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Way Out There In the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War Paperback – March 12, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frances FitzGerald (Fire in the Lake) offers a history of the politics surrounding American antiballistic missile technology. She focuses most of her account, appropriately, on President Reagan's efforts to establish a Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as "Star Wars") to provide the United States with umbrella-like protection from nuclear attack. FitzGerald, like many of her fellow Reagan detractors, is relentlessly critical of this initiative. Her book, in fact, is partly a psychobiography of the 40th president. She makes the familiar claim that Reagan's acting career had a profound effect on how he governed. Yet she takes it a step further by arguing that specific movies had a deep influence on his political decisions. "SDI was surely Reagan's greatest triumph as an actor-storyteller," she writes, and goes on to suggest that Reagan was favorably disposed to spending billions on ABM technology because, in the 1940 film Murder in the Air, he played a secret agent assigned to protect a new weapon "capable of paralyzing electrical currents and destroying all enemy planes in the air."

Although much of Way Out There in the Blue covers recent history, the controversial debate over missile defense continues today. An epilogue covers developments in the 1990s and mentions a pair of successful tests that occurred in 1999. Yet FitzGerald remains a skeptic, believing a workable ABM system is too complex, too expensive, and too easy to defeat. Conservatives will chafe at her condescending appraisal of Reagan; liberals will appreciate her aggressive attacks on a defense strategy they have never liked. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Anyone who thinks that Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" program is dead should read this shocking book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fitzgerald (Fire in the Lake, etc.). The former president's "Star Wars" plan--for laser weapons and space-based missiles intended to make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear attack--was pure science fiction, writes Fitzgerald, and she notes that no technological breakthrough has occurred that would make Clinton's modified SDI program remotely feasible. Yet the U.S. has spent $3 to $4 billion a year on "Star Wars" in almost every single year since Reagan left office (and, as Fitzgerald observes, there has been almost no public discussion on this issue for several years). Why? The answer, suggests Fitzgerald in this painstakingly detailed study, lies partly in the way "Star Wars" was sold to the American public. By her reckoning, Reagan adroitly filled the role of mythic American Everyman endowed with homespun virtues. Prodded by the Republican right, by military hardliners such as limited-nuclear-war advocate Edward Teller and by deputy national security adviser Robert McFarlane (who, ironically, intended SDI primarily as a bargaining chip with the Soviets), Reagan wholeheartedly embraced the Star Wars concept for ideological reasons; he persuaded the people of its necessity by tapping into America's "civil religion" rooted in 19th-century Protestant beliefs in American exceptionalism and a desire to make the U.S. an invulnerable sanctuary. Part Reagan biography, part political analysis of "his greatest rhetorical triumph," Fitzgerald's study offers a withering behind-the-scenes look at the Iran arms-for-hostage crisis, the Iran-Contra scandals, Reagan's sparring with Gorbachev, arms-control talks such as the Reykjavik summit (at which both leaders almost negotiated away all their nuclear arms but were stalled over SDI) and the grinding of the wheels of the military-industrial establishment. Her book is sure to trigger debate. Agent, Robert Lescher. Author tour. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (March 12, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743200233
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743200233
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,568,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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75 of 90 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The more I read into this book, the more fascinated I became by Frances FitzGerald's portrayal of Ronald Reagan as a man others have mis-defined. She describes how wonderfully Reagan represented the American can-do story, spirit, and roots, then tapped into it to become president, and then represented it in developing the Strategic Defense Initiative. That SDI, the missile shield, then took on an expensive ($60 billion so far) and, thus far, successful political life of its own without very much technical success to show for itself, is as intriguing (if depressing) alook at Washington politics as one can find. This book isn't the polemic that some conservatives are so quick to call it. From careful reading, I see not the author's criticisms or conclusions but her reporting of other peoples'-- including those in the Pentagon, CIA and the defense diaspora. This is thorough reporting, not book-length punditry. Having remembered Ms. FitzGerald's Vietnam book, "Fire in the Lake" as anti-war book, I re-read it to find a study of Vietnamese society that was just as thoroughly researched. Dismissing her as a left-winger is dangerous. I did a little research and discovered that her father used to be Deputy Director of the CIA.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By John G. Hilliard on July 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book may have been a bit misleading in its dust jacket description, it is a step by step history of the SDI project. It does not offer a detailed description of the politics around the end of the cold war, just an overview. To be fair to the author, there is just too much information involved to cover both the SDI project and the fall of the USSR so the author might have bitten off a bit much. She does a wonderful job in explaining the SDI process; the book is well written and is easy to read - a challenge when taking on complex international politics and weapons development. The author does go through some of Reagan's history, a bit of republican history, and some history on the Carter presidency in relation to SDI. She really relied on memoirs, interviews and articles from the people involved in the projects or policies within the Reagan Administration so it seams as though most of the info is straight from the horses mouth.
It is not possible to completely tell the SDI story without also talking about the American foreign policy through the 80's and the author does a good job with the limited space. Her only mistake may have been to include the few anti Reagan items in the book. I say this not in that her comments were overly harsh or out of line, just that it turns some of the focus to the book to the negative statements and the strong Reagan supporters have come out to denounce the book. I thought she was fair in her treatment of many of the players in Reagan administration, I have read a number of the books that she sites as sources and I could not find any misstatements.
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43 of 55 people found the following review helpful By REX ROUJO on April 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
At 592 pages, this book was more about Reagan himself, althought the context was the Star Wars project and the Cold War. I wanted to read it though because from browsing a few pages of the book in the bookstore, I knew that the book could not be any worse than Dutch, a poorly written book that should be displayed only as an example of what not to do when writing a presidential biography. Although the author does poke fun at the monumental waste of Star Wars, a small comfort to me and my spent tax dollars, the author does give the Reagan credit for winning the Cold War. There a lot of interesting stories in this book that you cannot find in the dry history textbooks my child complains about reading. The prose is crisp and clean and the author stays on track. In short, Way Out There in the Blue is a book with substance and content that most anyone can read. I hope you find it as entertaining as I did.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
First.....don't listen to any right-wing types who try to portray Frances Fitzgerald as some sort of liberal hack. Second.....buy this book and read it. "Way Out There in the Blue" is an amazingly detailed and straightforward discussion of the Reagan Administration and its foreign policy, specifically in regard to nuclear weapons, anti-missle defense, and strategic arms limitation. While it is true that Fitzgerald has no love for throwing money away on unproven and impractical defense schemes, the book is a fascinating depiction of the chaos and back-stabbing within the Reagan Administration, an administration in which policy advisors were left to make policy and defend their turf because the president would not or could not assert any leadership. As John Sears has said, Reagan's detachment gave his staff enormous powers. "You could do almost anything you wanted and you didn't have to check with anybody. You could do all these amazing things...Reagan wasn't involved...." Although different in focus, this book is far superior to Morris' "Dutch" in its grasp of the real Ronald Reagan.
Third, the depictions of Ronald Reagan (despite what his worshippers on the Right may claim) are not those of Fitzgerald, but are the commentaries made by those within the Reagan Administration itself, the people who had to work intimately with him and had to deal with the frustrations of having no leadership at the top. For example; "I had never known anyone so unable to deal with close personal conflict." (Michael Deaver) "There's a generation gap between what Reagan thinks he knows about the world and the reality. His is a kind of 1952 world. He sees the world in black and white terms.
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