on February 11, 2004
This book is anything but a hagiography - it is an unbelievably fair look at the faith of our 40th president. Kengor deals with issues Reagan was highly criticized for by the much maligned "religious right," namely Reagan's lack of church attendance while President and Nancy Reagan's use of astrology. A truly biased biographer interested only in deifying Reagan would have avoided these issues that on the surface reflect poorly on Reagan's faith. Also, identifying Reagan's faith as a driving force in his presidency is not, as the Publishers Weekly review suggests, "seemingly obvious" - it's been largely ignored in the plethora of Reagan scholarship available. It's been 23 years since he first took the oath of office as president, and only now in Kengor's work do we get a book that fully explores the deep faith of Reagan. The most surprising aspect of Reagan's faith is its depth, a fact lost on the Reagan bashers who believe he was nothing but an amiable dunce and mere actor. Carefully tracing Reagan's faith from his childhood, Kengor shows he taught Sunday school, was baptized earlier than most children because of his advanced knowledge of the Bible, and used C.S. Lewis' famed "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" argument to convince a liberal minister of the deity of Christ. Much of what Kengor draws upon are Reagan's own writings and words, giving the reader an unfiltered view of Reagan's faith. Appallingly, Publishers Weekly said Reagan "harped" on the Soviet Union's religious persecution, as if he was an annoying mother pestering her children to clean their room. Rather, Reagan was animated by his faith to denounce and declare as evil a political-economic system - communism - that killed 100 million people in the twentieth century. Please read this book - it is not only fascinating, but a wonderful work of scholarship. Copious amounts of footnotes (58 pages worth!) back up every claim made in this book, and if weren't for the readable style of Kengor's writing, this could just as easily been an academic book published by a non-trade book publisher. To fully grasp Reagan and his impact on not just America but the world, "God and Ronald Reagan" is necessary reading. I give it my highest possible recommendation.
on March 15, 2004
I fear that in this part of the world some of us are too quick to condemn Ronald Reagan as a religious zealot, if not an utter crackpot, but this is exactly what we must not do - America's very history demonstrates that it is not impossible to be a good Christian and a good President, and any analysis of Reagan's character is fundamentally incomplete if it ignores his faith.
Paul Kengor does just that - he examines the impact that of Reagan's faith on Reagan's presidency. The interaction between the two may seem obvious to some, but not all of us are part of a generation that remembers much about Reagan. Hearing about the collapse of the Soviet Union is nearly the only thing I remember from second grade, and having read this book, I know a great deal more about the man everyone was making such a big fuss about at the time. Like him or not, I don't think it is possible to understand the Cold War without understanding Ronald Reagan.
Is it hagiographical? I suppose any biography could be, depending on one's perspective, but although Dr. Kengor admires Reagan, I do not find that any more honor is given than what is due.
In the end, it is not a difficult read, and it is footnoted well enough to satisfy those with abundant curiousity and free time. Kengor doesn't assume too much about his readers; the book stands well by itself, and it is not necessary to be a political scientist to understand it. I recommend it without any reservations.
on February 4, 2004
This is a very well documented and thourgh book about Reagan, and surpisingly not dry. I found that it read well and was entertaining in all but a few spots. The most interesting aspect of this book is that viewing Reagan actions and life from a religious point of view turns out to give a much more acturate and personal depection of Reagan than any other material out there on him. After seeing the influence that christianity had on Reagan its amazing that other authors have been able to breeze over this area of his life. And because all other biographies of Reagans life don't take the time to look at Reagans personal religious convictions they provide a very limited view of the person Ronald Reagan. If you read just one book on Ronald Reagan I recomend reading this one because it provides a far more complete and honest depection of Reagan than anything else that i know of out there.
on February 21, 2004
I was privileged to read this book several years ago when it was still a manuscript. I approched it with a critical eye, but found myself moved mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Paul is a very warm guy with a wry sense of humor, and it is apparent in his style. He expected reviews like the one from Publishers Weekly, which is part of the reason why there are nearly 60 pages of footnotes, the other part is that he is a scholar and takes his craft seriously.
So seriously, in fact, that this book was an accident. Kengor was curious how Reagan fought the Cold War and set out to research it. He was struck by how much Reagan's faith influenced his decisions and decided to change tacks. Not one to simply rehash existing records, his research included interviews with family members, co-workers, and friends. Many of his sources are written by Reagan's own hand.
