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God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life Hardcover – February 3, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This engaging if hagiographic study argues the seemingly obvious point that the former President's outlook was shaped by his religious beliefs. Political scientist and Hoover Institution fellow Kengor has pored over Reagan's letters and speeches to glean examples of his faith, from his youth as a Disciples of Christ stalwart and Sunday school teacher to his 1988 trip to Moscow, where he lectured Communists from Gorbachev on down on the importance of religious freedom. More devotional than scholarly, Kengor's treatment emphasizes the ex-president's affinities with evangelical Protestantism; Reagan "invited Christ into his life," acknowledged God's "special plan" for him, believed in end-times prophecy and even had his presidency foretold by the Holy Spirit during a prayer circle. Readers troubled by reports of astrology at the Reagan White House are assured that it determined scheduling, not policy, and that only Nancy was really into it. Kengor accepts the links Reagan himself drew between his religious beliefs and his politics, on social issues like school prayer, sex education, and abortion, and most importantly on his anti-Communism, which harped on Soviet religious persecution and consistently identified atheism as Communism's original sin. But the spiritual rootedness Kengor highlights is not exactly of Gandhian proportions. As he too briefly acknowledges, many of Reagan's pious formulations, like the "shining city on a hill" motif and the imprecations against Communist godlessness, were commonplaces of America's "civil religion." In other words, sometimes it's hard to tell where spirituality ends and rhetoric begins.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“A profound character study, an engrossing work of history...a heartbreakingly beautiful love story about one man and his Maker.” (—Peter Robinson, Reagan speechwriter and author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life)

“Paul Kengor now reveals the inner heart and soul of this great man.” (—Judge William P. Clark, National Security Advisor, Reagan Administration)

“Paul Kengor takes the reader to depths where no other writer has yet been—Ronald Reagan’s very soul. ” (—Peter Schweizer, author of Reagan's War)

“God and Ronald Reagan fundamentally transforms the historical view of Ronald Reagan and his place in the 20th century.” (—Donald M. Goldstein, co-author of At Dawn We Slept)

“Paul Kengor has performed a masterful service by shining a light on this underappreciated but central aspect of Reagan’s life.” (—Steven F. Hayward, author of The Age of Reagan)

“[A] superb book—no interpretation of Ronald Reagan will be complete without reference to this vital work.” (—Stephen Knott, Ronald Reagan Oral History Project, University of Virginia)

“In this meticulously researched and insightful book, Paul Kengor finds the ultimate source of Ronald Reagan’s resolve against communism.” (—Andrew E. Busch, author of Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Freedom)

“God and Ronald Reagan deepens our understanding of Reagan’s life and the times in which he governed.” (—Matthew Dallek, author of The Right Moment: Ronald Reagan's First Victory and the Decisive Turning Point in American Politics)

“Illuminates the role of faith in the life and worldview of one of the 20th century’s most important figures.” (—Rich Lowry, editor-in-chief, National Review)

“Illuminates the role of faith in the life and worldview of one of the 20th century’s most important figures.” (—Lee Edwards, Distinguished Fellow, Heritage Foundation, and author of Ronald Reagan: A Political Biography)

“Paul Kengor has written an excellent book which explores a previously neglected aspect of Reagan’s life—his religious faith.” (—Edwin Meese III, Reagan administration Attorney General)

“In the vast body of Reagan scholarship, what’s been missing is a spiritual biography. Kengor has admirably supplied our need.” (—Robert P. George, Princeton University)

“A penetrating history of the President’s evolving religious faith and its articulation in different settings during his career.” (—Kenneth W. Thompson, University of Virginia)

“Paul Kengor offers not only a thorough history of Reagan’s religious development but a good and sardonic eye for detail.” (—Marvin Olasky, professor, University of Texas at Austin and editor-in-chief of World magazine)

“Paul Kengor’s book offers a deeper understanding than can be found in any of the conventional academic literature.” (—Hugh Heclo, Robinson Professor of Public Affairs, George Mason University)

“For anyone who believes Christianity and politics don’t mix needs to read this work on an American president.” (—David A. Noebel, Summit Ministries)

“God and Ronald Reagan makes an important contribution to our understanding of the last major president of the 20th century.” (—Ryan J. Barilleaux, Miami University of Ohio)

“The conservative Christian who rarely went to church. That is the conundrum most pundits used to refer to Ronald Reagan when discussing his reltionship to religion. God and Ronald Reagan helps us finally come to grips wiht the man and the presidency taht was Ronald Reagan. From childhood to the Cold War, Paul Kengor has unearthed the Ropnald Reagan most of knew was there but which few of us had the chance to see. Enjoyable and enlightening.” (—Gary L. Gregg, Ph.D., Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership, director, McConnell Center for Political Leadership, University of Louisville)

