40 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2009
The Age of Reagan: 1980-1989 is a fascinating account of the Reagan era and the Reagan presidency--a great read. Here are not only the policies (both domestic and foreign) but the politics, the insider debates and the conflicts.
Many people--including some committed liberal scholars Hayward quotes--think more highly of Reagan now than they did when he left office, for two reasons the author notes:
1) The "dramatic and unexpected end of the Cold War, and the demise of the Soviet Union, for which even Reagan's critics allow him a substantial role in the outcome" and
2) "the revelation of Reagan's extensive writings--radio addresses, letters, speeches, and finally his personal diary--which displayed a lively and informed mind and a greater depth of character than hitherto imagined. . .At long last we had found the rest of him."
Hayward makes good use of Reagan's own writings, which became available between 2001 and 2007, integrating them into the narrative of the broad sweep of the history of these years and giving us the flavor of Reagan's own thinking, decision-making, and sometimes frustrations with the foreign and domestic personalities with whom he was dealing.
Since Hayward wrote, even more of "the rest of him" has become available through recently declassified minutes of many of the National Security Council meetings Reagan chaired.
Hayward acknowledges that he's always been sympathetic to Reagan, but notes that he doesn't shrink from reporting weaknesses or criticizing errors or mistakes. I've found this claim fulfilled as I read the text. Hayward also gives us considerable insights into the political philosophies and debates that continue to this day. The best book yet about the Reagan era.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2009
Hayward shows his passion and reverence for the greatest president of the post-war era in this, much more that Wilentz in his plodding work of last year. Even at the first chapter, I could imagine myself actually sitting into the office with Baker or Meese in the presidential transition office, watching aides scurry about trying to set up the White House to undo the damage of the previous four years.
Any reader, regardless of persuasion, will profit from reading this fair and even handed piece, if anything to have a better (and more accurate) understanding of the president who was a game changer.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 22, 2009
Steven Hayward is one of my favorite authors. The first volume of "The Age of Reagan" was superb, and so was his stinging book, "The Real Jimmy Carter."
In this second volume of "The Age of Reagan," a book I suspected might be boring, the insights and the memories start flowing fast. Does anyone remember Jimmy's LAST press conference, where he blamed his own ineptitude and failure on the office of the Presidency itself? Nooooo. But that was the common wisdom in the Beltway those days: that the office of President had simply grown too large for any one man to fill. Government was too complex. Let's dump the Constitution, that rickety old-fashioned thing, and start anew.
One of Ronald Wilson Reagan's many accomplishments was to stop that sort of mindless chatter.
Another thing to warm the cockles of your heart is good old Reagan Derangement Syndrome (RDS). We have all been focused on BDS for so long that we tend to forget how much Reagan was hated. One memory returns to me...around 1986 I realized something, and told friends about it: even if Reagan discovered the cure for the common cold, the Democrats would continue hating him, and begin creating stories about how some unknown stooge had done it all while the REAL Ronald Reagan was sleeping.
Don't we all remember the over-arching theory, that Reagan was merely a marionette --- a simple-minded movie star who had been thrust into power by evil Fascists --- whose only duty was to carry out their orders? It is vastly amusing --- and reassuring --- to discover that this theory was totally wrong. Reagan was a charming, personally affable man, with a will of steel --- and a large, well-read personal library. He not only read books, he wrote them himself. It is an historical fact that Reagan had to DEFEAT those entrenched Republican interests in order to gain the Presidency, and another fact that he told his Cabinet: "I hate taxes, and Communism, and inflation. Now, get to work, and remember that the person who makes decisions around here is ME."
Steven Hayward recalls other facts that some journalists and historians would rather forget. Reagan's FIRST victory, over Peanut Jimmy, was a landslide! We all know that his second election campaign was a landslide, but how many remember his first? What makes Hayward's book even more enjoyable: he gives us copious citations from the Beltway Pundits before and after this Unexpected Event. These citations are, in retrospect, absolutely hilarious. Washington was TERRIFIED when Reagan came to town.
Well, I won't go on too long. Get this book and read it. You'll enjoy it immensely.
Highest possible recommendation!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2009
The most fair book I read about President Reagan. The book gives the postive about the president and the negative. I think everybody will enjoy the book.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2009
Ronald Reagan was one of the most popular Presidents in American history; Steven F Hayward's compelling perspective of the Reagan White House years brings to life the great legacy of our 40th President; a legacy that had been unfairly tarnished during the tail end of his administration by the Iran Contra scandal.
In retrospect, Reagan's participation in that debacle was unfairly criticized by an accusatory press, and other liberal elements of our society. That's a tragic conclusion to the end of an administration that began when America was perhaps at its lowest psychological & economic state of being. What Reagan did was bring our country out of the malaise and restore our economic & political strength to a point that was unparalleled in American history.
