Reagan An American journey

Bob Spitz

Book - 2018

"From New York Times bestselling biographer Bob Spitz, a full and rich biography of an epic American life, capturing what made Ronald Reagan both so beloved and so transformational. More than five years in the making, based on hundreds of interviews and access to previously unavailable documents, and infused with irresistible storytelling charm, Bob Spitz's REAGAN stands fair to be the first truly post-partisan biography of our 40th President, and thus a balm for our own bitterly divid...ed times. It is the quintessential American triumph, brought to life with cinematic vividness: a young man is born into poverty and raised in a series of flyspeck towns in the Midwest by a pious mother and a reckless, alcoholic, largely absent father. Severely near-sighted, the boy lives in his own world, a world of the popular books of the day, and finds his first brush with popularity, even fame, as a young lifeguard. Thanks to his first great love, he imagines a way out, and makes the extraordinary leap to go to college, a modest school by national standards, but an audacious presumption in the context of his family's station. From there, the path is only very dimly lit, but it leads him, thanks to his great charm and greater luck, to a solid career as a radio sportscaster, and then, astonishingly, fatefully, to Hollywood. And the rest, as they say, is history. Bob Spitz's REAGAN is an absorbing, richly detailed, even revelatory chronicle of the full arc of Ronald Reagan's epic life - giving full weight to the Hollywood years, his transition to politics and rocky but ultimately successful run as California governor, and ultimately, of course, his iconic presidency, filled with storm and stress but climaxing with his peace talks with the Soviet Union that would serve as his greatest legacy. It is filled with fresh assessments and shrewd judgments, and doesn't flinch from a full reckoning with the man's strengths and limitations. This is no hagiography: Reagan was never a brilliant student, of anything, and his disinterest in hard-nosed political scheming, while admirable, meant that this side of things was left to the other people in his orbit, not least his wife Nancy; sometimes this delegation could lead to chaos, and worse. But what emerges as a powerful signal through all the noise is an honest inherent sweetness, a gentleness of nature and willingness to see the good in people and in this country, that proved to be a tonic for America in his time, and still is in ours. It was famously said that FDR had a first-rate disposition and a second-rate intellect. Perhaps it is no accident that only FDR had as high a public approval rating leaving office as Reagan did, or that in the years since Reagan has been closing in on FDR on rankings of Presidential greatness. Written with love and irony, which in a great biography is arguably the same thing, Bob Spitz's masterpiece will give no comfort to partisans at either extreme; for the rest of us, it is cause for celebration"--

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Subjects
Genres
Biographies
Published
New York, New York : Penguin Press [2018]
Language
English
Item Description
Includes bibliographical notes, references and index (pages 766-863).
Physical Description
863 pages, 32 unnumbered leaves of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
ISBN
9781594205316
1594205310
Main Author
Bob Spitz (author)
  • Part 1: DUTCH. An Ideal Place
  • A Little Bit of a Dutchman
  • The Happiest Times of My Life
  • Ready to Shine
  • Everyone's Hero
  • Living the Gospel
  • The Disappearance of Margaret
  • A People-Pleaser
  • Another Robert Taylor
  • Part 2: RONNIE. Letting Dutch Go
  • Button Nose
  • Where's . . . Where's the Rest of Me?
  • In the Army Now
  • A Dangerous Man
  • Trouble in Paradise
  • The Blue Period
  • Nancy (With the Laughing Face)
  • Ronnie's Finest Hour
  • Moving from Left to Right
  • An Apprenticeship for Public Life
  • The Friends of Ronald Reagan
  • The Citizen Politician
  • Part 3: GOVERNOR. Prairie Fire
  • The Non-Candidate
  • The Conservation Governor
  • A Horse of a Different Color
  • Momentum
  • The Front-Runner
  • Big Mo
  • A Referendum on Unhappiness
  • Part 4: MR. PRESIDENT. The O and W
  • Survival of the Fittest
  • Cracks in the Foundation
  • War and Peace
  • Urgent Fury
  • Teflon Man
  • Let Reagan Be Reagan
  • Into the Abyss
  • A Fresh Start
  • So Far Down the Road
  • Back on the Rollercoaster
  • Snakebit
  • Reclaiming the Spotlight
  • The Long Goodbye
  • An Ordinary Citizen
  • The Sunset.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* No 1939 moviegoer could have guessed that the handsome star of the now-forgotten action film Secret Service of the Air would one day require Secret Service protection as president of the United States. Spitz here traces the improbable career of B-movie actor Ronald Reagan as he enters political life with a Jimmy Stewart–like pose, wrests control of a debate with George Bush by dropping a line from Spencer Tracy ("I paid for this microphone"), and takes down Jimmy Carter with John Wayne's swagger. But as president, Reagan faces challenges calling for more than Tinseltown virtues—more resilience of the sort readers see him develop during his hardscrabble midwestern childhood with an alcoholic father, more courage of the sort he learns as a lifeguard earning college tuition by pulling drowning swimmers from treacherous river currents. Spitz indeed characterizes Reagan's steely determination in dealing with Soviet leaders as the culminating example of hard-won personal strength. But despite his genuine appreciation for Reagan's strengths, Spitz illuminates the Gipper's considerable flaws, manifested especially in his irrational faith in Reaganomics and in his stunning ignorance of the Iran-Contra illegalities. In visiting his final years, readers share the pathos of Reagan's descent into dementia and feel the intense sorrow of the millions who mourn his passing. Candid, complete, compelling. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Journalist (e.g., the New York Times, Life), music manager (e.g., Bruce Springsteen), and biographer (e.g., The Beatles, Julia Child), Spitz takes on the 40th president in what's billed as the first post-partisan study. Not a hagiography, not a bash, with attention paid to Reagan's Hollywood years and dislike of political maneuvering. Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Spitz (The Beatles: The Biography) bases this account on extensive interviews and the family papers of Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) to reveal his subject's roles as media master, labor union leader, California governor, and U.S. president. Reagan inherited a love of acting and religiosity from his mother and at least a semblance of gregariousness from his father. According to Spitz, he was resilient, provocative, approachable, and underestimated. As governor, he delegated the tedium of policy transactions to capable colleagues in pursuit of an ever-bigger stage. Although there's some insight into his and wife Nancy's complicated family backgrounds, omissions about Reagan's later life may dismay fastidious historians. Among these exclusions are the long-lasting connections with conservative politician William F. Buckley Jr. In contextualizing Reagan's values as reflective of his small-town, Midwestern roots, Spitz emphasizes the president's lifelong admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt and dislike of the internecine nuclear weapons race. VERDICT Spitz offers opinions but largely no interpretations, underscoring personalities over policies in a work that complements but does not supplant other titles such as H.W. Brands's Reagan: The Life.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2018 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

