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Publisher's Summary

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

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Comprehensive, fast-paced and well told

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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Very little about Reagan

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.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Scott
  • Scarborough, ON, Canada
  • 08-24-15

Where's the beef?

What did you like best about Reagan? What did you like least?

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.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Lacks depth and analysis

If you're a fan of biographers like Manchester, Goodwin, and Caro I think you will find this a bit thin. When I think of Reagan, the most obvious question that comes to mind is how did he go from a washed up actor to a two term president? How did he acquire his world view and vision? His management skills? His skills as a negotiator? I've read the book, and I have a very cursory idea of Reagan's metamorphosis. He obviously read a lot - but what were his sources? He negotiated as part of his role with the screen actor's guild, but we need more specific examples. He wrote a lot - how were his radio speeches created? What lead to him becoming such a political force? To me those are core questions that any serious study of the man should seek to elucidate.

Overall the book provides a very surface treatment of RR's life, almost like a Reader's Digest article in long form. You'll see the high points and know the timeline, but not much else. It's fine for what it is, but I have no where near the insight into Reagan that I feel I received with Lyndon Johnson thanks to Caro. Lastly, I found the narration extremely tedious, with the same cadence and intonation repeated over and over again.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ron Titus
  • Costa Mesa, California, United States
  • 06-23-15

Good review

It was fun to re-trace Reagan's life. I enjoyed it. There were times when details were too long-longer than necessary to make the point.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Zero research. Nothing new.

Essentially a summary of newspaper articles. Writer appears to moderately dislike the subject. Disappointing on a potentially interesting topic.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent Book

Stephen Hoyr does a fantastic narrative. Enjoyed every word both written and spoken. No regrets.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Great man but seemingly biased author

The story was very good. And very thorough and I learned a lot I did not know. However, the author took many liberties in relating the presumed thoughts and motives behind Reagan and others in the story. He interlace them to seem like facts but clearly seems to be the authors Bias toward directing blame toward and deflecting credit from Reagan whenever possible.

However, the story had enough great attributes of Reagan that the bias disbursed throughout would only mildly annoy the fan of Reagan, while at the same time act to entertain the critics of Reagan. It's unfortunate when authors let their own biases creep into nonfiction books like this. In this respect, at times it had more of a feel of historical fiction. In spite of this, still probably worth listening to.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Disappointed

What would have made Reagan better?

If you want to hear an account of Reagan's life filled with veiled condescension, that asserts that he became president because he enjoyed attention, makes excuses for Jimmy Carter, and at times comes close to fawning over Mikhail Gorbachev, then this is your book.

Would you ever listen to anything by H. W. Brands again?

No. Not an objective narrative.

What does Stephen Hoye bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The reader did an excellent job.

What character would you cut from Reagan?

NA

Any additional comments?

I did not want to read a gushing sonata to Reagan, but the book's obsessive coverage of the debunked conspiracy theory that Reagan colluded with Iran to be elected especially turned me off. I would not recommend this book.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Thorough and thoughtful

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Moriarty
  • 08-14-17

Very Good

I enjoyed this very much. Some may say it did not go into the details of a Conrad Black or Walter Isaacson. However, it did give a good flavour of the character of Reagan. It also told the good and the bad. Very enjoyable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful