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Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan Hardcover – September 30, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (September 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394555082
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394555089
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.5 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (333 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Why did Pulitzer-winning Theodore Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris controversially choose to write his authorized biography of Ronald Reagan in the form of a historical novel? There's a clue in a quote the book attributes to Jane Wyman, Reagan's first wife. As Ronnie speechified about the Red Menace at a 1940s Hollywood party, Wyman allegedly whispered to a friend, "I'm so bored with him, I'll either kill him or kill myself." This anecdote, if true, is more revealing than Nancy Reagan's charge in the book that Jane had attempted suicide to get Ronnie to marry her in the first place. Jane was no intellectual--Morris cracks that "If Jane had ever heard of Finland, she probably thought it was an aquarium"--but he found to his horror, after years of research, that he felt much the same as Wyman. Reagan was as boring as a box of rocks, as elusive as a ghost.

Decades before Alzheimer's clouded Reagan's mind, he showed a terrifying lack of human presence. "I was real proud when Dad came to my high school commencement," reports his son, Michael Reagan. After posing for photos with Michael and his classmates, the future president came up to him, looked right in his eyes, and said, "Hi, my name's Ronald Reagan. What's yours?" Poor Michael replied, "Dad, it's me. Your son. Mike."

Despite deep research and unprecedented access--no previous biography has ever been authorized by a sitting president--Morris could get no closer to Reagan's elusive soul than Reagan's own kids could. So Morris decided to dramatize Reagan's life with several invented characters--including a fictionalized version of himself and an imaginary gossip columnist who makes wicked comments on Reagan's career. This is one weird tactic, forcing the reader constantly to consult the footnotes at the back of the book to sort things out, and Morris makes it tougher by presenting his invented characters as real, even in the footnotes.

Ultimately, the hubbub over Morris's odd method is beside the point. His speculative entry into Reagan's life and mind is plausible, dramatic, literary, and lit by dazzling flashes of insight. The narrator watches the young Reagan as a lifeguard (years before the real Morris was born):

One tunnels along in a shroud of silvery bubbles, insulated from any sight or sound.... Others may swim alongside for a while, but their individuality tends to refract away, through the bubbles and the blur. Often I have marveled at Reagan's cool, unhurried progress through crises of politics and personnel, and thought to myself, He sees the world as a swimmer sees it.

We cannot verify Morris's notion that Reagan probably approved the illegal Iran-Contra funding without having a clue it was illegal, or that the "Star Wars" program sprang from his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs's first novel, A Princess of Mars, which featured glass-domed cities. But however bizarre and ignorant his thoughts were, however cold his heart, Morris believes, the guy did crush the Evil Empire and achieve greatness. Morris achieves a kind of greatness, too, but one wishes he had written a more straightforward dramatization of history. --Tim Appelo

From Library Journal

Few, if any, biographies in recent years have generated so much controversy about the role and responsibility of the biographer as this muddled but infuriatingly readable account. Morris received the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and, on the strength of that impressive work, was appointed Reagan's authorized biographer in 1985. Not necessarily to his credit, Morris may have invented the genre of virtual biography, through which the author insinuates himself into Reagan's life. As readers know now, the Morris in these pages is not even the real South African-raised Morris but an older American version about the same age as Reagan. Some events, notably the death of Reagan's infant daughter; his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) about Communist infiltration of the Screen Actors Guild; and his split with first wife Jane Wyman, are actually portrayed in play form, giving a surreal quality to these very real traumas. The reader, no matter how familiar with Reagan, will have trouble distinguishing fact from fable. Yet this work is recommended as a well-researched novel that features elegant writing, well-crafted, if caramelized anecdotes, and the skillful framing of Reagan's worldview through the mindset of the actor Reagan was always proud to be. Despite Morris's unprecedented access, Lou Cannon's President Reagan: The Role of A Lifetime (LJ 4/15/91) remains the most authoritative and historically correct account of the Reagan years. A caution for catalogers: if you classify this as nonfiction, consider adding a question mark by the Dewey number.AKarl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Edmund Morris is one of America's best political biographers and journalists. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. He lives in New York and Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

