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Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History Paperback – February 17, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A professor of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center, Diggins (The Rise and Fall of the American Left) provides an original reappraisal of Ronald Reagan from the conservative perspective. Throughout, Diggins discovers nuances that have heretofore escaped notice by most other Reagan scholars. For example: in appraising Reagan's reaction as California governor to '60s radicals, Diggins is the first writer to acknowledge the extent to which the onetime movie star shared common ground with rebels on campuses nationwide. Reagan, with his reverence for Thomas Paine and passion for limiting the reach of government, was—on at least one level—more than sympathetic when Berkeley protesters chanted, "Two, Four, Six, Eight, Organize to Smash the State!" Although a fan of Reagan's, Diggins doesn't hesitate to be critical—as when he discusses Reagan's attitude as president toward environmental issues, which Diggins characterizes as "puzzling" and "disastrous." (Diggins notes that Reagan's record as governor of California, where he allied himself with old guard Republican conservationists, was far more environmentally-friendly.) Overall, Diggins does a superb job of tracing Reagan's intellectual development from old school New Dealer to thoughtful, Emersonian libertarian, and also firmly establishes Reagan's credentials as a major architect of communism's final collapse. 13 photos. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Because Reagan has been misinterpreted by both the Right and the Left, his legacy in American political history has been distorted and undervalued, according to Diggins, author of The Rise and Fall of the American Left (1992). Contrary to liberal opinions, Reagan was no philosophical lightweight, nor was he the moral absolutist lauded by conservatives. He was a man of consistent beliefs, forged during the cold war. In his efforts to end the cold war, he was closer to liberals who always thought it possible than to conservatives who didn't believe it could ever be done. Reagan was "the only president in American history to have resolved a sustained, deadly international confrontation without going to war," defying liberal expectations of him personally and conservative expectations of the value of diplomacy. Reagan rejected the authority of religion as much as government. By convincing Americans to believe in themselves, Reagan demonstrated the duality of American political culture, that it is both liberal and conservative. This is a thoughtful book for both Reagan admirers and critics. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (February 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393330923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393330922
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #221,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Marvin D. Pipher on March 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In this book, a distinguished professor of history examines the education and fundamental beliefs of Ronald Reagan; the liberalism and conservatism of his time; and his goals, objectives, accomplishments, failures, and triumphs as President of the United States of America. In the process, he makes some profound observations and comes to some rather surprising conclusions.

Three such observations stand out: 1) Reagan's formal education and religious upbringing pre-dated the radical liberalism of his time in office, i.e., he wasn't an "intellectual"; 2) his brand of Conservatism was remarkably close to the Liberalism of an earlier time; and 3) Reagan won the battle with the student activists in the 1960s but may also have lost the war, since those radicals went on to become the university professors who were, and are, his most vocal political critics.

The author contends that Reagan's major flaw, as president, was that, as a result of his early encounters with communism in the 1950s, he became obsessed with communism, which he perceived as truly evil, and came to interpret every action of the Soviet Union in that light. This, the author contends, caused him to misjudge and misunderstand much of what was happening in South America and in the Middle East. For example, he failed to realize that those fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan weren't "freedom fighters," but were, in fact, the zealots who would go on to become today's Islamic terrorists.

The author further contends that it wasn't until Reagan came to the profound conclusion that the greatest threat to America and to the world at large was nuclear annihilation, for at that time both the United States and the Soviet Union had the capability to destroy the world.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Todd Carlsen on March 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this illuminating book "Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History," John Patrick Diggins shows clearly that Ronald Reagan was a believer in the American dream and Emersonian in his optimistic belief in self-reliance and emphasis on individual freedom. Reagan worried about the danger of government as strong as totalitarianism. Reagan was ideological for libertarianism (often called liberalism in the old sense of that word). Reagan was not a social order conservative like Edmund Burke, who believed government was needed to restrain the dark side of people or impose an unfair social order. Instead, Reagan was optimistic about human freedom, like Jefferson, and not pessimistic like Alexander Hamilton. This split in ideology between liberty and order goes back to the early days of the American republic and way before that. Reagan was for liberty.

The history of Reagan's time in California is engrossing. Reagan adored FDR and was a staunch New Dealer. Then communists tried to infiltrate Hollywood and used lie after lie to do so. Reagan felt he was defending American became an anti-communist crusader, still as a FDR-loving Democrat, and then registered one day as a Republican and he never turned back. He then advocated free markets, freedom and the danger of government making bad mistakes with too much power. The story of Reagan's life before he became president is very important for understanding Reagan as a person and what he really believed. Reagan's extensive writings, speeches and political career show Reagan to be a thoughtful advocate of individual freedom. Therefore, he was a staunch enemy of communism or any form of totalitarianism. Indeed, the author argues that Reagan was in some ways anti-establishment in his optimistic belief in individual freedom.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By D. Mataconis on March 9, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For the most part, the biographies that have been written about Ronald Reagan in the years since he left office have suffered from one of two defects. Either they have been overly critical and dismissive and failed to grasp the truly revolutionary aspects of the Reagan Presidency, or they have been overly worshipful, something more akin to adulation than real scholarship. In both cases, the differing interpretations of Reagan have likely been based on ideological differences and political resentments of the 1980s and beyond.In Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History, John Patrick Diggins takes a worthy first step toward moving beyond either the worshipful or the hate-filled evaluations of the Reagan Presidency and gives America's 40th President the respectful, if not always positive, evaluation that he deserves.

Reagan's singular achievement, Diggins argues, was the role he played in bringing a peaceful end to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Though he came into the White House with a promise to rebuild the American military and confronted what his advisers contended were Soviet-sponsored regimes in nations ranging from Nicaragua to Angola, it's clear that, very early in his Administration, if not before then, Reagan became committed to the idea of drastically reducing, if not eliminating, nuclear weapons.

Much to the consternation of his neo-conservative foreign policy team, Reagan made overtures to the Soviets as early as April 1981, when he wrote a letter to Leonid Brezhnev while recovering from an assassination attempt. The Brezhnev dialog never went anywhere, largely because Brezhnev was apparently too stubborn and too ill to actually pursue serious negotiations.
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