide colorful, lively texture to the Reagan story. Here are insights into his thinking, his character and his management style...At Reagan's Side is good reading from cover to cover and adds positively to the Reagan library. (The Washington Times 2009-09-17)
Drawing upon interviews with some of Ronald Reagan’s closest associates, Chidester and Knott present a fascinating political and personal portrait of our 40th president. These recollections recall the major events of Reagan's political career and elucidate the remarkable strengths―and, occasionally, the limitations―of a president whose leadership qualities were controversial in his day and still are. The authors make a strong case for Reagan’s ranking as a 'near great' president. The book is a worthy addition to the literature on Reagan and is a sheer pleasure to read. (Charles Walcott, Virginia Tech)