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President Reagan: The Role Of A Lifetime Paperback – April 4, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

This is possibly the single best book available on the Reagan presidency. Lou Cannon began reporting on Ronald Reagan as a journalist when Reagan first ran for governor of California in 1966, and then covered him again in Washington after his 1980 presidential election. In short, there is probably no man or woman who has spent more years writing about the Gipper than Cannon. The result is a magisterial account of Reagan's two terms in the White House. Cannon is broadly sympathetic to his subject, but also coolly detached. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime pulled off the remarkable feat of winning praise from both Reagan's admirers and detractors when it was first published in 1991. This reissued edition, which includes a new preface describing Reagan's postpresidential descent into the abyss of Alzheimer's disease, must now be considered the standard text on the subject--especially in light of the controversy surrounding the book that aspired to Cannon's mantle, Edmund Morris's quasi biography Dutch.

Cannon's book is full of wise analysis and sound observation. He explains Reagan's success convincingly: "Optimism was not a trivial or peripheral quality. It was the essential ingredient of an approach to life.... [Reagan] had a knack of converting others to his optimism, almost as if he drew upon some private reservoir of self-esteem. People who listened to Reagan tended to feel good about him and better about themselves." Though the book bursts with detail, it's never so cumbersome that it bogs down Cannon's narrative. And these pages give only cursory attention to Reagan's life before the White House; this is more a biography of President Reagan than of Ronald Reagan. Conservatives who are defensive about Reagan's legacy may bristle at certain points; Cannon's portrait is not always a flattering one. Yet it's a compelling biography of a compelling man's most important years. It's possible to imagine that a fuller biography of Reagan will be written some day. Right now, however, this is the best there is--and it's very, very good. --John J. Miller

From Library Journal

No journalist enjoys a closer working relationship with Ronald Reagan, his friends, and advisors than Cannon, who has covered the Reagan beat for a quarter of a century. Combining scores of interviews, including three with Reagan, with authoritative journalism, Cannon has written what may be the best contemporary political history of the Reagan years. Unlike most modern presidents whose frame of reference is analytical and political, Cannon reveals how Reagan was shaped by his acting career. Far from being a Hollywood refugee, Reagan is credited with reviving national confidence and not being the demagogue that his opponents perceived him to be. While Reagan succeeded at establishing the national agenda, numerous ethical scandals, the savings and loan debacle, and the unraveling of foreign policy proved the presidency to be beyond Reagan's abilities. Transcending the many self-serving kick-and-tell potboilers, Cannon's absorbing, informative account will be the basis for all future studies. Highly recommended for most public and academic libraries.
- Karl Helicher, Upper Marion Township Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 920 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Trade Paper Edition edition (April 4, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1891620916
  • ISBN-13: 978-1891620911
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 2.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

He understood Reagan's core values, he understood that that President was one of us.
Karen Spencer
If you wanted one man to write a book on the Reagan presidency, it would have to be Lou Cannon.
Todd Winer
Neither did I appreciate the fact that Reagan was given very little credit and too much blame.
Marvin D. Pipher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Stan Vernooy on April 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
The first thing to say is that this book is not a biography. Almost nothing of Reagan's life prior to 1980 is discussed, and the assassination attempt and the cancer surgery are barely mentioned. This is, instead, an account of the Reagan presidency: how the decisions were made and how policy was executed. Reagan is a difficult man to write a balanced book about, but Cannon has succeeded. He examines Reagan's style, his strengths and weaknesses, his successes and failures, without assuming that Reagan was either a hero or a scoundrel. Cannon's explanations are invariably thoughtful, intelligent, and well researched. My only criticism is that the book seems to focus excessively heavily on just a couple of cases: namely the bombing of the Marines in Lebanon and the Iran-contra affair. Many equally important events get much less attention. Despite that, the book is probably the best account of the Reagan presidency which we have, and I would have given it 4 1/2 stars if Amazon allowed that.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Steve Fast on November 25, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reagan's campaign autobiography is titled _Where's the Rest of Me?_, based on a line from one of his movies. Unfortunately, Cannon has amputated a lot of Reagan in the second volume of his biography. (The other volume is Governor Reagan, and it is much, much better.)

