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"Reagan is an engaging study of a man who Brands says defeated Soviet communism and achieved a halfway economic revolution. Drawing on Reagan’s diary, speeches, statements, letters and memoirs, and on interviews with the president’s aides, Brands tells a briskly paced story ... Reagan’s legacy continues to fuel the ideas and frame the choices facing his would-be successors, and this astute biography is further evidence that the 40th president continues to cast a long shadow over a still largely conservative political order."
"Brands is the rare academic historian who can write like a best-selling novelist. Through meticulous research, he recreates decades-old dialogue and puts the reader inside the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room and the house in Reykjavík, Iceland where Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev debated the fate of the world and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War."
"Superb ... it is hard to imagine a biography of Ronald Reagan that could be more thorough, evenhanded and insightful."
—Dallas Morning News
"A lively and lucid narrative of the life of America’s 40th president ... Brands is surely right that Reagan was the most persuasive political communicator since Roosevelt."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Brands’ judicious biography of Ronald Reagan is as much about the art of governing as about the man himself ... Reagan emerges as a great but terribly flawed president who managed to reorient government priorities after the exhaustion of liberal administrations and ideas, but one who also burdened the country with enormous debts that his successors had to pay down."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Brands' work draws richly from Reagan's presidential diaries and other recently released sources that earlier biographers couldn't tap ... His history of the important meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is detailed and balanced, with the views of both sides given equal weight. These chapters are Brands' best writing, reinforcing the significance of those arms-reduction efforts and both men's insistence on ending the threat of nuclear weapons."
"Brands’ book stands out in the canon of works on Reagan ... With an expert’s talent for synthesizing earlier works, access to previously unavailable sources and new interviews, Brands creates a riveting narrative. His prose flows as smoothly as his subject’s speeches, and his insights provide a fresh look at a transformative president that celebrates his accomplishments but never ignores his blunders. A brilliant example of the biographer’s craft, Reagan deftly and boldly provides a balanced portrait of a man whose personality remains elusive but whose legacy continues to resonate."
"Readers will be greatly attracted to Brands' skills as a narrative historian ... [he] delivers high drama in treating Reagan's handling of diplomatic affairs, tensions with the press corps and squabbles with Congress. Few American historians and biographers can compete with Brands as a powerful historical storyteller. Make no mistake, this is a first-rate presidential biography ... The definitive biography of Reagan."
"Brands is an immensely talented writer ... [Reagan] is a pleasurable read."
—The Daily Beast
"A keenly researched book, filled with fascinating stories about a young man who escaped Illinois and an alcoholic father to pursue a dream of fame in Hollywood, eventually playing the role of his life as the leader of the free world."
—Tampa Bay Times
"Monumental life of the president whom some worship and some despise—with Brands providing plenty of justification for both reactions ... An exemplary work of history."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A superb biographer writing at the top of his game has found the perfect subject for his narrative skills and profound understanding of the American presidency. Over the years H. W. Brands has produced an extraordinary body of historical and biographical works. This is his masterpiece.”
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Bully Pulpit
“With characteristic skill and insight, H. W. Brands has painted a compelling portrait of a ubiquitous yet still-misunderstood American. From the Midwest to Hollywood to the pinnacle of power, Reagan was at once enigmatic and effective. Read this great new book to see why.”
—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson
"A superb American historian has brought us a fascinating, judicious, original, and concise biography of one of the most important presidents in American history. It is impossible to understand the late twentieth century without understanding Ronald Reagan, and H. W. Brands here addresses an impressive range of the key mysteries of the fortieth president's epoch and life."
—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage
“Ronald Reagan understood what was best about America, and expected the best for it—which is why he led it so successfully. In Reagan, H. W. Brands expresses, with deep, deft, strokes, what will become the accepted view of a great man.”
—Richard Brookhiser, author of Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln
“No one loved a good story better than Ronald Reagan. His own story—synonymous with the American Century and reflected in his political evolution from New Deal Democrat to Washington-phobic conservative—has never been told better. Studded with fresh insights, empathetic and yet constructively critical, it may well be H. W. Brands’s finest book. Certainly it confirms Reagan’s place as the conservative FDR, a transforming leader whose influence on his country’s politics and governance is arguably greater than the day he left the White House.”
—Richard Norton Smith, author of On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller
“National treasure H. W. Brands, who gave us the definitive single-volume biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, completes his biographical tour d'horizon of twentieth-century politics with this superb life of Ronald Reagan. In doing so, Brands tracks the paths we wandered through the depression and the Second World War, the battle against communism, and the conservative revolution. How did we get to today’s angry, polarized nation? Read Brands’s life of Reagan, and find out.”
—John A. Farrell, author of Clarence Darrow and Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
- Publication date : May 12, 2015
- File size : 20925 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 1021 pages
- Publisher : Anchor (May 12, 2015)
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B00NDTS7FU
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #112,347 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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That said, I have long recognized his success as president and have continually admired his sunny optimism and his uncanny ability to disarm his critics with a witty anecdote or self-deprecating wisecrack. While Obama may have coined the phrase "disagree without being disagreeable", it is Reagan who embodied that principle. Conservative but pragmatic, Reagan knew how to accept half a loaf and call it a victory (a lesson seemingly lost on today's political leaders).
These qualities are all on display in Brands' masterful biography. Thoroughly engaging, Brands tracks Reagan from a young poor boy in Illinois through his presidency and beyond. While the book is long, it succeeds by not focusing on unimportant minutiae of Reagan's life (mercifully we don't get a mini-biography of his grand-parents at the start). Instead, each inclusion serves to build on the story of Reagan the man so that by the end the reader feels like he was a member of the family. Yes, there are details of important chapters of Reagan's presidency: the summits with Gorbachev, Iran/contra, the air traffic controllers, budgets & tax cuts, and many more. These, for better and worse, serve to remind us of Reagan's lasting impact on the US and the world. But they also serve to remind us of the strengths and weaknesses of Reagan the man.
