I ve read biographies on about 60% of the U.S presidents but I resisted reading one on Reagan There s just too much passion about Reagan that I never felt confident of getting a reasonably objective rendering of his life Surely it would be a panegyric or an extended harangue on the evil of the Gipper When I saw that Brands had authored a Reagan bio, I snatched it up in a second Having read and enjoyed his works on Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson and TR, I also trusted Brands He didn t disappoint note that his view of Reagan is favorable overall but he was not worshipful or obsequious In Brands analysis, Reagan is the late 20th century bookend to FDR s early 20th century game changer FDR ushered in the Democratic revival Reagan marked its end FDR built a burgeoning activist, communitarian state Reagan reinvigorated America s private sector and championed the individual, invoking both his liberty and duty FDR toppled the totalitarian threat posed by fascism Reagan was the world leader most responsible for the collapse of Communism s most aggressive advocate Unlike Carter who was famously attentive to details, Reagan came to office with two big ideas shrink government at home and stand up for democracy abroad and against Communism The rest was details, and details weren t his strong suit While his rhetoric was always consistent with these points, Brands concludes Reagan was not an ideologue his principled pragmatism led to a lot of compromises Reagan said repeatedly that he would rather get 80% of what he wanted and see incremental change than hold out for 100% of nothing More often than not, that worked to his benefit.All in all, well worth a read. President Reagan took office when I was in elementary school and I heard his name often in my household My father was very conservative something I didn t realize until I was older and the words that my father used to describe President Reagan was Finally This is an exceptional book about an exceptional man I would highly recommend to everyone, regardless if you are a fan of President Reagan s politics A huge thank you to Negalley and Double Day books for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. From Master Storyteller And New York Times Bestselling Historian H W Brands Comes The Definitive Biography Of A Visionary And Transformative President In His Magisterial New Biography, H W Brands Brilliantly Establishes Ronald Reagan As One Of The Two Great Presidents Of The Twentieth Century, A True Peer To Franklin Roosevelt Reagan Conveys With Sweep And Vigor How The Confident Force Of Reagan S Personality And The Unwavering Nature Of His Beliefs Enabled Him To Engineer A Conservative Revolution In American Politics And Play A Crucial Role In Ending Communism In The Soviet Union Reagan Shut Down The Age Of Liberalism, Brands Shows, And Ushered In The Age Of Reagan, Whose Defining Principles Are Still Powerfully Felt TodayReagan Follows Young Ronald Reagan As His Ambition For Ever Larger Stages Compelled Him To Leave Behind Small Town Illinois To Become First A Radio Announcer And Then That Quintessential Public Figure Of Modern America, A Movie Star When His Acting Career Stalled, His Reinvention As The Voice Of The General Electric Theater On Television Made Him An Unlikely Spokesman For Corporate America Then Began Reagan S Improbable Political Ascension, Starting In The S, When He Was First Elected Governor Of California, And Culminating In His Election In As President Of The United States Employing Archival Sources Not Available To Previous Biographers And Drawing On Dozens Of Interviews With Surviving Members Of Reagan S Administration, Brands Has Crafted A Richly Detailed And Fascinating Narrative Of The Presidential Years He Offers New Insights Into Reagan S Remote Management Style And Fractious West Wing Staff, His Deft Handling Of Public Sentiment To Transform The Tax Code, And His Deeply Misunderstood Relationship With Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev, On Which Nothing Less Than The Fate Of The World TurnedReagan Is A Storytelling Triumph, An Irresistible Portrait Of An Underestimated Politician Whose Pragmatic Leadership And Steadfast Vision Transformed The Nation Reagan The Life by H.W Brands was published in 2015 Brands is a professor at the University of Texas, a prolific author and a two time Pulitzer finalist He has written nearly thirty books on a wide range of historical topics including biographies of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and FDR each of which I have previously read and reviewed.The first full scale biography of Reagan in over a decade, this 737 page book contains 114 chapters organized into seven major sections But while its heft could intimidate some readers, Brands s narrative is extremely articulate and free flowing Very few presidential biographies of comparable length are this easy to read.Brands devotes about one third of the book to Reagan s pre presidency But the narrative sweeps too briskly through his childhood about a page per year moderating somewhat when the aspiring actor moves to Hollywood The pace still feels rushed during Reagan s eight year stint as governor of California and only slows appreciably when he is fully enmeshed in presidential politics The book ends with about three dozen pages that review his retirement, Alzheimer s diagnosis and political legacy.It is clear from the outset that Brands is friendly to his subject, but he seems intent on maintaining a sense of balance throughout the text While he consistently compares Reagan favorably to Franklin Roosevelt Reagan s early presidential idol , Brands rarely fails to take the shine off his subject s halo when warranted.Perhaps than any other biographer I ve encountered, Brands goes to extraordinary lengths to provide historical context for his subject s life and actions The reader is seldom unaware of the economic, political or social backdrop associated with moments described in this book But he sometimes provides so much context that Reagan becomes peripheral to the narrative.Of the numerous excellent moments in this book, ones of particular note for me include the discussion concerning allegations that the Reagan campaign interfered with efforts to free the Iranian held hostages, the chapter devoted to Robert Bork s Supreme Court nomination, the chapters covering the Reykjavik summit and the periodic references to tension between Donald Regan and various members of the administration including Nancy Reagan.But for all its strengths Brands s biography falls short in several areas First, the authior often injects lengthy quotations and portions of transcripts into the narrative This can be distracting on its own, but since he has a penchant for letting Reagan speak for Reagan, it often leaves an impression that Brands is just observing rather than analyzing and critiquing.This biography is generously replete with stories, anecdotes and on the scene reporting But few of these tales will break new ground for readers familiar with Reagan In addition, the narrative s focus during his presidency can be quite inconsistent Brands s excellent coverage of the Reykjavik summit, for example, fills than thirty pages while Reagan s response to apartheid receives a single paragraph.Brands also conspicuously under reports the influence which religion had on Reagan s life Having recently read several biographies of Jimmy Carter which highlighted the role Carter s faith played in his life , the man who Brands describes in this biography seems almost agnostic Finally, despite its impressive length this book feels surprisingly light and fails to provide as many penetrating observations and keen perspectives as I would have expected from Brands.Overall, H.W Brands s Reagan The Life provides a wonderful starting point for readers seeking a comprehensive introduction to the life and legacy of the 40th president It is fast moving and remarkably engaging, but often proves a better history text than biography And for all its merit, this book never quite delivers the richly hued and penetrating portrait of Reagan it seems to promise.Overall rating 3 stars This is a very uneven book It has two parts one very good and one horrible It is a mix of some very interesting extended direct quotes from Ronald Reagan and a uneven portrayal of a lot that made Reagan a great president I found the book worth reading but was constantly annoyed by the author s bows to liberal orthodoxy.Let me offer some examples The author does a long section on the red scare and the activities of the House Un american Activities Committee HUAC which the author incorrectly thinks was actually called the House Committee on Unamerican Activities and thus had the wrong acronym Soon after WWII HUAC began a series of hearings on infiltration of communists into what we would now call the media concentrating on film but also including other industries that were related As a part of the hearings and as a leader of the Screen Actors Guild, Reagan testified Brands uses extensive quotes from Reagan s testimony Reagan s statements are a good example of self restraint He makes a clear distinction between people s beliefs and actions and vigorously supports freedom of belief The clear evidence with several decades of history behind them is that a there were some people in the entertainment industry as well as other industries that were trying to actively subvert the United States and aid Russia and b The Hollywood 10, who may or may not have been part of the subversives, saw this as a political opportunity they thought they could win, which was a huge misjudgment But Brands interpretation is that the Hollywood 10 were martyrs His extensive quotation of the testimony of John Howard Lawson one of the 10 shows that they were not really victims of an unfair system they tried at least Lawson did to set themselves up From my view the Committee was at times heavy handed but still had a reason to act and Reagan handled himself quite honorably.A second example comes from the discussion of the development of the Economic Recovery Tax Act 1981 and his subsequent efforts in tax reform Two things stand out First, Brands interpretation of how things developed is mistaken or deliberately misleading The Administration s projections on revenues were pretty close to the mark check out Larry Lindsay s book which presents both the projections and the results but the ability to make simultaneous reductions in spending, especially with the democrats in control of the House, was much limited than expected Brands offers a very sympathetic portrait of David Stockman Reagan s whiz kid Stockman and I were Congressional staffers before he went to the Administration