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The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War
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54 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2009
I found the thesis of this book to ring true. The idea that Reagan on his own, came to conclusions at variance, with both his conservative base, and the "realist" school that included Nixon, Kissinger, and Snowcroft, has been repressed on both sides of the American political divide, for different reasons.

Some like to think of Ronald Reagan as either a rigid and narrow-minded, ideological Cold Warrior, in the school of Joe McCarthy...or, a conservative, neo-con, cowboy-saint, who single-handedly, won the Cold War by forcing the Soviets to capitulate in the face of our arms build-up, our Pershing missile deployment, and our moral vigor.

James Mann explodes both these misconceptions. His thesis is that eventually, Reagan saw in Mikhail Gorbachev...as good hearted man of flexible mind...and crucially, as man with whom he could negotiate. Reagan was aided in this effort by an extraordinary woman...a writer, with good contacts within the Soviet Union, and whom Reagan personally trusted to send and receive messages and overtures...as well as report her observations. In fact, he trusted this woman more than his conservative political base, and more than George Schultz and his own State Department.

It's an extraordinary story of the personal diplomacy of "trusting, but verifying". Mann documents that Reagan's real role was, in first understanding Gorbachev's internal political position, and responding to it in such as way as not to undermine the Kremlin politics that kept him on top. The fact that Reagan's arms build-up, in a way, actually helped to propel Gorbachev into power, is intriguing, for as Andropov's intelligence protege, he was trusted on security issues by the Soviet military and political establishment. This was particularly important for progress on the IMF treaty, so vehemently opposed by Reagan's right wing...the up-and-coming American neo-cons.

Mann sees Reagan deftly acting in ways to respect and support his "enemy"...who eventually became his colleague in ending the Cold War. I even see an element of Gandhi's non-violent opposition, in this highly counter-intuitive idea of supporting one's opponent.

I think Mann convinces the reader that, in the end, it was Gorbachev's central role, in desiring a European Russia...who ABANDONED the Cold War...not Reagan who FORCED its ending. But Mann is most clear that Reagan was quite instrumental in making it politically possible for him to do so. This was, without doubt, a HUGE contribution to the success of peace, and the nearly bloodless transformation and normalization of Europe.

Ronald Reagan deserves the credit he's accorded as a first class diplomat..but Mann's script for how he achieved this, is different from the usual dogma of either the American right, or the American left...or, for that matter, the genetically critical Euro left.

Mann's thesis is quite believable to me....and I think this well documented history should have nothing but a beneficial effect, upon the highly contentious partisanship we've seen in America, since Reagan and Gorbachev left the world stage.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2009
James Mann mantains that Ronald Reagan was able to look beyond both the Realist and Neoconservative tradtions of the Republican Party and developed a working relationship with Gorbachev. In the first part of the book, Mann discusses Nixon's troubled relationship with Reagan when it came to the Soviet Union. Nixon, had a Realist emphasis on balance of power and military might when it came to dealing with the Soviet Union while Reagan thought that the Cold War was a war over ideas in which the Russians would embrace American ideals. In the first part of Reagan's term Nixon felt that Reagan should at least talk to the Soviets and then criticized Reagan for being too close to the Soviets in the second term. Reagan disargeed with Nixon because he thought that the Russian people had abandoned Communism. The second part of the book describes how Suzanne Massie persuaded Reagan that the Russians hated Communism and that Gorbachev was a new kind of Soviet leader , who would embrace Western values. The third part of the book is about how this new vision of Gorbachev allowed Reagan to give the "tear down the wall," speech despite protests from Realist in the state department. The fourth part of the book Mann tells how Reagan infuriated both Realists and Neoconservatives alike by signing the INF treaty with Gorbachev. Mann contends that only Reagan could have signed that deal with Gorbachev since most other Republicans opposed that deal and a Democrat would have had a tough time passing that treaty through the senate.
Mann concludes by stating that Gorbachev was the main reason that Communism fell in Europe. Gorbachev tried to refrom the Communist Party and security services through reconciliation with the West. Since the Party and the security services were built around hositility towards the West, they lost any legitimacy once Gorbachev's reforms were enacted. Reagan played his part in the Cold War's ending by talking to Gorbachev and signing the INF treaty which gave Gorbachev enough political capital to launch his reforms which eventually resulted in the demise of Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. I wished that Mann would described in greater detail the Euromissile debate in Europe and SDI and how they poisoned realtions with Soviets in the early eighties. Despite this failing, Mann gives an accurate picture of how the Cold War ended.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
The importance of Ronald Reagan is often being debated with books on both his greatness, sort of hagiographies, and those opposing places to much credit in him (Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future). This book attepts to examine Reagan from he standpoint of his 'rebellion' against the consensus on the right and left that the Soviet Union was a fact of life. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and other powerful voices in the Republican and Democratic parties believed the USSR was part of the status quo of the world, something that would always exist.

This book posits that Reagan and those around him imagined a world without the USSR and they sought to bring it about. This 'revolutionary' ideology meant that the State Department's current policies had to be pushed aside and instead of accomidating the USSR the U.S had to push against it, rather thanc containing, it had to be done away with.

Suprisingly Reagan found a sort of soul mate in Michael Gorbachev, who also sought radical reform in the USSR. In a freindship forged in ideological combat they together helped tear down the myth of Soviet invincibility. This book examines such famous incidents as the 'tear down this wall' speech. It shows that Reagan had a very real ideology that he pursued with vigor.

An important work. It doesn't highlight the role of the Afghan war at all and this is a major dificiency, but one filled by such books as Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times. For those interested in the Cold War and Reagan this is an important study from a master writer.

Seth J. Frantzman
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Of course, I am exhibiting bias when I proclaim that James Mann's conclusions about Reagan are incorrect. But am I any more biased than Mann himself? I don't think so.

The question Mann proposes to answer is what was Ronald Reagan's actual role in ending the Cold War.

Mann's research is prodigious and often interesting. I have never seen as much information on Suzanne Massie, a normally obscure personage, who as a private citizen played an important role in backchannel communications between the United States and Soviet Union.

Mann does an excellent job of describing and analyzing US - Soviet relations during the period. In fact, Mann writes well and his style is lively making the reading not only easy, but fascinating as well.

It wasn't that long ago that headlines chronicled every day's events in the long US - Soviet contest. Today, when reading Mann's book, it all seems so very long ago.

Mann gets into considerable detail on some lesser players, such as Massie, who played important roles. He describes the conflicts raging amongst the groups wanting to control Reagan's views. Mann builds considerable suspense into the beginnings of Reagan's relationship with Gorbachev and he pays more than adequate attention to the battles between advisors, some of whom thought that Gorbachev stood for actual change and those who thought he was just another Soviet leader.

Mann does an excellent job of keeping the swirl of events in the US, Soviet Union,the two Germanies and the rest of Europe in perspective.

Overall, Mann does an excellent job of recounting how the Cold War came to an end. My disagreement is with Mann's conclusions about who deserves the credit for ending the Cold War. As with good fiction, I won't plant a spoiler here - read it for yourself. It is a good history.

There are certain aspects that I think Mann slighted in order to advance his conclusion - but again, for fear of spoiling, I won't discuss them here.

The Cold War threatened to destroy the world. Under leaders like Kennedy, doomsday came uncomfortably close. Other leaders, like Nixon, believed that the Soviet Union would be there forever. One, the feckless Jimmy Carter didn't think the Soviet Union was a threat until the day its troops rolled into Afghanistan.

In the post World War II era, only Reagan believed the Soviet Union could be defeated and destroyed without a shot being fired. And he was right. Mann, however, cannot bring himself to give Reagan his full measure of credit.

Jerry
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The great thing about history is how, when it is done well, it can tear down your well-established notions of what happened and how.

In this extremely readable account of White House politics, back-channel communications
and foreign policy negotiations, Mann upends conventional wisdom about the end of the Cold War. Through meticulously researched stories, interviews and documentary evidence, he reconstructs the period in Ronald Reagan's second term when events and personalities came together to make change happen.

Included is the fascinating story of an unlikely emissary who influenced Reagan's thinking on Russia long before the "experts" in the CIA and State "got it." But the leading actor in the drama is of course Reagan, and Mann shows that it was not some pie-in-the-sky strategic initiative that brought the Cold War to an end. Instead, it was a combination of Gorbachev's willingness to walk away from that War (to save his economy), combined with Reagan's gut instinct that he should ignore the criticism of those on the right who said Gorbachev was just like all those who had gone before. The rest, as they say, is history.

Review originally published in Russian Life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2009
James Mann is a very readable interesting author. Rise of the Vulcans was one of the best political books I had read in a while and his new book on Reagan is about as good.

Mann presents a fair and balanced view of Reagan's role in the end of the Cold War. Not as traditional as the excellent "Crusader" or "Reagan's War" and not as left wing revisionist as the crap written by Walter LaFerber or Zinn, it is a perfect balance of both views in the post-revisionist sense.

My only real issue was the book, unlike "Crusader" leaves out the vital role of Poland and Pope John Paul the II.

Anyone interested in Reagan needs also to check out the excellent books of his letters, speeches, and radio addresses. Anyone interested in the end of the Cold War should also look at Gaddis and his recent history of the Cold War.

I really liked how this book highlighted the differences in the approach of Nixon and Kissinger compared to Reagan.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2009
Although a flawed president, Ronald Reagan was nevertheless brilliant with his passion directed against communism and nuclear weapons. Reagan's rebellion was against his fellow conservatives, the foreign policy realists, and liberals to see the Cold War as clash of ideas, economics, and even morality as opposed to geopolitical considerations. In a sense Reagan also rebelled against the bureaucracy by putting his trust in his personal diplomacy with Gorbachev. Mann's assertion that Reagan did not end the Cold War but significantly helped to create the climate by being an effective political leader to end it is on target. A great read about an extraordinary leader.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2009
I've never been a fan of Ronald Reagan, but this book raised my opinion of him. The book presents in great detail the way in which Reagan threw his support behind Gorbachev and the critical importance of that support to Gorbachev's "success" in ending the USSR as it had existed since Stalin. While it's still clear that Gorbachev was the real agent of change, Reagan deserves credit both for his deep commitment to eliminating the terrible threat of nuclear weapons and for facing down his political base in order to stick to that commitment. Most politicians lack the fortitude to do such things.