I looked forward to reading this book.
While there is no doubt Mr. Morris is a fine and credible author, it seems he forgot the object(and at times, the subject) of his book.
This book contains very little information and is written in a very annoying style.
William Stetson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 109 people found the following review helpful By D. W. Casey on December 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Given that Edmund Morris had an unprecedented amount of access to Ronald Reagan and the White House, he had a duty as a historian to write a solid, historical work, impeccably researched, well annotated, and one that could form, at a minimum, a baseline for other future efforts.
Instead, the book he wrote is a travesty; a series of ramblings presented from a bewildering array of real and fictional characters. Morris unbelievably writes from the first person -- and writes of times, palces, and events which he could not have experienced first hand, except through his imagination. One never knows whether an insight or an opinion is that of the actual Morris or the fictional Morris whom he invented that went to Eureka College with Reagan in the 1930s. Given this, can one take the quotes Morris includes from Cap Weinberger or James Baker seriously? Legitimate and interesting historical questions Morris raises (did Reagan, the idealistic young Democrat, flirt with Communism in the 1940s?) are ruined because the author does not maintain the appropriate distance.
For such an important historical figure as Reagan, this is especially unfair treatment.
Morris is trying to make a point with all this -- which is that if you scratch the surface of Reagan, you will find that there is nothing there. But instead of using this to write a legitimate history, he becomes so disillusioned that he can only write this disturbing act of literary and historical vandalism. If Morris beleives that Reagan "was an airhead", he should lay out the facts, back it up with research and quotes, and lay the record bare. This collection of musings, half-truths, and speculation ultimately is an unfair assassination of character.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Kelly L. Norman VINE VOICE on June 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
The death of Ronald Reagan brought me back to this book, which I last read a couple of years ago. It chronicles everything important, and definitely many things of which I (a socialist-leaning college student during his Presidency) had been unaware.
The best work Morris does in this book chronicles two processes: First, the rise of Reagan's political career, giving generous attention to his subject's tenure at GE Theatre, which gave him the opportunity to share some of his new views (remember, he'd been a staunch FDR democrat up until the 60's), the Goldwater campaign, and the California governership. Second, a wonderfully detailed account of the summits with Mikhail Gorbachev and the President's defense of SDI, popularly called "Star Wars". The result shows a man, a former lifegaurd "who saved 77 lives" we are oft reminded, much more intelligent than he is portrayed in the popular press. He is not above, however, using his appearance of naivete to his advantage His insistance on calling Gorbachev "Mikhail" (with a twinkle in his eye) during the Reykyavic converence, even though he'd been briefed that it was impolite not to refer to him without his patronymic, i.e. "Mikhail Sergeievitch", unsettles the General Secretary just enough to cause annoyance, but not censure. There was no question, Morris contends, that Reagan knew exactly what he was doing.
I found Morris's use of fictional devices annoying, too. And although he has explained that his subject was so cold and distant at times, he needed the two fictional protagonists to pull the story together, truly the rest of the "story" stands on its own. At times his fictional characters overshadow the real ones.
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73 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on November 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Fittingly, I feel compelled to interject a story from my own life as I begin this review. You see, I believe that there is a personal episode which illuminates the controversy surrounding this book. When I attended Colgate University (Class of '83), I was a History major, which required completion of a Senior Seminar including a major research project and paper. But, truth be told, I was not a particularly good student and as the deadline for this paper approached, I realized that I could not possibly hope to complete the volume of research that was expected of me. So I approached the professor, on the day the paper was due, and received tearful permission to alter my topic slightly, but this seemingly minor adjustment allowed me to essentially write an extended essay instead of a true research paper. Freed from the requirement that I actually go through the drudgery of research, I rattled off a really good twenty page essay in a couple days.
It seems to me that Edmund Morris found himself in much the same position and resorted to a similarly dishonest ploy in order to complete his Reagan biography. It is obvious that he did extensive work on Reagan's early life (say up to the end of his acting career) and, of course, he was in attendance for several years of the presidency. But what is missing here is the context and the background for Reagan's political career, let alone a detailed account of those years. Among the really pivotal events that go unmentioned or are dealt with in passing are all three presidential campaigns, the Panama Canal debates, the PATCO strike, the Tax Reform bill, etc. These are not little things. In fact, they are central to an understanding of what makes Reagan a seminal figure in recent history.
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