If you are not a Christian, you will be prone to look down on this book because of its discussion of spirituality. I challenge you to read this book with a truly open mind.
Reagan is often criticized as being rather dim-witted. He also was known for being humble and rather soft-spoken. The criticism all stops at the argument that Reagan almost single-handedly toppled the USSR. He did. It was his resolve and leadership. God has a very ironic sense of humor. This dim-witted, meek, and quiet guy did what no one else could. Sounds like irony to me, the simple shaming the scholars.
Read the book; make your own judgments.
on March 13, 2004
I describe Paul Kengor's book "God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life" a new and old analysis because he portrays Reagan as how Americans would remember him. There is not much here that would be considered surprising for Reagan fans, but it is new in the sense the whole book is centered around Faith and theological shades of the "Shining City on a Hill" verse the "Evil Empire." If you are looking for a moral and theological description of how Reagan, and in my opinion many conservatives saw the Cold War, this is an excellent analysis. This book gives a window into the personal side of President Reagan where many biographies have simply failed. Paul Kengor is not as skilled as a writer as Peggy Noonan or Edmund Morris, but he successfully delivers the material in a clear and thoughtful way. All in all a very good and far reaching reflection of the spirituality and faith that transformed and influenced President Reagan. This is an important piece of work for any admirer of Reagan, or even those simply interested in Cold War History.
on February 10, 2004
This book finally identifies perhaps THE driving force of Ronald Reagan's life - his faith. The man who ended the Cold War was animated by a profoundly deep faith in God and felt he was enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose evil - the Soviet Union - with all his might. Kengor relies not on opinions but fact as he traces the spiritual life of Reagan, meticulously using Reagan's own writings and words to highlight his faith. "God and Ronald Reagan" combines the fluid writing of a trade book with the scholarship (one-quarter of the text is footnotes) of a true academic. This is an amazingly engaging read, a true page turner, and a revealing look at Reagan's heretofore ignored faith. As Reagan rides into the sunset of his life, Kengor sheds new light on one of the enduring figures of the twentieth century. Do yourself a favor and read this book.
on March 14, 2004
If you believed the reviews from Publisher's Weekly and the bloke from Britain, Gandhi and Gorbachev are responsible for the end of the Cold War, not Ronald Reagan. However, a more discriminating reader would realize that these reviewers are indeed morons and haven't even read Paul Kengor's captivating and masterfully done spiritual autobiography of Ronald Reagan.
What other reviewers have failed to capture is the dual nature of the book - it manages to be what no other Reagan book is: both scholarly, and inspirational. Containing over fifty pages of footnotes, it is truly the work of a scholar, and yet oh so enjoyable to read.
Where other biographers have failed - the blundering Edmund Morris with his insertion of himself into the narrative and the emotionalism of Peggy Noonan - Paul Kengor succeeds simply because he relies on fact.
Don't take my word for it; many other scholars agree.
"An important volume about one of the most significant figures of the 20th century. Ronald Reagan's spiritual beliefs were central to who he was, and this aspect of Reagan's life has been neglected by far too many historians and political scientists. Paul Kengor has filled the void with this superb book-no interpretation of Ronald Reagan will be complete without reference to this vital work."
-Stephen Knott, Ronald Reagan Oral History Project, University of Virginia
"A penetrating history of the president's evolving religious faith."
-Kenneth W. Thompson, University of Virginia
"Meticulously researched and insightful."
-Andrew E. Busch, author of Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom
"Throughout the Cold War, sophisticated people-conservatives and liberals alike-supposed that communism could possibly be contained, but not defeated. Ronald Reagan believed otherwise, and acted on that belief. Why did Reagan believe it could be done? In his fine new book, Paul Kengor argues that it was a matter of faith. In the vast body of Reagan scholarship, what has been missing is a spiritual biography. Kengor has admirably supplied our need."
-Robert P. George, Princeton University
"The conventional wisdom about Ronald Reagan is that he can be explained merely by understanding his conservative ideology. Yet Reagan was a man of faith, and that faith both deeply and significantly shaped his career, his policies, and his political style. Paul Kengor has taken that faith seriously and in this compelling book explains why students and scholars should do so as well. God and Ronald Reagan makes an important contribution to our understanding of the last major president of the 20th century, as well as to the undervalued role of religion in public life."
