From master storyteller and New York Times best-selling biographer H. W. Brands, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, comes the first full life of Ronald Reagan since his death.
Ronald Reagan today is a conservative icon, celebrated for transforming the American domestic agenda and playing a crucial part in ending communism in the Soviet Union. In his masterful new biography, H. W. Brands argues that Reagan, along with FDR, was the most consequential president of the 20th century. Reagan took office at a time when the public sector, after a half century of New Deal liberalism, was widely perceived as bloated and inefficient, an impediment to personal liberty. Reagan sought to restore democracy by bolstering capitalism. In Brands' telling, how Reagan, who voted four times for FDR, engineered a conservative transformation of American politics is both a riveting personal journey and the story of America in the modern era.
Brands follows Reagan as his ambition for ever-larger stages compelled him from a troubled childhood in small-town Illinois to become a radio announcer and then the quintessential public figure of modern America, a movie star. In Hollywood, Reagan edged closer to public service as the president of the Screen Actors' Guild before a stalled film career led to his unlikely reinvention as the voice of General Electric and a spokesman for corporate America. Reagan follows its subject on his improbable political rise, from the 1960s, when he was first elected governor of California, to his triumphant election in 1980 as president of the United States. Brands employs archival sources not available to previous biographers and dozens of interviews with surviving members of the administration. The result is an exciting narrative and a fresh understanding of a crucially important president and his era.
©2015 H.W. Brands (P)2015 Random House Audio
I thought I was going to hear a bio of President Reagan, but surprisingly, this is not the case. The author continually drifted into historical tangents with nothing to do with Ronald Reagan. I understand some background needs to be included to let the reader understand the subject but there is more written about others than the subject.
I enjoy history so it was not painful and sometimes even enjoyable but I just don't feel like I know President Reagan better than I knew before the book.
This bio is rich in information but scant in insight. The author had his work cut out for him – Reagan was famous for being inscrutable, even to those closest to him. Hence, this bio relies heavily on the public record as well as Reagan’s speeches and interviews for material Brands does a good job chronicling Reagan’s presidency – there is rich behind the scenes details of the Reykjavik summit in particular, but you get the sense that Reagan’s aides and confidants either weren’t interviewed for the book or weren't in the mood to talk. What you get is a detailed but superficial (though not uncritical) bio but perhaps that is the best that can be expected, especially since the right has made Reagan such a venerated, unassailable figurehead. Readers hoping for a view into what made Reagan tick, or his personal life, will likely come away disappointed.
This is a very interesting book that never gets bogged down. Although 30+ hours long, Brands narrative and Hoye's performance move along at a quick pace and I was left wanting more. Author H.W. Brands spends relatively more time on two aspects of Reagan's presidency: his face-to-face negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev in Iceland and the mismanagement that led to the Iran-Contra affair, both of which were fascinating, but for different reasons.
One cannot help buy compare any presidential biography with Robert Caro's soon-to-be five volume biography on Lyndon Johnson. Caro's LBJ is to presidential biographies as Beethoven's 9th symphony is to later symphonic works--they are the gold standard. Brands does not provide the depth or context that Caro does and there were times when I wish he did. For example, I would have liked Brands to provide a contextual analysis of deterrence and nuclear weapons--a recurring topic in this book--in the same way that Caro provided background on Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the life-changing impact of rural electrification in southwest Texas.
Listening to this has been painful. The narrator is obviously all about himself and not about conveying the story to the listener.
This long biography captured the life of Ronald Reagan with honesty, fairness, and warmth. It's not biased toward a political persuasion. It mixes personal moments and global issues beautifully.
Reagan fans will love this, but even those who are not from as far to the right as he was will appreciate this incredible story of an actor who turned into a union leader and changed from being a Democrat to Republican then eventually President. He had an incredible life and this book honours his memory.
I recommend this book. A wonderful, in depth look at the Reagan presidency. It is, however, long, long, long; over 31 hours. Had the narrator been better it would have been thoroughly enjoyable--but the narration made it difficult to listen. Perhaps reading this book would have been better for me.
The narrator has a clear voice and reads well, but I struggled listening to him. He comes across as snarky; where he places emphasis on words bothered me.
Reagan's second term was dysfunctional (lots of internal power plays), I think partly because Nancy was controlling and made the staff on edge--She was getting her cue from an astrologer in California. People who believe the Reagan presidency was a Christian one are mistaken. Nancy wielded a lot of power. During his second term, people were beginning to notice faint signs of dementia. Nevertheless, Reagan knew how to communicate and inspire. He was a good morale builder and made people feel good about their country--something we could use more of today.
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