and I thought he was bright but quite self absorbed His conversations which resulted in the William Greider Atlantic article the Education of David Stockman show that Stockman, like many young staffers in DC cared a lot about preening his own image than in doing the job he was hired to do As ERTA developed in the legislative process, its key features were delayed so the revenue curve was slowed although out year receipts were actually higher than expected But combined with the increase in military spending which ultimately proved productive against the Soviets and the unwillingness of members of congress to meaningfully reduce spending created the problems of the deficits So Reagan was successful in simplifying the tax code and at the same time not as successful in balancing the budget.In 1982, when the recession continued and revenues were not yet piling in Reagan reluctantly agreed to what was called the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which scaled back some of the excesses like Accelerated Cost Recovery ACRS that congress added to the rate reduction Reagan successfully held on to the rate reductions of ERTA Again, the Administration agreed to raise some revenues in exchange for reductions in spending and again the congressional leadership failed to follow through on the expenditure reductions in a meaningful way.Brands seems to characterize Reagan as an aloof policy maker who only got the big picture That is simply untrue One can see both his big picture and policy view in Reagan s quixotic effort which was ultimately successful in 1985 and 1986 to simplify the tax system Like ERTA, the Tax Reform Act TRA was a bold stroke which both lowered rates and broadened the base Critics yammered about how the Act would not work but the evidence was that it worked quite well producing significant upturns in growth for than a decade A book like Showdown at Gucci Gulch shows the deep involvement of Reagan in getting the discussions started and in enlisting an odd group of supporters to push the final result.At one point Brands claims that the economic growth in the 1990s was a result of the Clinton era tax increases While I understand the argument it is wrong The forces of growth during the 1990s came about as a result of a couple of forces, including the fall of the soviets encouraged by Reagan policies and the resulting peace dividend and finally the unleashing of capital a result of tax policies in ERTA and TRA.Reagan s detractors tried to describe him as out of touch but there are numerous instances in the book when the President s command of the issues and his particular style of management paid off The book tells a story of George Schultz putting together a briefing on the budget for Reagan when he was governor Schultz commented that Reagan was quite knowledgable about the budget process His management style was different than predecessor, who was reputed to be concerned with who played on the White House tennis courts But his mark of leadership was clearly there In one incident Reagan had decided to fire his secretary of state, Al Haig who was one of those Washington DC fixtures concerned with his own image than doing his job He called Haig to his office and handed him an unsealed envelope which contained a letter from the President thanking him for his service and accepting a resignation which had not yet been proffered Before Haig could get back to Foggy Bottom to write his letter Reagan had identified and secured a replacement George Schultz Reagan believed fundamentally in delegation so he could work on the big picture, but I think that was a conscientious decision not a failing.The final chapter is the most disappointing Brands seems to conclude that all of Reagan s successes were the result of being there when other leaders took up the issue So for example Brands would argue that the economic growth that started under his watch were the result of Volker s actions at the fed But the president was wiling to take the heat and indeed some serious losses in the 1982 elections to allow Volker s policies to take effect He spends a lot of time on Reagan s efforts at arms reduction It is clear that Reagan held his own quite well against the Russians His one on one discussions with Gorbachev were almost unprecedented in the President s willingness to work without the extensive staff preparation that most presidents rely upon But Brands discounts that in the final chapter by concluding that we got arms reduction because of Gorbachev That may be a conventional view of the left but I think it is wrong.I would recommend this book just for his extensive use of quotations of Reagan But I would be cautious about accepting Brands editorializing about Reagan s strengths and weaknesses The picture he paints with the quotes is contradicted by his biases in interpretation. Although Brands reinforces history s general conclusion of Reagan s greatness, he delivers an overall objective assessment of America s revered 40th president Brands s biography distinguishes itself as the most encompassing and definitive work on Reagan to date It chronicles all the essentials his upbringing with an alcoholic father, his start in radio, his years in Hollywood, and his subsequent political career and rise to the presidency The depth and range of the narrative make it impressive, yet it is compulsively