One of the best presidential biography's available; Reagan the Life is recommended for anyone wanting to understand this most remarkable of men.
And Brands's primary source? Reagan himself. The 40th president kept a detailed diary, plus, when it came to staying in contact with friends and associates, Reagan was old school: he wrote letters. So Brands mines all of this information in intricate detail, but he also relies on other sources, such as Nancy Reagan's memoirs, the memoirs of other administration members, including Alexander Haig and Donald Regan, and actual interviews with other people who were there in the Oval Office with Reagan, from James Baker to George Schultz. The result? A bird's eye view of the Reagan presidency--successes and all, and warts and all. Brands writes that Reagan's philosophy to governing was twofold: shrink the size of government, and defeat Communism. Everything else was just noise that was delegated to subordinates--and such a hands off management style got him into some hot water; for instance, when upstart Oliver North decided to divert funds Iran was paying for arms shipments in exchange for the release of hostages to the Contra fighters in Nicaragua. And--very subtlety--Brands suggests that during the latter years of Reagan's presidency, his memory was already failing him.
Again, all the information is given in a straight-forward manner; Brands is not depicting Reagan in either a positive, or negative light. The writing is clean and precise, with chapters that are alarmingly short. (One chapter was one-and-a-half pages.) For students of the Reagan presidency--or for millennials who weren't around when Reagan's presidency was restoring an American psyche from its former malaise--H. W. Brands's REAGAN: THE LIFE is must-read material. This biography is a solid triple, right down the right field line.
~D. Mikels, Esq.
It’s always a good sign when you read a book that is almost 800 pages, yet you feel like you wanted so much more upon completion. Books of great length are not that uncommon when written about key figures in history. Example: I just finished a fourth volume of President Lyndon Johnson (the fifth hasn’t been written yet), and the man doesn’t even become president until after about 3,000 pages. So, yes, this book did give the impression of being somewhat succinct.
Fortunately, the parts detailing Reagan’s presidency fill up about 80% of the pages in this account. Having said that, you could make the argument that this book is more of a biography of Reagan the President, as opposed to Reagan the man. If you’re wanting to read about, for example, his career as an actor, his tenure as Governor of California, or his candidacy for President during the seventies, you’re likely to be severely disappointed. The book spends just enough information on these events so we can learn about the character of the man. It’s almost as if the author realizes that before we can appreciate and understand what type of president he was, he needs to give us a little background on some of the key events prior to 1980.
We learn he grew up poor with an alcoholic father, worked scale as a radio baseball announcer, became a very successful B movie actor, was a New Deal Democrat (he voted for FDR four times), was heavily involved in the actors union, was a successful governor, and hated communism. I’ll say it again – he hated communism. We also learned that he truly was a great communicator who loved the stage. Although there are some that dismiss this characteristic as unimportant as a key political figure, I would strongly disagree. Attitude and confidence can go a long way when being a leader, and Ronald Reagan had these attributes when he stepped into the office of president after a post-Watergate, “malaise” infected era of his country’s history.
Even though the majority of this book covers the presidency, there are still several examples where the reader wants more than what they are given. All of the major events are covered, and the biggest ones do get a lot of detailed attention. His greatest success (the Icelandic summit with Gorbachev) and his worst failure (Iran-Contra) get many chapters devoted to both. But some things that were memorable (good and bad) seem to only warrant a paragraph or two at most - such as the James Watt fiasco. I don’t ever remember reading the word “Reaganomics” even once, although there is some information about his efforts to get the economy back on track and changing the tax code.
I was also impressed by the author’s ability to not bog down the reader with governmental jargon. He seems to be aware that most people don’t have a strong understanding of some key events (example: most people, even back in 1983, couldn’t tell you the difference between the Contras and the Sandinistas when discussing Nicaragua). You never feel overwhelmed with information and/or people. He keeps the supporting cast manageable to where the uninformed reader doesn’t have to try to memorize and learn names they’ve never heard (this was a problem I had when I read The Reagan Diaries a few years ago).
We also learn (or are verified with what we already knew) that Reagan wasn’t a particularly good and/or emotional family man. He and wife Nancy adored one and other, but we rarely read about anything when it comes to the Reagan children and what kind of relationship there was. He could be somewhat distant when dealing with emotions, and apparently only let very few into his inner circle of feelings.
All in all most agree that he was a very successful president. Oh, sure, many on the far left hated him, but no Commander in Chief has complete harmony amongst the subjects (See also FDR and JFK). His jingoism could be too much for some, but most would argue that such characteristics were crucial during the time in the country’s history. You also learn that the man truly wanted the best for America and he was never out to hurt anybody. He truly believed that his job was to inspire confidence, encourage all to do their best, and protect the country from outside countries with conflicting ideologies.
Blameless? No. Perfect? Never. Most would argue that despite the drawbacks of some of the major events, the man brought the country back on track. Not everyone will ever fully agree to that statement, but that’s just how life is. Especially in the turbid world of politics.
Wish there could have been another volume or two.
Top reviews from other countries
The book covers all of Reagan's life with obviously his presidency taking centre stage. Within the presidency key issues are looked at in particular detail, the Iran-Contra affair, the Gorbachev meetings, the assassination attempt.
I don't share the belief that Reagan was a great president but I can see why American's do he gave them back their self belief after the trauma's of Vietnam and the 1970's in general and perhaps more importantly cut their taxes and as the book says how can you not like the guy. What I do admire about Reagan was that without a doubt he was a conviction politician who never lost site of his principles and the Great Communicator certainly knew how to put that message across.
If you want to understand Reagan then you have to read this excellent book.