The other thing to take away from the book is that the myth that Reagan's bellicosity and squandering of money on military hardware was the decisive factor is patently false. It was Reagan's flip-flop from threatening the USSR to assuring them that the USA did not pose a threat which bolstered Gorbachev against Soviet hard-liners. The enduring impact of Gorbachev's legacy is still in question, as Russia is moving in ominous directions, but there is no denying that Reagan played an important role in the end of the USSR by supporting Gorbachev in his reform efforts.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2010
Mann is correct in giving Reagan credit for allowing Gorbachev a zone of comfort for his reforms, yet ignores the early 1980s. The Soviets inched the world closer to nuclear war through its military buildup, expansion into the Third World, and intimidation of Western Europe. Reagan confronted them in his first term and stopped them. The Soviet strategy of intimidation and expansion was not working, and this led to the appearance of Gorbachev. Gorbachev was appointed not just to deal with the failed economy, but how to deal with reversals abroad. As Reagan said in his address to the British Parliament 'either the ruling elite chooses greater repression and foreign adventure or it chooses a wiser course' Reagan showed the Soviet Union that it could not gain anything abroad and its best course was domestic reform. This is missing from the book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2010
Ronald Reagan's role in the end of the Cold War has been a long-debated topic. Some people believe that he used his pugnacious and confrontational attitude to bring an end to the Cold War. Others believe that he was extremely lucky or did nothing to aid the collapse of the Cold War. James Mann uses his book The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War to zone in on what role Ronald Reagan specifically had to do with the end of the Cold War. He tries to take out the opinions of his administration and fellow politicians and filter out exactly Ronald Reagan's role. James Mann argued that Ronald Reagan did play a large part in ending the Cold War (and does not stray from that), but he did not single-handedly end it; he had a great deal of help from informal advisors (such as Suzanne Massie), fellow politicians, and speechwriters. Reagan believed, contrary to the common belief, that the Soviet Union could be torn down. Previous presidents and his colleagues thought that he would have to attempt to negotiate with Gorbachev to end communism, but he believed that the Soviet Union could be defeated and, with that mindset, made arrangements that eventually ended the Cold War. Reagan created a strong relationship with Gorbachev and worked from there. He did not stick to the regular ways of the Republican party, but looked past them to choose what would work. There was a need for this book -- to settle the arguments about Reagan's role in the end of the Cold War.
James Mann tells the story of Ronald Reagan through an interesting and unbiased rhetoric. He gets very personal in his accounts and does not lump the entire Reagan administration in with Reagan himself. To get intimate with the reasoning behind Reagan's thoughts and policies, Mann uses interviews with many of Reagan's colleagues and friends, including his wife, Nancy Reagan. Mann expands on people and relationships that other books have not dared to explore -- the most significant being Suzanne Massie, Reagan's informal advisor. Massie, a writer, would travel to and from the Soviet Union to take notes and write about the lives of people living in the Soviet Union. She would then report to Reagan about her findings and opinions. Mann obtained these unique facts and such a rich amount of information about Massie through interviews. He personally set up and recorded the interviews for the book which added an undisclosed set of facts to the mix. Midway through the book there is a group of pictures that help add to the understanding of the events that Mann is writing about. These pictures include the location of his "tear down the wall" speech and pictures of Reagan and Gorbachev -- the friendliness emanating from such pictures indicates how hard Reagan was trying to create a strong, workable relationship with Gorbachev. James Mann effectively uses interviews and previously undisclosed notes and documents to back up his thesis.
James Mann was successful in arguing that Ronald Reagan did play a large part in ending the Cold War but did not do it singlehandedly. He writes clearly and concisely by using personable diction. The only confusing part about Mann's writing was that he would often put forward a bunch of names and events and expect the reader to know the background behind them. He did explain foreign words and phrases that the common English speaker wouldn't know, but he didn't provide the background to certain events that would aid the reader in understanding and agreeing with his thesis statement. The book The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War is informative and offers a new viewpoint on Reagan's real role in the end of the Cold War. Readers of this book should have (at the very least) a bit of background knowledge on Reagan's administration and policies before picking up this book, as Mann sometimes expects the reader to know about the events and people he is mentioning. To a reader who is well-educated in Reagan's story, this book will open up a new door of opinion and put forth a convincing appeal using previously undisclosed sources. Overall, it is an interesting read and will have the reader wondering about the behind-the-scenes information of other political stories.
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