-Ryan J. Barilleaux, Miami University of Ohio
"The conservative Christian who rarely went to church: that is the conundrum most pundits used to refer to Ronald Reagan when discussing his relationship to religion. Now, Paul Kengor casts light on the Ronald Reagan most of us knew was there, but which few of us had the chance to see. Enjoyable and enlightening."
-Gary L. Gregg, University of Louisville
In sum, Paul Kengor renders the only real Ronald Reagan available in biography today - a man of deep faith who believed that godless communism enslaved the soul and that all men should be free to choose their destiny.
Bravo, Professor Kengor.
on February 6, 2004
Kengor has done a marvelous job in telling the story of Reagan's spiritual journey. Anyone interested in God, politics, or the person of Reagan, will enjoy this book. Very well written.
on September 17, 2004
One of the most exciting days of my life was election day 1980 when Ronald Reagan swept into office. I've loved Ronald Reagan ever since. I used to say during his presidency that I loved him more every morning than I did the night before when I went to bed. OK, I'm a rabid Ronald Reagan fan.
So, my wife gave this book to me for my birthday. For months I looked at it on my shelf and ignored it believing it to be an over-the-top evangelical perspective that, through its emphasis on Reagan's religiosity, would somehow miss the "real" Reagan. Boy, was I wrong! Before this book, I had no idea what a central role religion, and a formal religious upbringing played in Reagan's life.
This book captured the "true" Reagan as well any other I've ever read and I've read plenty on this great man. This book tells a story that is both informative and inspirational.
In fact, understanding Reagan and his conservative philosophy without placing it in the context of his religious upbringing and his religious beliefs is to incompletely understand the man and his philosophy.
This book begins in Dixon with the young Dutch and the ever present saintly Nell, who was the first of two major influences in Reagan's life. The second of course being his wife Nancy.
Later, we are introduced to the unmistakable influence Whittaker Chambers played in Reagan's life. We're introduced Reagan's General Electric years and how he formulated his anti-communist pro-freedom philosophy. We're introduced to his Goldwater speech at the 1964 Republican convention. All of the major episodes in Regan's life are told intertwining his political and religious beliefs into the coherent whole that WAS Ronald Reagan.
More than anything this book emphasizes how extraordinary a man Ronald Reagan was. He wasn't just a bright fellow with a gift for telling stories who happened to adopt a winning conservative philosophy, but was an extraordinarily thoughtful intelligent spiritual man who prepared his entire life not for public office, but to become the exceptional man who would grace our country with his leadership.
If you love Ronald Reagan, if you love Truth, if you love God, if you find inspiration from Reagan's metaphorical reference to a shining city on the hill, if you loved his speeches at Normandy, if you were overcome by emotion during Reagan's funeral services, if you are optimistic and find inspiration in God's wonderful world this book will bring you a happiness and contentment you will cherish.
Please, go out and read it.
on September 29, 2004
I just finished reading the book, "God and Ronald Reagan, a Spiritual Life". Although I was voting when Ronald Reagan was elected, I was unaware of or had forgotten his mission and his boldness in speaking the truth. In a world now that has either forgotten the evil that Communism was and still is or has been duped into thinking that there no longer is good and evil just differing viewpoints, it was so refreshing to be reminded of the truth.
I was absolutely amazed at how forthright and uncompromising Ronald Reagan was. Professor Kengor does a superb job of setting the stage for all Ronald Reagan would do as President by describing in great detail his mother, his father, his church, his acting and time in leadership there, and his GE job which gave him great opportunity to hone his public speaking skills and his message of freedom of religion.
I was so impressed with how Ronald Reagan carefully chose his words and took advantage of the opportunities presented to him, especially in Chapter 18, "Missionary to Moscow". He just never backed down, even when his advisors told him should. And, the words of truth he spoke to the Communist USSR. He never wavered from his core of religious beliefs.
Truly inspiring! What a man he was! It is clear that Professor Kengor painstakingly researched and wrote this book, with the desire to be factually accurate and to show us another side of Ronald Reagan that was perhaps unknown to us. This is a book worth reading!