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The Reagan I Knew Hardcover – October 14, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Buckley worked on this book—commemorating his 30-relationship with Ronald Reagan—up to his final days. He struggles to paint a picture of a more private Reagan, but the book sheds little fresh insight; instead, it is a scattershot compilation of Buckley's reminiscences and reprinted correspondence between the author and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Malcolm Hillgartner performs a good balancing act, shifting from the essays to the letters with subtle changes that clearly indicate whose letter is being read. His most impressive feat is creating a clear yet subdued voice within the reading to indicate when footnotes or asides for clarification are being made. A Basic Books hardcover. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

Buckley’s final book—he died while writing it—is quite deceptive. It appears to be a slight, even inconsequential chronicle of the author’s long friendship with Ronald Reagan, told through correspondence between the two men and also between the author and Reagan’s wife, Nancy. The correspondence, which spans the period 1965–98 (with one final letter, written in 2005), seems on the surface to be concerned almost entirely with mundane matters: thank-you letters written after a get-together, apologies for missed birthdays, etc. But look beneath the surface, and you’ll find a revealing portrait of two men: Reagan, a driven political contender who never gave up his decency or his sense of family, and Buckley, a tireless Reagan booster who used his many public forums to promote Reagan’s political agenda. It is also deeply fascinating to observe these two friends disagree vehemently over issues of great political import—for example, the future of the Panama Canal treaties—but they do so with civility and respect. That may have been one of Reagan’s greatest gifts: his ability to separate political and personal matters, to disagree with someone while remaining respectful and friendly. It would be easy, if you were skimming this book, to miss most of its subtleties. But it is, in truth, a deeply subtle account, full of insights not only into Ronald Reagan but also into William Buckley, his longtime friend, supporter, and (occasional) critic. --David Pitt
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1St Edition edition (October 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009268
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,314,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert C. Olson VINE VOICE on December 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Reagan Lite
The Reagan I Knew is yet another glimpse into the amazing life of Ronald Reagan. The essence of Ronald Reagan is simplistic complexity. He was something different to everyone. He was considered a dunce by pseudo-intellectuals because of his innate ability to crystallize complex issues into simple problems and solutions. This drove the sophistic liberals crazy as they long to wallow in self-induced complex problems that in the end have no real solutions except to create additional problems. Reagan on the other hand saw with laser clarity the heart of an issue and quickly formulate an overall simple solutions that he left for his minions to implement. Mr. Buckley in his glib, erudite way similarly cuts through the mystic surrounding Ronald Reagan to the very essence of the man himself. His short vignettes and inclusion of personal letters portrays a Reagan that his friends knew and admired. I personally enjoyed the correspondence between Mr. Buckley and Mrs. Reagan as it presented a Nancy Reagan that few people knew.
This is a "lite" look at the relationship of two great American conservatives. It is a recommended read if for no other reason than the historical correspondences it contains. William F. Buckley and Ronald Reagan were fast friends and this is illustrated throughout the book. Sometimes less is more and in this case that is true.
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Format: Hardcover
The story begins with Bill Buckley's first meeting with Ronald Reagan back in the early 1960s and how Reagan's approach to problem solving that night was a precursor to his style as President. The book then moves chronologically as Ron's accomplishments intersect with his relationship with Bill. They discuss governorships, Nixon, the 1976 election, the presidency, and its aftermath among other things. The story's construction is a mix of letters between Bill and Both Reagans and his commentary in between. Like Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography, it's a nontraditional memoir but an effective one just the same.

A common joke throughout the letters is how Bill and Nancy plan a rendezvous in Casablanca. Another continued story is Bill's telling President-elect Reagan that he wants no official job offer within his government and Reagan immediately offering him ambassadorship to the Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Bill accepts playfully and for years they reference Bill's ambassadorship in their letters.

My favorite part of the book is the Buckley/Reagan debate on the Panama Canal Treaty in the late 1970s. I had heard about the televised debate, but I didn't know the issues and the disagreement until I had read Buckley's account here. I suppose we're long past the time when friends could go on television and argue debate style over politics with good humor and intelligence. It was nice to read that it wasn't always that way.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I fully expected to enjoy and learn from this book. As a reader of National Review for a quarter century and a latter-day Reaganaut, I had high hopes. But it turns out a more apt title would be "The William F. Buckley Who Knew the Reagans and Gave One Clever Advice While Flirting With the Other." I don't know whether WFB simply descended into narcissism in his last years or he simply had not the opportunity to fix this mess, but what he left us was a maddening book, full of little else than . . . WFB.

The book strikes me as awfully lazy, a pastiche of vignettes, letters, and transcripts. There is here no good argument, no sustained apologia nor polemic on Reagan's virtues, when we all know that WFB thought highly of him.

It's tiresome to read one WFB letter after another, especially when there are references to the Reagan letters WFB is receiving but not revealing to us. It seems Buckley just for this purpose saved copies of the letters he sent out, while deeming most of the Reagan letters he actually received not to be worthy of publication in a book . . that's supposed to be about Reagan. There are a few Reagan letters, but they are too few, and these tend to be edited down.

For the Reagan WFB knew, a reader would more profitably acquire and read 'Ronald Reagan: A Life in Letters,' which includes complete versions of many of RR's letters to WFB that are curtailed for this book.

And then there's an absolutely bizarre chapter describing a purported conversation between Clare Booth Luce and Defense Secretary Weinberger about Reagan and nuclear weapons that takes place in Hawaii. Is this a concocted drama? Was WFB there? It's unclear what to make of it.

I cannot recommend this book for anyone wanting to know Reagan better. Read any of the "in his own hand" materials that have been published in the past few years, and give this a pass.
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I have always been very much a fan of Buckley. There is no question of his impact in restoring the energy to the conservative mindset beginning in the 1950's. Therefore, I was looking forward to this book for greater insights into the man who became the icon of conservatism for the general public, Ronald Reagan. However, I completed the book perplexed at the scarcity of the glimpses I hoped for.

1) This appears more a book about WFB and his interactions with the Reagan family and others than about RR. There are too numerous occasions when WFB is presenting his own published writings about RR's policies than about the man himself. For example, in the issue they disagreed upon, the Panama Canal, WFB's arguments are clearly given the front row, so to speak, as is his "cuteness" in speech during their recorded debate. In addition, there is much peripheral info about others who interacted with or against RR, but no "guts" about this man Ronald Reagan that WFB had a friendship with.

2) Secondly, perhaps because I have slid into a deeper conservatism than I thought, but I was not pleased about WFB's inclusion of his written flirtations with Nancy Reagan. Yes, there may have been a closeness with the Buckleys and Reagans that would make this all simply harmless and cute. But I strongly question the appropriateness of supplying this to the general public, particularly within a book entitled, The Reagan I Knew.

3) Curious. Although this work speaks several times about RR's children, Ron Jr. and Patti, I can recall no reference to Michael Reagan, the adopted son who has been a conservative talk show host for some time. Whether true or not, the appearance seems most certainly a deliberate slight on WFB's part.

Yes, I was disappointed.
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