Hayward has captured the essence of what made Reagan one of our greatest Presidents; in the 20 years since the end of his Presidency, I think most of us have a far greater appreciation for what Ronald Reagan accomplished in his two terms in office. This is a wonderful book, and should be read by all Americans, regardless of political persuasion.
The '80s were a fun-loving time of tremendous economic growth and prosperity; not to mention a time of remarkable ideological & political influence. The Berlin Wall tumbling down didn't happen by accident; nor did the Cold War become a thing of the past simply because the Russians forgot they hated capitalism. Reagan was the driving force behind all this profound and positive change.
Let's not forget his legacy; Hayward's book has brought it back to life for a new generation of Americans to appreciate.
26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2009
No one could do better than to give Hayward's two volumes on Reagan as a gift to a college student, interested layman or scholar. Hayward has the ability to explain the complex realities of federal budgets and geopolitics in a straightforward manner but without being simple-minded. And it captures not just the man, but the spirit of the Reagan era. I highly recommend it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2012
Stephen Hayward's book is a very good history of the Reagan years. Hayward is a conservative scholar. He has shown some strong biases in some of his works. For example, he wrote a book where he absolutely tore Jimmy Carter apart. However, the arguments of this book were overwhelmingly factual.
Hayward points out that Reagan rescued America from a stagnant economy. After a couple years of struggle, the nation experienced a time of prosperity, low taxes, low unemployment, and the virtual end of inflation.
Hayward covers the legacy of Reagan as the man who deserves a lot of credit for ending the Cold War. Reagan got tough with the Soviet Union and was able to intimidate Soviet leaders with a military buildup and the investment in the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense plan. The Soviets could not keep up with the arms race because of the domestic economic crisis at home. The Soviet Union had to make major changes and concessions to the west. Once leaders like Gorbachev extended freedoms, the people demanded to be completely free from the Communist models in Eastern Europe.
This is a very good book and the scholarship is excellent. Hayward does display some bias, but it is much more limited than in some of his other books. He does not need to engage in hyperbole to demonstrate Reagan's greatness. He did not have to completely discredit the liberals either. Hayward was able to demonstrate that Reagan's conservative reforms changed America. He was the most significant American president, at least since the Johnson-Nixon years.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
I read the first volume of this two volume set last month. It was excellent and refreshed my memory of the situation that we faced when Ronald Reagan was elected. I was not a big fan of his when he was governor of California. I think it was the residual of my student liberalism that was fading as I grew up but which was finished off by the presidency of Jimmy Carter. By the time Reagan was elected, I was ready for a big change and, as this book relates so enjoyably, we got it. I do have a couple of differences with the author on details. In Chapter 5, "Stay the Course, Hayward writes about the vicious 1981-82 recession. He attributes it to Fed's pressure to eliminate inflation. On page 186, he writes that the Reagan response to critics of his tax cut was "the correct but weak-sounding explanation that his plan hadn't take effect yet." He doesn't explain that the delay in implementation of the tax cut had the wholly logical effect of causing everyone to delay economic activity until the tax cut had taken effect. This response was predicted at the time by the Wall Street Journal and I remember it well. All through the book we are reminded of the baleful influence of Senator Bob Dole who did what he could to derail the Reagan Revolution from Congress. Reagan's friends in the Republican Party were almost as obstructionist as the Democrats. They were still the old "Root Canal Republicans" and would be for some time.
The sections on the rise of Gorbachev and the end of the Cold War are excellent and I note that he includes several references to Reagan's private contact Susan Massie who plays a large role in the excellent book, The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War. Reagan was often depicted as remote and uninvolved in the details of governing. These books should dispel that myth. There is a good explanation of the farcical Iran-Contra scandal that seemed such a major matter at the time but which has faded from memory, as it should. Still, it reminds one that the Democratic Congress was frequently obstructionist in foreign policy matters during the Cold War. The efforts to keep the Contras alive led to some inexplicable lapses by people who should have known better. He does not mention the attempted suicide of Robert McFarlane that resulted from his role in that fiasco. McFarlane later said that the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" had an important role in his recovery from depression. At times we can forget that real people are involved in such circumstances; not everyone is a politician.
