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Comment: This book has already been loved by someone else. It MIGHT have some wear and tear on the edges, have some markings in it, or be an ex-library book. Over-all it's still a good book at a great price! (if it is supposed to contain a CD or access code, that may be missing)
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President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime Hardcover – April, 1991

3.7 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is possibly the single best book available on the Reagan presidency. Lou Cannon began reporting on Ronald Reagan as a journalist when Reagan first ran for governor of California in 1966, and then covered him again in Washington after his 1980 presidential election. In short, there is probably no man or woman who has spent more years writing about the Gipper than Cannon. The result is a magisterial account of Reagan's two terms in the White House. Cannon is broadly sympathetic to his subject, but also coolly detached. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime pulled off the remarkable feat of winning praise from both Reagan's admirers and detractors when it was first published in 1991. This reissued edition, which includes a new preface describing Reagan's postpresidential descent into the abyss of Alzheimer's disease, must now be considered the standard text on the subject--especially in light of the controversy surrounding the book that aspired to Cannon's mantle, Edmund Morris's quasi biography Dutch.

Cannon's book is full of wise analysis and sound observation. He explains Reagan's success convincingly: "Optimism was not a trivial or peripheral quality. It was the essential ingredient of an approach to life.... [Reagan] had a knack of converting others to his optimism, almost as if he drew upon some private reservoir of self-esteem. People who listened to Reagan tended to feel good about him and better about themselves." Though the book bursts with detail, it's never so cumbersome that it bogs down Cannon's narrative. And these pages give only cursory attention to Reagan's life before the White House; this is more a biography of President Reagan than of Ronald Reagan. Conservatives who are defensive about Reagan's legacy may bristle at certain points; Cannon's portrait is not always a flattering one. Yet it's a compelling biography of a compelling man's most important years. It's possible to imagine that a fuller biography of Reagan will be written some day. Right now, however, this is the best there is--and it's very, very good. --John J. Miller --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

No journalist enjoys a closer working relationship with Ronald Reagan, his friends, and advisors than Cannon, who has covered the Reagan beat for a quarter of a century. Combining scores of interviews, including three with Reagan, with authoritative journalism, Cannon has written what may be the best contemporary political history of the Reagan years. Unlike most modern presidents whose frame of reference is analytical and political, Cannon reveals how Reagan was shaped by his acting career. Far from being a Hollywood refugee, Reagan is credited with reviving national confidence and not being the demagogue that his opponents perceived him to be. While Reagan succeeded at establishing the national agenda, numerous ethical scandals, the savings and loan debacle, and the unraveling of foreign policy proved the presidency to be beyond Reagan's abilities. Transcending the many self-serving kick-and-tell potboilers, Cannon's absorbing, informative account will be the basis for all future studies. Highly recommended for most public and academic libraries.
- Karl Helicher, Upper Marion Township Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 948 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (April 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067154294X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671542948
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.5 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #899,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stan Vernooy on April 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
The first thing to say is that this book is not a biography. Almost nothing of Reagan's life prior to 1980 is discussed, and the assassination attempt and the cancer surgery are barely mentioned. This is, instead, an account of the Reagan presidency: how the decisions were made and how policy was executed. Reagan is a difficult man to write a balanced book about, but Cannon has succeeded. He examines Reagan's style, his strengths and weaknesses, his successes and failures, without assuming that Reagan was either a hero or a scoundrel. Cannon's explanations are invariably thoughtful, intelligent, and well researched. My only criticism is that the book seems to focus excessively heavily on just a couple of cases: namely the bombing of the Marines in Lebanon and the Iran-contra affair. Many equally important events get much less attention. Despite that, the book is probably the best account of the Reagan presidency which we have, and I would have given it 4 1/2 stars if Amazon allowed that.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reagan's campaign autobiography is titled _Where's the Rest of Me?_, based on a line from one of his movies. Unfortunately, Cannon has amputated a lot of Reagan in the second volume of his biography. (The other volume is Governor Reagan, and it is much, much better.)

Much of the book is based on leaks, kiss-and-tell interviews, and the various Iran-Contra reports. As a result, the book is not a fair picture of Reagan but is really the revenge of administration officials. As a result, the book has a lot of inside information, but Cannon has not put it in context.

Even worse, there is very little of Reagan in the book. Most of the material describes what Reagan's staff is doing to each other, and there is plenty of in-fighting. There's very little of Reagan's thoughts or actions. For example, you get David Stockman's understandably bitter view of economic policy, but there is almost no discussion of the longest postwar economic boom, except an attempt to debunk it. Mostly he portrays Reagan as asleep and uncomprehending. It is highly telling that Cannon has not cited in his bibliography any documents from the Reagan library. He only seems to quote Reagan's diary when it was used by the Tower Board during its investigation of Iran-Contra. So this is a book about Reagan's chiefs of staff, counselors, and a few cabinet secretaries. They are interesting people, but it's not a Reagan bio.

My final complaint is that the book is written in stream-of-consciousness. Cannon describes whatever events he thinks of next, so there is little overall organization to the book. He jumps years between paragraphs.
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Format: Paperback
My friends bet me that I could not read a whole book on President Reagan. I did it! And, I throughly enjoyed it even though it took me several months. Cannon is obviously a great reporter and a masterful writer. His book had an unexpected effect on me. It taught me how to love Reagan as a brother; actually more of an uncle; in spite of the politics. Sounds schmaltzy but it's the truth. Every chapter seemed to remind me of one of Reagan favorite old sayings "hate the sin and love the sinner."

My hunch is that Cannon has defined the Reagan legacy for History and I am very glad he has done this for us.
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Format: Hardcover
In this week's observances of the death and burial of Ronald Reagan, the near-invisibility of his official biographer Edmund Morris is only underscored by the near-ubiquity of Lou Cannon. With Morris's disappointing "Dutch" already gathering dust, a decade of effort wasted, Cannon's "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime" is more and more becoming recognized as the best biography yet written of America's fortieth president.
This is as it should be. As Gerald Seib notes in today's Wall Street Journal, Cannon was seen even before the Gipper's election in 1980 as "the journalistic world's foremost authority on Reagan." He was "the only reporter Reagan knew well." In "Role of a Lifetime," Cannon employs this knowledge and access without abusing it. In calling the presidency a "role," Cannon doesn't join the ranks of those who (still) demean Reagan as "just an actor." Instead, he provides a sophisticated look at how Reagan viewed the office: not simply the nation's premier technocrat or legislative whip, but as a position with important symbolic and inspirational functions. After the dismal Carter years, America (and the world) needed a president who understood just what Theodore Roosevelt meant by the office as a "bully pulpit."
In recognizing Reagan's insight -- without either belittling or overpraising it -- Cannon has given himself a solid foundation on which to build a narrative rich in research, story, and understanding. People who come out of this week desiring to know more about this remarkable man and his impact on the world could do much worse than to start by reading Lou Cannon's "Role of a Lifetime."
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