readable In addressing every aspect of Reagan s life, Brands manages to do so in very concise, riveting chapters What I take away most from his study is that Reagan was a leader of great conscience, faith, caring, and fierce, undaunted determination To complement his charm and humor, he also had an ability to listen to all sides of an issue As president, he did to reform taxes and cut government spending than anyone before him He offset these domestic challenges with his greatest foreign policy mission to stare down communism and bring about its demise Some of the most fascinating chapters cover the hour to hour details of Reagan s intense negotiations with Gorbachev over the need to halt the arms race, reduce nuclear arsenals, and implement SDI the Strategic Defense Initiative Reagan s willpower to stand up for freedom and democracy resonate throughout the book Coverage of his debacle with the sale of arms to Iran is explained as having origins in Reagan s heartfelt obsession with freeing the American hostages from Lebanon and his desire to support the anti communist contras in Nicaragua Brands does not let Reagan slide on his failure to know what happened Even though compassion for the hostages allowed him to go down a dangerous route of negotiating with a terrorist state like Iran, he still tried to look at his decision as the right option, despite its clear setbacks Whatever adversity or dilemma he faced, Reagan took solace in his unwavering optimism that something positive would eventually emerge from the chaos He was right most of the time, and he eventually won out in the hearts of Americans Brands does an excellent job of capturing the momentousness of the long life of Ronald Reagan. Through 114 flowing chapters H.W Brands puts forth a comprehensive account of our 40th U.S President Ronald Wilson Reagan Over two terms of any president one can find positive and negative aspects Brands tone and observations seemed to be slightly critical of the president, while for the record I have always regarded Reagan as one of our greatest presidents On a personal side Reagan was exceptionally devoted to his second wife Nancy however he was often a distant father to his four children.As Commander in Chief, Reagan stood firm in his belief of a strong military defense and openly appreciated the service of our veterans He sought to expand individual freedom and always took a firm stance against communism and socialism I disagree with Brands statementReagan showed himself quite capable of saying one thing and doing something elsebecause I believe one of Reagan s greatest qualities was that he was true to his word The former Hollywood actor known as the great communicator knew the power of words Throughout his presidency Reagan, a Republican, sought to limit the size of federal government His efforts to reduce spending met strong resistance from another popular Irish descendent, the Democratic Speaker of the House Thomas P Tip O Neill As Reagan sought to reduce taxation, eliminate tax loopholes and simplify tax brackets from 14 to 3, O Neill his arch enemy dug in to raise taxes I was sad to see there was no mention of the historic Grace Commission Report that President Reagan presented to Congress in 1984 In 1982 Reagan chose NYC industrialist J Peter Grace, a conservative democrat, to head an independent citizen group of prominent business professionals and community leaders with the charge of identifying government waste and inefficiency O Neill and the U.S Congress ignored the detailed 656 page Grace Commission Report because over the past decades legislators have thrived on spending money without constraints At the time I was fully engrossed as I was living in Manhattan and my best friend s brother was newly wed to a daughter of Mr Grace In his day Mr Grace s feisty personality was similar to Donald Trump today Our younger generation should comprehend this appeal by Reagan over 30 years ago as if implemented it would have set a strong foundation to control our current national debt a side note my grandfather s two sisters and my great uncle artist Hans Peter Hansen are buried on Cape Cod in Harwich Port just a few feet from Tip O Neill. A generation out, the partisan dust hasn t quite settled around the GOP giant Ronald Reagan To the biographer, this poses the challenge of crafting a narrative that is politically unbiased but historically accurate, without losing sight of the subject s importance Fortunately, in Reagan the Life, Brands has successfully done just that Leaving no issue untouched, Reagan the Life is a sympathetic but exacting and fair portrait of the late President.Brands outlines every aspect of Reagan s life in this volume We see his personal relationships, Hollywood career, rise in politics, successes and setbacks in the White House, and what Reagan himself would call the sunset of his life In the end, Brands concludes with a brief synopsis of Reagan s legacy.In his personal relationships, we see a strong mother and an alcoholic father We see the marriage to Jane Wyman, which seemed to begin and end without much of a bang We see his relationship with Nancy, which seemed much stronger he didn t like to be away from her too long she worried about him and was a constant source of support And we see a glimpse of his relationship with his children, which, he regretted, was lacking.Politically