“Paul Kengor has addressed a critical issue in today’s study of the American Presidency: how religious background influences presidential decisions. This is a book particularly important to presidential scholars who are assessing President George W. Bush and how he too has interwoven his political and religious beliefs in presidential decisions.” (—Shirley Anne Warshaw, Professor, Department of political science, Gettysburg College)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060571411
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060571412
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is anything but a hagiography - it is an unbelievably fair look at the faith of our 40th president. Kengor deals with issues Reagan was highly criticized for by the much maligned "religious right," namely Reagan's lack of church attendance while President and Nancy Reagan's use of astrology. A truly biased biographer interested only in deifying Reagan would have avoided these issues that on the surface reflect poorly on Reagan's faith. Also, identifying Reagan's faith as a driving force in his presidency is not, as the Publishers Weekly review suggests, "seemingly obvious" - it's been largely ignored in the plethora of Reagan scholarship available. It's been 23 years since he first took the oath of office as president, and only now in Kengor's work do we get a book that fully explores the deep faith of Reagan. The most surprising aspect of Reagan's faith is its depth, a fact lost on the Reagan bashers who believe he was nothing but an amiable dunce and mere actor. Carefully tracing Reagan's faith from his childhood, Kengor shows he taught Sunday school, was baptized earlier than most children because of his advanced knowledge of the Bible, and used C.S. Lewis' famed "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" argument to convince a liberal minister of the deity of Christ. Much of what Kengor draws upon are Reagan's own writings and words, giving the reader an unfiltered view of Reagan's faith. Appallingly, Publishers Weekly said Reagan "harped" on the Soviet Union's religious persecution, as if he was an annoying mother pestering her children to clean their room. Rather, Reagan was animated by his faith to denounce and declare as evil a political-economic system - communism - that killed 100 million people in the twentieth century.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very well documented and thourgh book about Reagan, and surpisingly not dry. I found that it read well and was entertaining in all but a few spots. The most interesting aspect of this book is that viewing Reagan actions and life from a religious point of view turns out to give a much more acturate and personal depection of Reagan than any other material out there on him. After seeing the influence that christianity had on Reagan its amazing that other authors have been able to breeze over this area of his life. And because all other biographies of Reagans life don't take the time to look at Reagans personal religious convictions they provide a very limited view of the person Ronald Reagan. If you read just one book on Ronald Reagan I recomend reading this one because it provides a far more complete and honest depection of Reagan than anything else that i know of out there.
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Format: Hardcover
I fear that in this part of the world some of us are too quick to condemn Ronald Reagan as a religious zealot, if not an utter crackpot, but this is exactly what we must not do - America's very history demonstrates that it is not impossible to be a good Christian and a good President, and any analysis of Reagan's character is fundamentally incomplete if it ignores his faith.
Paul Kengor does just that - he examines the impact that of Reagan's faith on Reagan's presidency. The interaction between the two may seem obvious to some, but not all of us are part of a generation that remembers much about Reagan. Hearing about the collapse of the Soviet Union is nearly the only thing I remember from second grade, and having read this book, I know a great deal more about the man everyone was making such a big fuss about at the time. Like him or not, I don't think it is possible to understand the Cold War without understanding Ronald Reagan.
Is it hagiographical? I suppose any biography could be, depending on one's perspective, but although Dr. Kengor admires Reagan, I do not find that any more honor is given than what is due.
In the end, it is not a difficult read, and it is footnoted well enough to satisfy those with abundant curiousity and free time. Kengor doesn't assume too much about his readers; the book stands well by itself, and it is not necessary to be a political scientist to understand it. I recommend it without any reservations.
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Format: Hardcover
I was privileged to read this book several years ago when it was still a manuscript. I approched it with a critical eye, but found myself moved mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Paul is a very warm guy with a wry sense of humor, and it is apparent in his style. He expected reviews like the one from Publishers Weekly, which is part of the reason why there are nearly 60 pages of footnotes, the other part is that he is a scholar and takes his craft seriously.
So seriously, in fact, that this book was an accident. Kengor was curious how Reagan fought the Cold War and set out to research it. He was struck by how much Reagan's faith influenced his decisions and decided to change tacks. Not one to simply rehash existing records, his research included interviews with family members, co-workers, and friends. Many of his sources are written by Reagan's own hand.
If you are not a Christian, you will be prone to look down on this book because of its discussion of spirituality. I challenge you to read this book with a truly open mind.
Reagan is often criticized as being rather dim-witted. He also was known for being humble and rather soft-spoken. The criticism all stops at the argument that Reagan almost single-handedly toppled the USSR. He did. It was his resolve and leadership. God has a very ironic sense of humor. This dim-witted, meek, and quiet guy did what no one else could. Sounds like irony to me, the simple shaming the scholars.
Read the book; make your own judgments.
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