There is also an excellent discussion of the politics of the two presidential campaigns. I was disappointed that Reagan was unable to control spending during his time in office but the author points out that he at least reduced the slope of spending if not the general trend. He also had two excuses that the Bush presidencies did not have; he had the Cold War to win and he had a Democratic Congress. Both volumes of this history are excellent and fill a need that has been obvious since the failure of the Edmund Morris "biography", Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, which I do not recommend. They are big books but read well.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2010
Like RENDEZVOUS WITH DESTINY, Craig Shirley's recent book on Ronald Reagan's 1980 Presidential campaign -- which, interestingly enough, also took more time to be released than originally expected -- the second volume in Hayward's AGE OF REAGAN exacta is likely to stand for some time as the default pro-Reagan survey of its subject matter (in this case, Reagan's two terms as President). It also, like Shirley's volume, misses top-drawer status by just a hair. Hayward eschews the sophomoric language that Shirley occasionally used in favor of a straightforward narrative style, so the words aren't the problem. The real disappointment is how many important topics are either ignored entirely or skimmed over in passing, the victims of Hayward's relentless focus on the "twin peaks" of the Reagan era, the success/failure of "Reaganomics" and the events of the final decade of the Cold War. You'll find nothing here on the savings and loan crisis (which Hayward admits up front) but also nothing on South Africa, the great liberal foreign-policy obsession of the 1980s, and a surprisingly meager amount on the Religious Right, even in its somewhat fluid pre-Christian Coalition phase. The final chapter is also something of a letdown, primarily because Hayward spends so little time on linking Reagan's accomplishments to the triumphs and follies of the conservative movement today -- a linkage that he had explicitly promised to explore in some detail in the first volume.
Despite the holes in the narrative, Hayward does succeed in clearing the air of several misconceptions about the Reagan years. First and foremost, he dynamites any lingering impressions that "we all stood together behind the Gipper" as the Cold War wound down. The quotes from Vietnam-traumatized liberals and leftists about the Soviet Union, Nicaragua, Grenada, and similar would-be flash points are numerous, and damning. Oddly enough, Hayward makes no mention of Ted Kennedy's coziness with ex-KGB master Yuri Andropov, which would have fit right into his laundry list of defeatist declarations. A discussion of South Africa would also have been helpful here, as the huge amount of noise made about that country by the Left during the 80s would have provided a useful contrast to its deafening silence when it came to the USSR and Eastern Europe. Hayward gives Mikhail Gorbachev his proper due for helping to ease tensions and bring the Cold War to a virtually bloodless conclusion, but he also makes it clear that Reagan was anything but an amiable onlooker to these events; his resolve obliged the USSR to find a leader who would at least attempt to reverse the country's economic slide and compete with a newly confident America.
Hayward also nixes the notion of Reagan's second term as being a "failure" defined solely by the Iran-Contra scandal. 1985-89 saw the major breakthroughs with Gorbachev, the passage of a landmark tax-reform package that was thought to be impossible at the time, and the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine, which has since led to the creation of a conservative alternative media, a luxury that Reagan himself did not enjoy. If Reagan's second term was a letdown compared to the first, Hayward argues, it was partially his own fault. In "Realignment Manque," the most provocative part of the book, Hayward takes the Reagan reelection campaign in 1984 to task for not attempting to "de-legitimize" the intellectually sclerotic Democratic Party and fighting hard for Republican gains in the Congress. Instead, Reagan encouraged Democrats to support him without leaving their own party and used the cheerful but vacuous theme of "Morning in America." Hayward's argument is hard to answer, but he does not really discuss why Reagan chose to campaign in this manner. My own view is that this was another example of Reagan going over the heads of the elite media and establishing a personal bond of trust with voters. By so doing, he was able to counteract media bias (which was plenty bad, though nowhere near as raw and ugly as that seen during the "W" years), but he did so at the cost of blunting the edges of his rhetoric.
Finally, Hayward muddies the expected good guy/bad guy domestic debates of the era by pointing out how often Reagan was at odds with members of his own party. Bob Dole may have been a good senator and an effective spokesman for Viagra, but he does not come off at all well here. The waterier RINOs of the Lowell Weicker/Charles Mathias ilk are treated even more harshly (not least by quoting Reagan's disgusted diary entries about them). Hayward likewise details the worries of conservatives that a legacy-haunted Reagan might be snookered into signing a bad arms-control bill with Gorbachev late in his Presidency. Despite making these points, Hayward mystifyingly fails to tie them together with observations on the modern-day GOP in his final chapter, "The Reagan Revolution and its Discontents."
Though it will probably not convince a Reagan hater to "join the church," Hayward's book is an effective first stab at a complete assessment of the man's Presidency. I think it is safe to say that better books on the subject are in our future, however.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2013
Hayward's review of Reagan's time in the White House was excellent. He offers a fairly balanced view of the time period and provides numerous sources of information to gage the attitude of the American people at this time. What he does not do, and this is a good thing, is go into a liberal bashing spree or bash Reagan for other things. He offers a balanced view, but overall it is more conservative. He pulls information from a lot of the same resources which I liked because it gaged the attitude of the nation at the time. He offered plenty of statistics and economic information that helped us understand the recession of 1982 and the rebound from the hole. He did an excellent job covering the diplomatic engagements between Reagan and Gorbie as well. He put a chapter in the end of the book that described how people view Reagan now. I wish he had put more about how the Reagan Revolution affected the nation after 1989. He had some of that but not too much. Overall however it was an excellent read.