Much of the book is based on leaks, kiss-and-tell interviews, and the various Iran-Contra reports. As a result, the book is not a fair picture of Reagan but is really the revenge of administration officials. As a result, the book has a lot of inside information, but Cannon has not put it in context.

Even worse, there is very little of Reagan in the book. Most of the material describes what Reagan's staff is doing to each other, and there is plenty of in-fighting. There's very little of Reagan's thoughts or actions. For example, you get David Stockman's understandably bitter view of economic policy, but there is almost no discussion of the longest postwar economic boom, except an attempt to debunk it. Mostly he portrays Reagan as asleep and uncomprehending. It is highly telling that Cannon has not cited in his bibliography any documents from the Reagan library. He only seems to quote Reagan's diary when it was used by the Tower Board during its investigation of Iran-Contra. So this is a book about Reagan's chiefs of staff, counselors, and a few cabinet secretaries. They are interesting people, but it's not a Reagan bio.

My final complaint is that the book is written in stream-of-consciousness. Cannon describes whatever events he thinks of next, so there is little overall organization to the book. He jumps years between paragraphs.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Eric M. Schmidt on July 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
After being severely disappointed by the work Morris spent a decade working on--I re-read this book. It is very well written, and unbiased account of the Reagan Presidency and Reagan the man. Lou Cannon didn't need to insert himself into the story to make this book work. History will point to this as the definitive Reagan Presidency biography and Morris may be relegated the ash-heap of poor authorship. As a journalist who covered Reagan as governor of California and as President, Cannon has some interesting insights on a complex Presidency.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Michael Grossman on April 23, 1998
Format: Hardcover
Canon was the most authoritative columnist and reporter on the Reagan Administration while it played before us. This biography of his presidency will hold up particularly as we get farther away from the events and our own prejudices about this accomplished politician who was praised as a savior and scorned as a dunce. Canon dispels the notion of Reagan as a Johnny-come-lately to politics. Very different from Richard Nixon who remembered every political event of his life or a policy wonk like Bill Clinton, Reagan knew the people he had to lead. In one of the best insights, Canon points out that when Reagan converted from liberal Democrat to Conservative Republican, he kept his outgoing personna and thus did not threaten traditiional Democrats who were willing to listen to his message. Canon enables us to understand why he got as far as he did as President, his surprising turn as a peacemaker in cold war politics, and his failure in the intrigue of Iran Contra
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45 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Mike Powers on June 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
Two years ago, as part of my efforts at continuing self-education, I set myself a goal: to read a biography of every President of the United States. The latest addition to the list of Presidential biographies I've read is "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," by Lou Cannon. Here is an interesting and often controversial look at the man who became the 40th President of the United States.
"President Reagan" is not a biography in the traditional sense. Instead of covering the life and times of Ronald Reagan, giving an account of his early life, his first career as a movie star, and his political rise to the top, Lou cannon concentrates on the years 1980-1988 - those years when Reagan served as our Nation's Chief Executive.
Cannon, a reporter for the "Washington Post" for over 30 years, covered Ronald Reagan since the 1970's, when Reagan was governor of California. Cannon was well acquainted with Reagan and his closest advisors, having forged a friendship with all of them. Cannon had unparalleled access to how Ronald Reagan and his team worked, both in Sacramento and in Washington, DC. As a result, he was well positioned to write a book like "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime."
When I bought this book, I expected a long an detailed account of Reagan's two terms as President. I hoped the book would be filled with entertaining anecdotes of what the Reagan White House was like, and with an analysis of the impact of the Reagan presidency on history. I got what I expected, but not in the "way" I expected. And therein lies my problem with "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime."
Cannon paints an abysmal picture of Ronald Reagan as President.
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