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Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan Paperback – March 27, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 216 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Product Description

For the first time, a minute-by-minute account of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan

On March 30, 1981, President Reagan walked out of a hotel in Washington, D.C., and was shot by a would-be assassin. For years, few people knew the truth about how close the president came to dying, and no one has ever written a detailed narrative of that harrowing day. Now, drawing on exclusive new interviews, Del Quentin Wilber tells the electrifying story of a moment when the nation faced a terrifying crisis. With cinematic clarity, we see the Secret Service agent whose fast reflexes saved the president's life; the brilliant surgeons who operated on Reagan as he was losing half his blood; and the small group of White House officials frantically trying to determine whether the country was under attack. Most especially, we encounter the man code-named Rawhide, a leader of uncommon grace who inspired affection and awe in everyone who worked with him.

Ronald Reagan was the only serving U.S. president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt. In Rawhide Down, the story of that perilous day—a day of chaos, crisis, prayer, heroism, and hope—is brought to life as never before.

Amazon Exclusive: Bill O'Reilly Reviews Rawhide Down

For more than 13 years, Bill O'Reilly has presided over The O'Reilly Factor on the FOX News Channel. He is the author of ten books, the most recent of which is Killing Lincoln: The Assassination that Changed America Forever (available September 27).

Rawhide Down is enthralling because of the tremendous detail that Del Quentin Wilber provides to the reader. We learn about President Ronald Reagan's daily habits, his grooming, his demeanor on the job, as well as how he reacted after being shot. We also see how the would-be assassin, John Hinckley, conducted himself in the days leading up to the shooting.

This is fascinating stuff and, as a history buff, I couldn't get enough of it. Most Americans have nearly forgotten that Mr. Reagan was on the verge of death after being shot by the unstable Hinckley, and the drama of how the president's life was saved is intense.

This book is a page-turner from beginning to end and I believe you will learn a lot about an event that came razor-close to changing America forever and certainly altered the presidency of Mr. Reagan. Rich in detail with reporting I have never heard before, Rawhide Down rewards the reader on just about every page. Trust me on this.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Newly revealing… Mr. Wilber reconstructs an episode much more serious and dire than it has been made to seem. The courage of the president, the delicacy of the situation faced by his doctors and the sloppiness of security measures are all given new attention… A fast-paced book that captures many points of view.” ―The New York Times (one of Janet Maslin's Recommended Books for 2011)

“The chapters that detail the assassination attempt and its immediate aftermath read like a thriller. In clear prose, we learn that Reagan was far closer to death than was previously thought.” ―David Baldacci, The Washington Post

“A page-turner from beginning to end… You will learn a lot about an event that came razor-close to changing America forever.” ―Bill O'Reilly, author of the forthcoming Killing Lincoln: The Assassination that Changed America Forever

“A harrowing story, more so than it seemed at the time, and Wilber, a reporter for the Washington Post, has tracked down virtually everyone who had anything to do with protecting the President or with saving his life at the hospital.” ―The New Yorker

“In this eye-opening book of solid journalism, we learn just how close Ronald Reagan, code-named 'Rawhide' by the Secret Service, came to being the president with the second shortest time in office.” ―Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“With a reporter's eye for detail and a screenwriter's talent for the cinematic, he invests such immediacy in Rawhide Down that the reader is thrust back 30 years in time.” ―Richmond Times-Dispatch

“A tense, riveting account of that day.” ―Dallas Morning News

“Detailed and dramatic… Mr. Wilber, a Washington Post crime reporter who writes clear, crisp prose, fleshes out his gripping narrative with a number of well-told side stories.” ―The Washington Times

“A riveting minute-by-minute account of the shooting and reveals that Reagan came closer to death than the public knew.” ―New York Post

“This intensely researched account yields an almost moment-by-moment account of the crisis.” ―New York Daily News

“A fast-paced read that draws well-crafted characters and gives a vivid sense of the history that brought the story's heroes and Hinckley together that day.” ―The Washingtonian

“Gripping … A fascinating glimpse of a pivotal moment in history.” ―Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“This mesmerizing rendition of the event can be read in one sitting, as Wilber's accuracy and craft provoke rapt interest.” ―Booklist

“Del Quentin Wilber has written a compelling and multi-layered examination of the near-assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. As a biographer of Reagan who was at the Washington Hilton Hotel that fateful day, I was fascinated by Wilber's meticulous reconstruction. He properly credits the valor and judgment of the Secret Service agents who saved Reagan's life but also analyzes the security deficiencies that made the assassination attempt possible. Wilber reminds us of how close we were to losing Reagan little more than two months into his presidency. His detailed and readable accounts of the surgeries performed on Reagan and Press Secretary James Brady are of particular historical value.” ―Lou Cannon, author of President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

Rawhide Down is full of spectacular, original reporting.” ―Bob Woodward

“The 96 months of Ronald Reagan's presidency changed the nation and the world. Del Quentin Wilber's gripping account of the ‘near assassination' of the 40th president shows how close the country--and the world--came to missing more than 93 of those months.” ―George F. Will

Rawhide Down is a stunning work. Del Quentin Wilber, with the world-class reporting skills he honed on the police beat and a fine sense of narrative, has taken a story we thought we knew and rendered it wholly fresh, vibrant, and revealing.” ―David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250002540
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250002549
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (216 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin on February 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Absolutely riveting -- I can't think of a better word to describe this book. I almost never give 5 stars in a book review, but here it is.

I got it to give to my dad, and I just opened the cover to glance over it...and the first page just sucked me in. I seriously didn't want to stop reading it (and I am EASILY bored). It reads like a gripping novel -- of course, everyone knows how it turns out, but it doesn't stop you from feeling the suspense of it all (kind of like the movie "Apollo 13"). I have such enormous respect for Reagan as an individual now (and I'm a Democrat!) ;-)

Amazing details of the events on and surrounding the day of the shooting -- the author really did his homework. He also did a great job of (presumably) editing out any NON-interesting details, as the book (besides the 53 pages of notes and sources at the end) is a nice, readable 229 pages. My pet peeve is non-fiction authors who don't know what to leave out.

I can't imagine that anyone interested in hearing more about Reagan's attempted assassination would not find this a great read. I didn't even think that I was interested in the topic at ALL, and I loved this book.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Just like with previous generations, people will always remember where they were when first hearing the news that President Reagan had been shot - I was in grade school, and it was a tough day for all of us.

Del Quentin Wilber has recreated that fateful day for all readers - those too young to remember and those who did indeed live through the event. Wilber's book is a very detailed recounting of that entire day - mostly about Reagan and the activities surrounding him, but also some of the activities about the man that shot the President.

Wilber has mined many sources to obtain the detail for this work, and his efforts pay off nicely. The book is written with a journalist's flare, and covers every topic from what Reagan did in the morning before his speech at the Hilton through the surgery following the attack and Reagan's quick recovery.

The reader is drawn into the book with the feeling as if s/he was actually there - everything from the sights and sounds to details about the cold-blooded thought process of John Hinckley, who claimed he was just trying to impress actress Jodie Foster when he set out to assassinate the President of the United States.

This is a great book about that fateful day, and well worth reading - whether you want to relive years gone by or if it's a new subject - you won't be disappointed in Wilber's account.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book in one day. I could not put it down. I read many modern history books and books about federal law enforcement, which is why i chose this book to read.

The author did those topics justice, but what I found most interesting and unusual about this book was the way he explained every medical procedure so clearly. I hope he will write more books where he describes important medical procedures in such clear and understandable detail because he did such a good job with it.

Another fascinating part of this book was the author's access to and use of tapes made by Richard Allen in the (real) Situation Room at the White House on the day Pres. Reagan was shot. We all remember Alexander Haig's public statement about being "in charge", but to read word for word the back story and learn that Haig's colleagues in the cabinet were rolling their eyes at him, much like the world was, lets us all be flies on the wall.

One small suggestion for future editions: As i was reading the Situation Room stuff, I realized that the author was using real quotes (which seemed curious and made me wonder if the room was bugged); it wasn't until pages later [and then again at the end of the book] that he explained that Allen had taped the events of that day. I suggest that in the next edition the taping be explained when the first quotes appear.

It also annoyed me (& perhaps this is generational) that the author tried to make the identity of the girl in the photos in Hinckley's wallet a mystery when we all know, or at least i think we all know, that they were of Jodie Foster. So I found that literary device kind of insulting to my intelligence.
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Format: Hardcover
2011 is the year of Reagan. The hundredth anniversary of his birth occurred in February at the same time a laudatory book about our fortieth president, written by his son Ron, became available. But nothing is quite like Del Quentin Wilber's "Rawhide Down"...a riveting account of the day President Reagan's term and life almost ended.

Like Jim Bishop's book, "The Day Lincoln Was Shot", Wilber takes us not only chronologically through that awful day but gives us a perspective from all who were involved. There was an account of the president's day of course, and included also are the hours and profiles of the agents in the Secret Service. We learn much more about John Hinckley and are given terrific glimpses into the George Washington University Medical Center's staff and the men in the "sitaution room"...cabinet officers and others who had to decide what to do to keep the government running that day.

All this makes for a wonderfully dramatic presentation and the author keeps us readers on our collective toes (or at least keeps us turning pages) with his moving portrait of March 30, 1981. As a young adult then I remember the day vividly, down to the constant mistakes the media made in their reporting.

Wilber is a Reagan fan, to be sure, but it doesn't get in the way of his telling the story accurately. There were winners and losers in this near tragedy...Ronald Reagan "stole the show" as he survived (and survived with humor), making a full and fairly rapid recovery. The biggest loser was Secretary of State Alexander Haig, whose uneven and nervous performance before reporters at the White House gave the country exactly the wrong impression. Haig would be out of a job the following year and would never recover a positive public reputation.
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