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Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years Paperback – June 17, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Washington Post columnist Johnson here presents a stunning indictment of the Reagan administration that details its impact on social, economic and political life in America. He reviews abuses in the S&L institutions, in HUD, in the National Security Council, on Wall Street, in religious broadcasting and, most impressively, reveals how the administration renounced responsibility for ameliorating social distress. The book makes clear why the rich got richer and the poor poorer in the last decade. Johnson portrays President Reagan as a kind of Dr. Feelgood who fulfilled a public need for reassurance, and ironically evaded judgment during the Iran- contra affair because of his reputation for not being in charge. Summarizing what he sees as Reagan's legacy, the "ethical wastland of the eighties," the author points to growing fractionalization, subversion of the constitutional system, corruption and ineffectiveness of government, and cynicism and inattention of the American people. First serial to Vanity Fair.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Elegant prose, devastating insight and a keen historical perspective. -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324346
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324341
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 62 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
While Georgia representative Bob Barr continues to wage a war to name at least one national monument in every state for Ronald Reagan, including the Washington Metro airport stop, a few historians have maintained a more skeptical look at the defining moments of the Reagan presidency.
The Reagan papers were scheduled to be released on June 21 of this year. Barring access to them, this is one of the very few books that attempts to tell a story of a presidency without gushing like a teenage girl with a crush. A great man can withstand critical scrutiny, and Haynes Johnson has given Reagan that chance---and finds Reagan coming up short of the lyrical reviews by Peggy Noonan and others.
If you want some substance for your next discussion over the deficit legacy, Star Wars, and Iran-contra---useful since many of the participants are alive, well, and in power today---you should find this book interesting, regardless of your actual politics.
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60 of 76 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
Johnson has a hard-hitting and incisive critique of the lax, hands-off approach Reagan took to handling the ills of his age. It's not news that the Iran-contra affair further soured respect for government, that economic policies designed to make the rich richer also made the poor much poorer, that a pattern of denial and deception in Reagan's staff was the standard approach to dealing with the media or the Congress. Johnson admits Reagan's power as a President, but is sharply critical of much of what he accomplished through that strength. Anyone strongly sympathetic with his legacy probably ought not to look at this book; it will anger you. Others who are interested should see it. You will not have the full story of the 80s by any means; Johnson is selective about what he discusses (neither Canada nor Lebanon are indexed at the end, and AIDS is discussed on one page). But on what he does cover, like the Iran-contra scandal, and junk bonds, Johnson is thorough. I picked up the book to review the Iran-contra affair, and its reporting satisfied me. Col. Oliver North had nothing but contempt for the members of Congress who challenged him on his lies and subterfuge; that contempt was validated by Reagan's own contempt for laws he did not like or wish to enforce. (Johnson points out that Reagan appointed individuals hostile to the intent of the agency they were overseeing if he disagreed with what the agency was doing, like the Dept. of Education or the EPA.) This book was published in early 1991, and it is worthwhile to consider the parallel problems that Clinton had with the Congress late in his administration, for very different reasons. Every president since Kennedy seems to have developed an undertow towards the end of his term or terms, one that damaged the premises of his presidency; Kennedy escaped his through his early death. One wonders what the upcoming administrations will do to try to counter that effect.
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Format: Paperback
This good book provides a healthy and bracing antidote to the recently forged Reagan Diary hoax, although this book seems soft on REagan, Bush, Ollie North and the rest. But that is simply the author's professional and gentle style from an earlier age of journalism, long before the rage of Hannity, Coulter and O'Reilly, when Rush was still an oddity and an anomaly, when journalism was not yet mere slap down steel cage entertainment but the scholarly presentation of historical facts clearly and concisely, as in this book, as in Murrow, as in IF Stone.

This book contains the facts of that age, objectively written by a trained journalist and historian and a true professional and gentleman with full access to all parties, the objective truth and facts about the long national nightmare which was and still is the Reagan/Bush dynastic regime, from which we as a nation still struggle to awaken and may never succeed.

As you can see I would prefer a little more polemic on the part of the author, but he is a skilled professional correctly concerned with maintaining his access to all parties and yet presenting the truth. Thus, while restraining himself from commenting directly nor editorializgin at length regarding the phenomena of that time, he skillfully does so indirectly through quotes from the players and writers of that age. We therefore read the harshest words regarding Reagan coming from the mouth of none other than Dick Cheney, quoted at great length. Haynes can wear the velvet glove and fine demeanor, and let others speak the truth no matter whom it disturbs from their eager slumber.
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28 of 38 people found the following review helpful By August J. Chiausa on May 9, 2000
Format: Paperback
Haynes Johnson captures the essential Reagan years. EPA, Iran-Contra, HUD, and the plethora of scandals that rocked this administration, while the Chief gave us movie recitations as fact. Credit is given when due, as the case with Reagan's Zero Option Nuclear treaty negotiations.
What Johnson adduces is a clueless President, who's uninterested in policy, being led around by advisors, who are often corrupt. His belief in Lasser and Stockman's supply side expectations, SDI, and conflicting threat estimates are a few examples.
The Reagan anecdotes, such as the "welfare queen" story is worth the price of the book. I'd rate this book higher than similar exposes on Reagan, such as "Landslide", however, if you're expecting a complete history, you'll be disappointed.
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