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on March 5, 2015
I enjoyed the book and certainly knew more about RR when I finished. However, I found it difficult to follow at times and felt that there was too much of the author's own life intertwined in the story at times.
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on September 12, 2013
A good read of Ronald Reagan, although Morris should make it more clear this is a fictionalized account of sorts.
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on April 21, 2015
I 'kinda' like it. I started out not liking it, but it is growing better. The author knew and had some minor interactions with Dutch starting as a late teenager and then recurring up thru the presidency. There are frequent passages about the author & his life; nothing to do with Reagan. After enough I realize their point, but it was not what I expected. EM's book on Teddy Roosevelt was very good (Theodore Rex). I was hoping for the same here.
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on May 16, 2012
I began to read this book about one of my heroes and have lost interest in the book. It might be better titled as "Dutch and Me". I wanted to read about Ronald Reagan, not about the biographer and his ties to Mr. Reagan. I may pick the book up again and read it when there is nothing else for me to do. then I might change my mind, but I doubt I will. One of my few disapointments in all the books I have read in the past.
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on June 1, 2011
The reviewers who gave this a book a thumbs down are wrong. This is an excellent, highly readable and engrossing account of Ronald Reagan's life. I think everyone wants a true story written but the only story they will get is one that reflects the writer's perspective and biases. There is no true 'true story' of Ronald Reagan - the subject himself, as Norris admits, was inscrutable. If you're suffering from an emotional dilemma after reading the negatives posted here, my advice is: get over it, go buy this book, and then thank Edmund Norris for a story well told. Never mind that it is partly fiction; we all want stories told the way we like it and that's that.
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on May 24, 2014
Morris resisted the job, didn't want it, didn't like Reagan, but finally it came to pass. He ended up saying that he loved Reagan. This author is no softy. Flaws and weaknesses were shown and mercifully we are sometimes led to water but not forced to drink. Too personal to delineate but too much the man to omit. (Read the book and you'll see.)

If a flaw exists it's the somewhat extended biography of the author at first of the book. WHY?, the reader might demand. But goshdarn, at the end it becomes stunningly clear in a few pages. Persons who truly read the book, not just skimmed, will not be puzzled at this paragraph.

Someone said this is the best biography every written. Hmmm. It sure is excellent...gotta think on that. But it might be.
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on April 28, 2016
This was a hugely disappointing book. I looked for a professional, objective statement of Reagan’s life. Instead what I got was a hodgepodge of fiction, biography, and Morris endless musing about his childhood. I never knew where history stopped and fiction began. This was an authorized biography that used fictional characters of Morris’ own creation. In interviews with Morris, we hear that he found Reagan cold and distant. So that’s a reason to create fictional characters?

To top it off, this book doesn’t focus on key content. As an example, only one sentence is devoted to explaining why Reagan ran the national debt up during his administration. This was a deeply discussed issue for years.

Morris weaves his own story in with Reagan’s as well. Morris didn’t move to the U.S. until age 26. He doesn’t really understand the Midwest mindset. He doesn’t seem to have tried that hard to do so. Mr. Morris had remarkable access to Reagan and his papers and diaries for some 13 years, but somehow was never able to understand Reagan or his settings.