we see a rising star who knew how to charm a crowd but also knew the issues surprisingly well And because he lived it, we see the rise and fall of the New Deal Order The author notes that Americans in the 1950s had good reason to support big government it ended the depression and the war Yet Reagan found a pro business, anti government voice riding the coat tails of Barry Goldwater, and apparently his optimism took him farther than Goldwater s us and them rage.Any common criticism of Reagan will be found in these pages, including his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, near silence on AIDS, and support for the apartheid government in South Africa Granted, they are frequently explained sympathetically, and the last of these gets less than half a page Much space is devoted to the Iran Contra Affair, with the author concluding that Reagan probably did not know about the underlying crimes, but had plenty of reason to be suspicious and buried his head in the sand.Regarding Cold War policies, I would have liked to read about what SDI actually entailed an overly simple explanation being space lasers designed to shoot down missiles Cold War historians seem to focus on SDI as a bargaining chip in the Gorbachev negotiations than the technology itself, probably because that s ultimately the only role it served, having never been deployed Still, in hindsight the program seems silly and expensive at best, and dangerous at worst, but we re largely left to infer from context what the technologies were.The Gorbachev negotiations were fleshed out remarkably well These comprise probably the most suspenseful part of the book, as they play out like a high stakes battle of wits The author does not seem to pass judgement on the leaders failure to reach a compromise, but offers the opposing viewpoints of Reagan era pundits.Stylistically, the author maintains a common thread through each chapter by invoking Reagan s character traits and lessons he learned along the way This gives the book a cohesive feel, but never reaches in depth character study There is little in the way of scene setting, as the author relies heavily on quotes At times you feel like you re reading a cleaned up version of a transcript with emotional displays peppered in i.e No, said Shultz, reddening with anger and embarrassment And the chapters are mercifully short Most are 4 5 pages, few are than 10, making it easy to get through one or two on a lunch break The chapters are divided by subject, and despite the concise length of each, the aggregate is a fairly comprehensive 737 pages.Overall Reagan the Life is just about everything a student of history can hope for in a Reagan biography. In another thrilling political biography, I turn my head to a man who is said to have shaped 20th century America for both his politics and ideological stances through the waning years of the Cold War Ronald Wilson Reagan was a man of many experiences, from a poor childhood through to the honeymoon years after leaving office, as effectively illustrated by H.W Brands Reagan wore his ideological tilt on his sleeve, next to his heart, which moved from one end of the spectrum to the other Brands depiction of Reagan in three distinct periods, from daunting Democrat to rigid Republican through to charismatic conservative, exemplifies the progression the man made throughout his life With no firmly rooted politics in his familial background, it is a wonder that Reagan became synonymous with the neo conservative movement of the late 20th century and could be called one of America s great political figures Brands does a masterful job in detailing the life and times of Reagan, leaving little to wonder for the reader keen on learning about this political giant.That Reagan first identified himself as a Democrat should be no surprise to the reader Raised in a lower income family in Illinois, Reagan was forced to help bring bread to the table and handle the plight of an alcoholic father on whom few could rely Brands does not belabour this point, but moves Reagan through his formative years by discussing the hardships that Reagan met, but which did not impede his personal successes While he had high ambitions, Reagan settled into a smaller religious college and tried to carve out a niche on the football field, as horrid as he came to be It was during these years that Reagan became a strong believer in Roosevelt s New Deal and praised its ability to help Americans Pushing for a hands on approach, Reagan stumped for Roosevelt s plan and saw benefit in ensuring the state could assist those who could not stay afloat on their own After college and ready to contribute to the world, Reagan was soon pulled into the world of radio, taking jobs reporting sporting events and relying on his dramatic abilities to spin tales to those who tuned in He was a man of the people and remained so, even after making his mark in Hollywood, where he became a household name Though he seemed successful, as Brands shows through detailed narration, he was no Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne, though was able to use his abilities to pad his pockets effectively With the move towards better representation and the creation of the Screen Actors Guild SAG , Reagan rose and soon became its president, making that his busiest role while living in Hollywood Even when