86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2002
D'Souza does not hesitate to note flaws in Regan's character or mistakes made during his life, governorship or presidency. Even so, one sees a very different image of Reagan than what is popularized and by now accepted by default, without question, as facts of history. I was astonished at what I assumed to be true only because pundits and the media said so.
We are frequently told that Reagan was a doting "pawn" of other more intelligent powers. But D'Souza reminds us of 1976 when Reagan challenged the incumbent president - a bold move within either party. Having lost the first five states his campaign manager unilaterally established a withdrawal meeting with Ford. But Reagan, under tremendous pressure to pull out, even from his wife, refused, stating he would take his ideas all the way to the convention, even if he lost every state. Then he started to win and Ford narrowly escaped. In `82 Reagan was vilified with media prejudice (see Bernard Goldberg's "Bias") as Paul Volker (a Carter appointee) restricted the money supply, while Reagan himself signed the biggest tax cut in history. Keynesian's - advocates of centralized government intervention - shouted for Reagan's head. These actions would produce nothing they said, as tax cuts provided money to spend while shrinking the supply took it away. Who would not have changed course given the economic downturn from already depressed levels? Reagan defied pressure again with defense spending - accepting enormous deficits, as Democrats and Republicans were not willing to exchange their social programs (and associated votes) for his defense promise. Clear about financial and political costs, to Reagan, defeating the Soviets with technological strength vs. weakness was worth the price. Finally, Reagan refused Gorbachev when he tried to trade away Star Wars at Reykjavik - a deal Reagan nearly bought with his strong desire to end the Cold War, eliminating nuclear weapons. Again Reagan took a terrible beating in the media.
We find Reagan a simple and practical man. He saw the world in uncomplicated ways that our elite emphatically state the world can no longer be seen in. To Reagan there was good and evil, right and wrong. He focused on larger pictures of his intent with little or no concern for details, infighting, insults, meetings or defections. While Billy Graham pronounced he had caviar everyday in Russia and John Kenneth Galbraith, among so many intellectuals, noted the success and permanence of the USSR, Reagan could not believe it. To him it simply violated common sense to think that the communist system would motivate, inspire and succeed with human nature better than capitalism and democracy. Even the master international diplomat, Richard Nixon, derided Reagan for not accepting the USSR as it was and always would be, writing insultingly about Reagan for years.
Actions noted do not match the definition of "pawn". Nor was Reagan simply stubborn. Reaganomics worked, reducing Carter's inflation from 12% to 3%, interest rates from 21% to 9%, leading to the greatest economic expansion since World War Two. (Unable to disconnect the economic rocket from Reagan's guidance, the next tactic, now so worn, was to snivel, "but not all Americans are doing equally well." They were supposed to be?) In ten years of Détente nine nations fell into the Soviet sphere and seventy percent of South America was communist or socialist. By the close of Reagan's administration 90% of South America was democratic and nine other countries fell out of Soviet influence with Berlin's Wall tumbling down under the hammers of freedom. Reagan and Thatcher changed the world into the global economy we see today - with all its problems they are not that of dictators, KGB and nuclear holocaust.
As we discover, contrary to fashion, Reagan was focused with a determined conviction. His ideas were no accident or implant. After years of writing, meeting people across America through his position at GE and a life experience showing how hostile big government was (is) to everyday Americans, Reagan sensed the country was ready for his message. Reganomics turned out to be a revolutionary insight, not irresponsible idiocy. Time after time he defied pressure and won the biggest prize since World War Two. The economic impacts of Reagan's defense debt, according to economist Lawrence Lindsey, has been a "fantastic payoff - the best money we ever spent".
Apparently, today's vogue position on Reagan is intended to discount him, adopting politically correct propaganda promoted by his opposition. The same opposition he kicked out of university buildings commandeered by force and violence by the hypocrisy laden 60's "peace" generation. The same opposition who rode 20th century orthodoxy, stating that government should regulate, escort and pamper its citizens. Reagan ran against the 20th century and fundamentalist movements born in the 60's. For that they never forgot him, determined to bury his success under the suffocation of revisionist history. Fortunately for some, still open enough to challenge modern dogma, D'Souza has a book to read.
61 of 68 people found the following review helpful
As a White House insider during the Reagan Administration, D'Souza observed first-hand the management style of one of the most respected and unrespected presidents of the last half of the 20th century. Initially, he agreed with some of the criticisms, but later came to understand that Reagan simply had a different style than other presidents.
Criticized for being intellectually lazy or simple-minded, President Reagan was never a favorite of the intellectual crowd. His Hollywood past and appeals to higher morals didn't help. Accused of napping during cabinet meetings and using his acting skills to sway public opinion, some dismiss him and his accomplishments, giving the credit to others or dumb luck. In reality, D'Souza says he was very intelligent and could grasp a situation easily, but disliked dealing in the minutiae, preferring to delegate to others. He was steered by a strong moral compass, and believed strongly in the people and their ability to make correct decisions when given the facts. His accomplishments were many, including turning around the high-inflation economy of the 1970s (although he had to weather a couple tough years of recession) and bringing the Soviet Union to it's knees by refusing to appease them.
Having grown up in the 1980s, I remember the Reagan years as a time when pride was restored to Americans, when the threat of the Soviet Union seemed very real and imminent. The suggestion that the USSR would fall by the end of the decade would have been ridiculous. But Reagan recognized that it was a system that offered no incentives to its people to perform better, and once he pushed it by forcing them into an arms race, it's weaknesses were revealed. He was often criticized as too old and incompetent for his job, but he proved smarter than all his critics. Too bad a president like that doesn't come along more often.
I found the book to be an easy book to read. D'Souza writes in a clear and logical way that is easy to follow. His logic is persuasive and his language without a lot of flowery nonsense. I highly recommend this book to those wishing to understand better the principles and thinking of one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.
46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
D'Souza's "Reagan" is one of those rare books which presents its subject in one light at its beginning, and then educates the reader to an entirely different view by its end.
The theme of "Reagan" is revealed in the subtitle "How an Ordinary Man Became An Extraordinary Leader." While utilizing biographical information, this is not a biography. It is the story of how Reagan's leadership confounded his critics and enabled Reagan, without brilliance or yeoman work effort, to become one of the most successful presidents in U.S. history.
Unlike some of his former aides who belittle Reagan, D'Souza provides a balanced assessment of Reagan's strengths and weaknesses. In the early part of the book , D'Souza illustrates Reagan's limitations thereby establishing his credentials as an ordinary man.
D'Souza explains Reagan's style of leadership, which basically involves establishing a general policy and then entrusting its execution to subordinates. D'Souza illustrates, by example, Reagan's leadership style through his handling of a series of crises with which he was confronted during his career. One by one, D'Souza takes us through the backgrounds of the tax cut, deployment of missiles in Europe, Bittberg, and many others. In this presentation of the Iran-Contra scandal Reagan is presented as thoroughly involved in the plan to trade arms for hostages, but unaware of the diversion of the proceeds to the Contras.
D'Souza does not explore exclusively Reagan's public leadership. He also focuses on Reagan's personal relationships as well. He portrays Reagan as one who, while publicly promoting family values, was unable to live them in his own family. Reagan, who was every American's friend, had few real friends of his own. Many of his aides were disappointed to find themselves unable to establish a personal relationships with Reagan who then discarded them when their usefulness to him was exhausted.
By the conclusion of the book, we are left with a perception of Reagan much different than that prevailing among the public. The kindly, simpleminded grandfather is replaced by a much different person. Rather than kindly, Reagan is seen as a very private person, unable to establish, except with Nancy, a personal relationship with anyone. The undistinguished scholar is shown to confound and outwit the wise men time after time. Much of Reagan's strength is found in his unchanging firm adherence to his faith in God, freedom and the American people. D'Souza's Reagan has a much weaker claim on our affections, but is much more deserving of our respect than the Reagan of many other evaluators.
This is one of those excellent books which causes us to change our impression of its subject. I admire its craft and appreciate its teaching.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Having just exposed Matt Cale for apparently reviewing Peggy Noonan's When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan without bothering to READ it first, I am a little surprised to catch him at it AGAIN! Though at least this time Matt COULD have read the book before reviewing it (since it was first published in November of 1997), it is pretty clear from his review that he did NOT because he gets NOTHING right. For example I'm sure it will come as a tremendous surprise to Mr. Cale that Dinesh D'Souza condemned Reagan's trading of arms for hostages as "a grave error in judgment" and "the most serious blunder of his presidency" (page 247 of the hardback first edition so Matt STILL won't have to read it). I could give more examples, but I'd be wasting my time and yours. What I DO want to say is that this book Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader is STILL one of the best Reagan biographies available. In exploring the paradox of Ronald Reagan, a (seemingly) ordinary man who became an extraordinary leader, D'Souza did not have access to the treasure trove of handwritten manuscripts that became the basis of Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan that Reveal His Revolutionary Vision for America and so was forced to make his case primarily by pointing out how all the self-appointed experts on the Left AND the Right had consistently underestimated him and his policies and had been incapable in particular of grasping his vision for moving decisively to WIN the Cold War. As D'Souza puts it, "Not long after this, the wall did come tumbling down, and Reagan's prophecies all came true. The most powerful empire in human history imploded. These were not just results Reagan predicted. He intended the outcome. He advocated policies that were aimed at producing it. He was denounced for those policies. Yet in the end, his objective was achieved. If Reagan was such a fool, what does that make the wise men? What does that make us?"
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 25, 2002
Reagan was America's fortieth president and perhaps the greatest President of the 20th century. D'Souza chronicles his ascendency to the President as he climbs from his youth to his career as an actor to state politics in California. This is a unique biography since it offers a window into the thoughts and perspectives of Reagan on leadership and policy. His foreign policy ideas and Cold War actions are magnified in 'Confronting the Evil Empire.' Reagan stood in the face of communist tyranny and led the free world. He boldly and rightly declared that the Soviet system was EVIL! The chapter 'A Walk on the Supply Side' is an insightful look to Reagan's bold opposition to the tried and failed Keynesian policies of the Left, which was discredited with the stagflation of the 1970's. He embraced the ideas of free-market economists and sought to roll back the Welfare State. Though, in all reality, the needs of defense and a Democratic Congress that wouldn't budge too much on social spending perhaps compromised his agenda. With respect to Reagan's legacy, perhaps it would be a mistake to say that the 'Reagan Revolution' was fulfilled in the meaningful sense of being commensurate with its original conception. Compromise after compromise was made! His economic advisor, David Stockman, points to some of the failures and realities that stopped or at the very least skewed it from its free-market, limited government principles in his book 'The Triumph of Politics.' Perhaps, wrestling the Beltway Machine was a formidable task that perhaps no President can tackle alone with a supportive Congress. All things considered, this is a monumental work in the Reagan biography collection just despite it's brevity.
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2000
How to understand Ronald Reagan? This biography is the best available guide but still the mystery remains.
Many people who read this book (all liberals) will consider themselves Reagan's intellectual superior. How do we reconcile that easy and gratifying self judgement with the reality that we have individually done so little and Reagan did so much. I don't know. I can't explain it. I can't stop thinking about it.
Twenty five years after the Second World War we learned that Roosevelt conspired with Churchill to steer the US into war against Hitler. With that realization I considered FDR the American hero of the century. This was true leadership. The President essentially isolated and opposed by so many well respected national leaders takes the nation on a course based on a personal sense of national interest and moral right.
Stalin said England gave us time, American gave us money and Russia gave blood. He was wrong, America in the person of Roosevelt also gave the world personal political courage and moral leadership.
At the end of the century we can now see that the nation produced another hero in an even more difficult and important struggle. Reagan personnaly led a crusade to destroy international communism and he succeded.
I lived through those times and I can hardly believe it. In the seventies Democrats like Jerry Brown and Jimmy Carter (unlike current Democrats, both highly moral men) believed in an era of diminishing expectations. Republicans like Nixon negotiated for Detente because they wanted to buy time for the US as it inevitably declined against the communist world.
When Reagan called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire he was called loony. His arms build up was seen a irresponsible and his attempt to provide missle defense was termed a reckless provocation.
There were no Democrat allies for this vision and much of the Republican party was uncomfortable with his single mindedness. The media certainly was never sympathic with his agenda to defeat communism. The media delighted in characterizing him as a rather simple former actor who could not grasp the complexities of international relations.
And yet his personal agenda prevailed. England without Churchill would have made an accomodation with Hitler. America and the world without Reagan would still have Communism on the ascendancy. Its easy for us to accept the first proposition because we think of Churchill as a monumental intellectual giant. We have trouble with the second proposition because Reagan seems so much less. But both statements are true - we just don't understand Reagan. Maybe we can't. I suspect that Reagan didn't want to be understood. Like Gauss who never published until he could obscure how he reached his results, Reagan seemed to hide his effectiveness behind a screen of affability.
The ability to give credit to Reagan is one of the defining traits of our modern citizens. Many liberal Democrats reason that Reagan was stupid, Communism fell, therefore Communism fell spontaneously. Reagan becomes a blind spot that distorts their view of reality. For such people I recommend an alternative syllogism: Reagan was stupid, Communism fell, therefore stupid people can do great things. I don't think Reagan was stupid but he certainly wasn't as smart as Hoover or Carter. Yet the modern Republican party has elevated Reagan above Lincoln as a party hero. They like to forget about Hoover almost as much as the Democrats try to pretend there never was a Carter. It does makes you wonder about the value of intelligence. It makes you wonder about Reagan.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2006
After scanning the preceding 109 book reviews, I wasn't quite sure that another review was warranted. However, since I found this book to be so remarkable, I couldn't help but add my two cents worth.
Having read upwards of thirty books by and about Ronald Reagan, I had almost concluded that no one would ever be able to capture the essence of Reagan as a man, as a political figure, as the president, as a human being, or simply as the man I watched, admired, and came to respect throughout his political career - and put it down on paper. Virtually every other book which I had read seemed to concentrate on a single aspect of his life or career; for example, his strained relationships with his various family members, his efforts to undermine and bring down the Soviet Empire, or the relationships between him and his various cabinet and staff members. I found some of these books, such as "Victory: The Reagan Administration's Secret Strategy that Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union" by Peter Schweizer and "Revolution: The Reagan Legacy" by Martin Anderson to be extraordinary and insightful, but none of the books seemed to capture the fundamental nature of Ronald Reagan.
This book fills that void. Although, by necessity, it skips lightly over some of the lesser aspects of his life and career, some good and some bad, it covers the span of his political career with a breathtaking depth of insight into not only Ronald Reagan, the man, but also into his political allies and enemies, and, in a broader sense, his political life and times, In reading the book, I once again was able to sense the Ronald Reagan that I and the rest of America came to know, love and admire during the 1980s and yet again was able to marvel at the scope and magnitude of his achievements.
So, if you admire Ronald Reagan, you will certainly enjoy reading this book and reliving those heady times. And, if you are a member of the younger generation and don't know much about Reagan, the "Cold War," or the 1980s, this book will set you straight. But, if you are one of those close-minded liberals, who despised and opposed Reagan and his policies, you had better stand clear; for D'Souza has made a valuable contribution to those who honestly seek to understand Ronald Reagan and his legacy by setting the record straight.
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2003
The Ronald Reagan presented within the pages of this extremely well-written biography is, without doubt, the REAL Ronald Reagan - not the one so egregiously caricatured by The Reagans, a movie so fallacious that it is simply laughable. Dinesh D'Souza, having been a Senior Domestic Policy Advisor for the latter part of the Reagan presidency, gives us unique and unadulterated(unlike The Reagans movie) insights into events that DID happen and things that Reagan DID say.
This is not, by any means, a blind ode to Reagan. It shares plenty of Reagan speaking gaffes as well as his distant relationship with his children. That being said, D'Souza does not go so far as to demonize Reagan as liberals invariably do. Reagan is vastly underrated as a leader - and Dinesh cites many examples how. Reagan's "rendezvous with destiny" and his bold, clear, & unwavering vision of democracy and freedom put America back on the map as THE world superpower after the chaotic tumult that ensued under the ambiguous indecisiveness of Jimmy Carter.
Reagan took the bad hand that he was dealt of stagflation, an impotent military, rising unemployment, outrageous gas prices, exorbitant mortgages of 21%, disgustingly high taxes, & a permeating sense of festering malaise and, undeterred, set into action his campaign pledges: restoring economic growth through tax cuts, curbing of monstrous inflation, ending the gasoline crisis, sparking technological progress, defeating commununism, rebuilding an outmoded and ineffective military, and most importantly, restoring the optimism, patriotism and pride of Americans in this great country. It is impossible to lead if you are unsure of where you want to go. Reagan, it goes without saying, did not have this problem.
"My optimism comes not just from my strong faith in God but from my strong and enduring faith in man."
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 1998
Dinesh D'Souza set out to write the true story of America's fortieth president: why he confounded his critics, why he confounded the learned on both the right and the left, and why he (yes he) won the cold war, saved the economy, and made Americans proud again. This biography spends a little time in Reagan's childhood with an alcoholic father, his radio and Hollywood days, his travels for GE, and finally, his governorship of the nation's largest state, California, defeating the"popular" Pat Brown (Jerry Brown's father). Then D'Souza shows how the Reagan presidency transcended the nay-sayers to be the most successful President since, well probably Lincoln. A great, uplifting book that will make the Reagan-haters squirm but will make those of us who love the man know even more why we do love him so. This book is well-written, entertaining and informative. Get it, read it, love it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
D'Souza has a knack for getting straight to the point without boring the reader with meaningless detail and pointless observations. His book is brief yet profound in the way he analyzes Reagan's life and presidency.
The author gives several examples of how Reagan was able to continually outmanuever and win the respect of those who vilified him as a simpleton. For example, D'Souza mentions how reporter Sam Donaldson stated he would actually miss Reagan when he left the office.
Other interesting points D'Souza includes: Reagan's viewpoint of human nature, how he stayed true to his convictions despite severe opposition, eventual conversion from Democrat to Republican, interaction with foreign leaders (Soviet Union, Japan, etc.), fulfilling relationship with Nancy and difficult relationships with his children, involvement with SDI, and US military buildup resulting in the Soviet Union's demise.
All in all, D'Souza's book is an interesting mix of Reagan's politics, relationships, vision, and early life. While some may comment on the book's brevity, who says you have to read a book the size of "War and Peace" to learn something substantive? Sometimes, better things come in smaller packages!
Heartily recommended reading for Reagan supporters and opposers who want to understand and learn more about the man.