Finally, the book isn’t organized well. It reads like a rough draft, rather than a flowing whole. I’ve read a lot of biographies, and this is the worst.
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on April 22, 2000
This is a weird hallucinogenic view of Reagan's life. Morris has mixed patiently distilled fact with well-executed but goofy fiction and sprinkled brilliant observations throughout. Reagan, like Robert E. Lee, did not make available his inner self to the picklocks of biographers. Morris' main error is to believe that because he could not see Reagan's soul, he had none. It's obvious that there is a lot to Ronald Reagan. It takes a considerable intelligence to pick your contests and win them in such deft strokes. It takes a lot of effort to appear effortless. Reagan, the actor, would not let others into his thoughts the same way that Fred Astaire would not let people watch him rehearse his dance routines. Morris simply dismisses Reagan.
Morris' lack of passion for his subject displays itself in the lumpiness of the narrative. Reagan's early years are well-covered though it's hard to tell fact from fiction. However, when Morris reaches Reagan's presidential years it feels like he said the hell with it let's get this damned book done. There are lots of pages on a few high level meetings Reagan had with Gorbachev that Morris witnessed but it's awfully thin on the meat of Reagan's presidency.
Many times in the book when Morris rambles on about his own fictional biography which he interweaves with Reagan's real biography you just wonder what the heck the book is trying to achieve. However, even though Morris' inventions in the book are exasperating he does do a good job of giving you a feel for Reagan's view of the world and himself. Just when you want to give up on the book, Morris gives you a brilliant paragraph.
When you slam the cover shut on this volume, you feel sorry for the waste of effort here. Morris took fourteen years of his life to write this rather mediocre piece of work. His previous book on Teddy Roosevelt shows you that he is capable of much better work. I just wish his editor would have slapped him up the side of the head when he started sliding off the road into his goofy literary inventions.
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on March 22, 2000
First, let me say I am not the brightest person in the world and I don't have much patience, so the rest of what is written herein can be discarded, if you are up to the mental gymnastics necessary to follow the author's style and have lots of hours to read through the parts of the book that I, and apparently other readers, thought seemed like a total waste of time and paper.
I am fortunate enough to have a new "toy" called a "Quicktionary", which is a hand-held scanner to look up the meaning of words while you are reading. Boy, did it get a workout. Between the number of words I didn't know and then found to mean something "way simple", and the words that weren't even in the dictionary, well.... Then there are the continual references to "the gods" (in describing their mindset when they were "doing the scene" in L.A.; for example, "Eros, to us, was a pantheistic god, indistinguishable from Narcissus." I mean, there's got to be an easier way to say that love was everywhere and so was self worship. Isn't there?). And, the constant use of foreign phrases to impress whomever...; it just about killed me. Then, if you think you like handling all those things, there's the old trick of trying to stuff every last thought and tangent comment about the thoughts into one sentence. Drives me nuts.
To put it in perspective, James Hillman's writings (like "The Souls Code") is ten times easier to read (and believe me, it is difficult stuff), and has more value per page than this book has in its entirety.
Of course, his "literary style" is sure to turn heads. I just hope we don't have a new genre starting here where the author gets to stuff his "baggage" on top of the subject's and then allows his writing ideosyncracies to be the most memorable part of the book.
Can't believe I invested so much time in reading it. But, did I mention I was stubborn, too? (Thought I would copy Morris a little and get as much of "ME" in this review as possible.)
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on October 2, 2014
Fifteen years after first reading Edmund Morris’s biography of Ronald Reagan, I thought I’d take another look. Maybe it was not quite as bad as I remembered. Perhaps a longer distance perspective on the subject matter might reveal some qualities I’d missed. Alas, no. While liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, can agree on little these days, here’s one thing on which most of can concur: as a work of biography Edmund Morris’s Dutch reeks. It is a shame because fifteen years on most work on Reagan follow predictable routes of hagiography or denigration. He was an exemplar of family values or he was a terrible family man. He was the Great Communicator or the Great Prevaricator. He defeated the Soviet Union or he appeased terrorists. He started us on a path of fiscal sanity by ending the philosophy of tax and spend or he created the modern era of fiscal insanity by pursuing the strategy of borrow and spend. Yes he was enigmatic, but so many of the faults of Dutch are not excused by the difficulty of the subject matter.

The deepest problem with this biography is not the narcissistic “memoir” style or the pretentious screenplay interludes. No, the deepest problem with this biography is fundamental laziness. Morris exploits the episodic nature of genuine memoirs to cope out at key points in the Reagan story. A single example suffices. The period January 1975 – when Reagan left the California governorship – to January 1981 – when he took office as President – constitutes 24 pages of a narrative that runs almost to 700 pages. (Indeed, Reagan’s actions during WWII receive comparatively more space and greater insight from Morris.) This was a crucial period in American history and Reagan’s biography. In it he decided to pursue the Republican nomination against a Republican incumbent who surely deserved better. That nomination campaign accelerated forces that would ultimately destroy the liberal and moderate wings of the Republican party, fuel the ascension of the religious right, and transform the South into the base of the party. What were Reagan’s motives in 1976? How much was motivated by genuine ideas and disagreements with the pro-government Ford wing of the party and how much was simple naked aggression? If it was primarily the former, then what explains Reagan’s desperate attempt to cultivate liberal Republicans via Richard Schweiker? The period after the 1976 campaign to inauguration when Reagan built a national campaign, won a tough nomination campaign, and swept away Jimmy Carter receives if, anything, even less attention.

In fact, there is so much superficiality and seeming ignorance about American politics throughout Dutch that I don’t trust Morris’s depictions of Theodore Roosevelt in his well-received three-part biography. Despite enjoying The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Dutch put me off bothering with the sequels.

Dutch is not all bad. Some of the writing sparkles. There’s a famous metaphorical treatment of swimming early on that’s nice. Some of the presidency sections – primarily involving foreign affairs – have some merit. The aforementioned WWII period is especially illuminating as it shows the substantive – if ironically unglamorous – role that Reagan and his Hollywood colleagues played in the war effort. It’s a nice counterweight to those who lumps Reagan’s contribution with the service-dodging John Wayne.
While it is not all bad, it is mostly bad. Worst of all is the squandered opportunity. Reagan granted Morris control of content and unprecedented access to the White House. Morris blew an opportunity that many a historian would have sacrificed much to gain.
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