Congress opened its examination of Hollywood as a bastion for Communists, Reagan stood his ground during the House Un American Activities Committee HUAC and did not let the SAG entity be dragged through the mud However, with this intense analysis of Hollywood as a home for Communist sentiment, Reagan began to look for work outside of the big screen, becoming a key spokesman for General Electric He spoke about the merits of the company to its employees at all the plants, perfecting a message that kept management happy and the employees in touch with the bosses It is here that Brands shows the turning of Reagan s views, if slightly, away from the hands on Democrat approach towards a socially conscious and conservative set of values, perfect for the softer wing of the Republican Party, which he joined in 1962, and became a political icon in 1964 With many years as a well known and daunting Democrat, this turn opened eyes and minds to the persuasive nature of Reagan s message.The rigidity of his Republican ways took a great deal of time, but Brands plants the seed in Reagan s life around 1964 and lets it germinate While on his General Electric speaking circuit, Reagan spoke out in favour of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater on the Arizona senator s fated 1964 presidential campaign This sparked notice of Reagan by the political right, even if he cozied to its softer wing Reagan gained political momentum and chose to run for Governor of California in 1966, unseating Pat Brown on a platform of reform and fiscal tightening Reagan headed into office and sought to balance that which was crooked in California, with Vietnam heating up and the flower child movement in full swing Brands highlights Reagan s push to quash protests and subvert university students, representing the parental era and speaking out for a generation His firm beliefs in Roosevelt s New Deal were curtailed for tighter sentiments on spending and the need to close the pursestrings to those seeking handouts When Nixon won the presidency, a fellow Californian, Reagan sought to push his control of the most populist state to his favour, seeking a firm stance on both coasts Alas, Nixon spoke like a conservative, but acted weakly, leaving Reagan to harden his own views It was after Reagan served two gubernatorial terms that he sought to inject himself into the national stage again, not from Sacramento, but as a candidate for president He felt Nixon bumbled his way through Republican control of the White House and insisted that Ford proved inept to handle the pressures of the job Brands illustrates a wonderful battle during the 1976 primary season, which saw a sitting president seriously challenged for the Party s nomination Had Reagan played his cards right, he might have toppled Ford Even in his loss, Reagan illustrated that he was no longer the SAG President who held soft views on the arts and promoted the Welfare State America was seeing a transformation of this man, preparing for another run at the top job While never timid, Reagan s rigidity within the Republican Party might serve him well as he looked towards 1980, with a micromanager running the show at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.Reagan s neo conservative leanings did not arise upon his receiving the keys to the White House, as Brands exemplifies throughout the book While the man who entered the presidency differed greatly from his 1964 self, Reagan used his time as Governor of California and the years he sought to win the Republican nomination to harden his shell His views seemed unerring, though, as he waded through the liberal and somewhat opaque fiscal quagmire left for him, with deficits exponentially higher than anything he d seen in Sacramento Reagan attacked this, as he had on the campaign trail, by pushing through cuts in taxes and promised slashes to program funding in the early years of his first mandate, though Brands correctly points out that these reductions were not implemented simply because he sought them, some requiring committee and sub committee votes However, he sought to take the burden off the hands of Americans and let them spend their money in a free spirited manner These struggles with a Democratic Congress did not prove daunting for Reagan, who held firm and pushed as far as possible, negotiating only to ensure his key tenets were met Reagan s other strong willed agenda item, which could be placed in a conservative column was the eradication of worldwide communism and a means of containing the Soviet influence on the world Brands illustrates numerous attempts by Reagan to contain the Soviet approach, both through direct communication with Moscow and funding or directing support for groups to counter socialist movements in the Americas and Africa This unwavering stance permeates the narrative from 1981 onwards, as Reagan worked through numerous Soviet leaders and a score of countries with socialist movements brewing or running sovereign governments That Reagan would not back down cannot be downplayed or even ignored, for it did place America in hot water and Reagan on the verge of being impeached in the latter part of his second mandate Reagan would not, however, bow to communism as his predecessors had, or adopt a strong sense of detente It was a wage the ideological war or bust mentality that summed up his two terms in office Reagan did just that, culminating with numerous meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, where he softened the General Secretary up enough to bring about meaningful and lasting change to the Cold War and ideological stand off between the two spheres Looking liberals in the eye and refusing to budge, Reagan sought to bring America out of the doldrums of spending and tighten the purse strings as a charismatic conservative, asking Americans if they wanted prosperity or pork Most chose to forego a trip to the trough.Brands fluid narrative and short chapters make the biography flow effectively than some other political or presidential pieces I have read beforehand By chopping events up into smaller pieces, rather than massive themes, the story is less daunting and allows the reader to digest things in a manner that better suits them These were formative years in America and there is no need to slam it all into massive chapters, which keeps the reader drowning without the chance for a substantive break Brands also utilises an effective use of multiple sources to illustrate a point or an event, offering opinions that may differ from Reagan s own, rather than spoon feeding the reader the views by the Gipper alone This fleshes out events and permits an internal debate within the reader s mind, permitting an evolution of ideas and opinions, while still leaving the final choice in the hands of the reader Effective use of sources, views, and opinions only further substantiates the strength of the piece.Brands also highlights some of the key events in Reagan s life, while providing important backstories to help flesh out the full picture From the testimony at the HUAC to the assassination attempt and the Iran Contra Affair, Reagan s role therein is undeniable, though the build up is also essential in determining the true thread of the story Brands does that and keeps the reader feeling informed during the progression Actors come to life and their roles are interwoven into Reagan s life seamlessly as Brands progresses through even the densest of times.Kudos Mr Brands for this stellar piece of work I have new found respect for the man, his politics, and the life he shaped without ever selling out to those around him.Like hate the review An ever growing collection of others appears at Ronald Reagan left office 26 years ago this past January, and it s weird that it s taken this long for him to get the attention of the regular Great Men of American History biographers Major biographies of Nixon and LBJ came out within ten to fifteen years of their subjects leaving the White House In part this has to be due to the disastrous reception of Edmund Morris DUTCH, partially fictionalized after Morris confessed that he couldn t truly understand Reagan In part this is because critical assessments of Reagan will draw an organized campaign of ratfucking by right wing operatives, like Rick Perlstein experienced after the released of THE INVISIBLE BRIDGE last year H.W Brands has finally made the attempt, and hopefully this will open the door a little bit.Reagan is famously friendly at a distance, so aloof that staffers would come and go without him noticing that he failed to recognize his own son Michael at his high school graduation that he blithely skipped Michael s wedding in Hawaii to attend that of Tricia Nixon s, happening the same day so aloof that even Nancy Reagan confessed that although she got closer than anyone else, there was part of himself that even she didn t get to see And yet Brands is at his strongest talking about Reagan as a man Reagan s letters, particularly before his political career, are fairly revealing, whether Reagan is complaining to Jack Warner about a film shoot in London or reflecting on love and sexuality to a childhood friend I found many aspects to Reagan that were likeable and sympathetic.Brands assessment of Reagan s political career has a little bit for everybody For liberals, Brands is happy to highlight along the lines of TEAR DOWN THIS MYTH Reagan s many deviations from modern conservative orthodoxy For conservatives, Brands is happy to award the victory of the Cold War to Reagan Reagan was fond of linking himself with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and of co opting FDR s rhetoric for right wing purposes, and Brands concludes that Reagan was a mirror universe FDR, as instrumental in ushering in a conservative era as FDR was in ushering in a liberal era, and as influential overseas.But is this true Take the Cold War claim to begin with Brands claims that Reagan ended the Cold War and prompted the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the partnership of Gorbachev That s like saying that Lord Palmerston freed the slaves in America with the partnership of Abraham Lincoln Brands doesn t bother to show that Reagan s defense build up caused the Soviet economic crisis, and in fact quotes Reagan saying as late as 1985 that the defense build up was necessary because the Soviets were winning the arms race And if the Soviets were already bankrupting themselves with military hardware, like Reagan claimed at the time, then his defense buildup wasn t necessary to prompt the crisis And that s leaving aside the drop in oil prices in the late 80s which historically has meant bad news for oil producers like the USSR But let s accept provisionally that this is a fair conclusion Regimes can endure economic stagnation for a long time without collapsing The Soviet Union fell due to internal political forces that were set in motion by Gorbachev, not anybody from the outside Gorbachev also made the crucial decision not to use force to keep countries behind the Iron Curtain A reactionary Soviet leadership determined to hold on to the status quo might well have held on despite anything that America did in response.And if we re not so myopic as to give the current American president credit for everything happening on planet earth, then Reagan s foreign policy legacy seems a lot less substantial It was to his credit that he pivoted towards arms reduction in his second term, and that he rebuilt good relations with the Soviets even concluding that it was no longer an evil empire But crucial decisions about the post Cold War world the expansion of NATO, the reunification of Germany, the treaty of Maastricht were made by his successors and by his counterparts in Europe.On domestic policy, Brands interpretation also claims too much He spends much time talking about the 1986 tax reform, which eliminated a bunch of deductions and taxed capital gains and normal income at the same rate as well as reducing the top tax rate to 35% But it seems worth mentioning that over the next few decades, the deductions were added back in, the capital gains rate was cut, and the upper tax rate was raised Reagan also signed an immigration bill that Brands hails as landmark and yet despite promises made at the time, the enforcement provisions in that bill failed to prevent ten plus million people from immigrating to this country illegally since that bill was sign.Reagan did succeed at cutting taxes, and the tax rates have never risen as high as they were during the Carter administration Conservative critics of Reagan claimed at the time that supporting tax cuts without spending cuts was a mistake because tax cuts are what make spending cuts politically palatable Thirty years on, it seems that this critique didn t go far enough during the Bush Jr administration, the need to justify upper class tax cuts made it basically impossible to oppose any spending hike on the middle class, prompting even right wing Republicans to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit And yet you won t hear much about structural deficits in H.W Brands take on the Reagan presidency You also won t hear much on financial de regulation, despite the savings and loan crisis that spawned from Reagan era decisions and its obvious relevance for the present nor much on the war on drugs and AIDS gets as much attention as Nancy Reagan s relationship with Raisa Gorbacheva.There s a revealing moment early in the book Brands alludes to allegations by nuclear freeze advocates that the administration s arms control stance, the zero option , was chosen to alienate the Soviets and forestall arms control negotiations What he doesn t mention is that this is true Richard Perle proposed the stance to Reagan because it required Soviets to remove existing missiles while the US would only promise not to install potential missiles He might also have mentioned that Reagan didn t understand this distinction All of this is from Lou Cannon s PRESIDENT REAGAN THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME I call this revealing because it goes to another odd choice of emphasis in the book Many people involved in the Reagan administration describe how chaotic it was, how Reagan s decisions were rarely clear, how lower level staffers and aides drove their own agenda without Reagan knowing to intervene Occasionally Brands spins this as a positive Reagan knew what to focus on, he says , but as the zero option instance shows, Reagan often didn t understand his own key initiatives as well He was deeply concerned about Nicaragua, but didn t realize that the State Department was pursuing negotiations while the CIA was mining the harbors nor did the CIA or the State Department know what the other was doing He didn t understand many of the important provisions in his first budget, which was a key part of Reaganonomics I don t believe that Ronald Reagan was stupid, but that perception didn t come from nowhere I came to believe that HW Brands is a genre author, that genre being Great Man of History biographies, and in a sense his decisions on how to portray Reagan are driven by genre restrictions So Reagan must be clear eyed and decisive, and he has to stand astride the world like a colossus, because he s our protagonist and that s how the story works Brands has said that this is the last in an informal six volume history of the United States through biographies including Franklin, Jackson, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and now Reagan and that informs his approach to history The problem, particularly in the case of Reagan, is that it obscures far than it illuminates There s much about Reagan s legacy that you ll never know from reading this book.
Henry William Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics After graduating he became a traveling salesman, with a territory that spanned the West from the Pacific to Colorado His wanderlust diminished after several trips across the Great Basin, and he turned to sales of a differen
- 816 pages
- H.W. Brands
- 14 July 2018 H.W. Brands