This captivating and evenhanded biography of America's first celebrity president, Ronald Reagan, reads like a novel but doesn't skimp on the scholarship. Spitz (Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child) starts with a prologue about Reagan's great-grandparents' emigration to America in 1857 and then breaks Reagan's life into four sections: "Dutch" (Midwest youth), "Ronnie" (the Hollywood years), "Governor" (of California), and "Mr. President." Despite pacing that keeps things moving at a steady clip, evocative detail abounds throughout; Spitz recreates such episodes as Reagan's 1976 presidential primary challenge and the 1981 assassination attempt in gripping and sometimes even amusing fashion. (As nurses cut off the "natty" clothes he was wearing when shot, Spitz writes, "?‘You're ruining my suit!' the president protested.") Impressive research, including numerous interviews with a wide array of Reagan cohorts, from 1930s movie star Olivia de Havilland to national security adviser Robert "Bud" McFarlane, undergirds the exceptional writing. Spitz synthesizes other scholars' analyses, the firsthand memoirs of key players, original press coverage, and archival holdings. Readers need not be Reagan fans or Republicans to enjoy this outstanding biography. Agent: Sloan Harris, International Creative Management. (Oct.) Copyright 2018 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A New York Times best-selling biographer presents a full and rich biography of an epic American life, capturing what made Ronald Reagan both so beloved and so transformational.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Draws on hundreds of interviews and previously unavailable documents to present a post-partisan biography of the fortieth president that offers insight into Reagan's universal appeal and transformative leadership.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

From New York Times bestselling biographer Bob Spitz, a full and rich biography of an epic American life, capturing what made Ronald Reagan both so beloved and so transformational.More than five years in the making, based on hundreds of interviews and access to previously unavailable documents, and infused with irresistible storytelling charm, Bob Spitz's REAGAN stands fair to be the first truly post-partisan biography of our 40th President, and thus a balm for our own bitterly divided times.It is the quintessential American triumph, brought to life with cinematic vividness: a young man is born into poverty and raised in a series of flyspeck towns in the Midwest by a pious mother and a reckless, alcoholic, largely absent father. Severely near-sighted, the boy lives in his own world, a world of the popular books of the day, and finds his first brush with popularity, even fame, as a young lifeguard. Thanks to his first great love, he imagines a way out, and makes the extraordinary leap to go to college, a modest school by national standards, but an audacious presumption in the context of his family's station. From there, the path is only very dimly lit, but it leads him, thanks to his great charm and greater luck, to a solid career as a radio sportscaster, and then, astonishingly, fatefully, to Hollywood. And the rest, as they say, is history.Bob Spitz's REAGAN is an absorbing, richly detailed, even revelatory chronicle of the full arc of Ronald Reagan's epic life - giving full weight to the Hollywood years, his transition to politics and rocky but ultimately successful run as California governor, and ultimately, of course, his iconic presidency, filled with storm and stress but climaxing with his peace talks with the Soviet Union that would serve as his greatest legacy. It is filled with fresh assessments and shrewd judgments, and doesn't flinch from a full reckoning with the man's strengths and limitations. This is no hagiography: Reagan was never a brilliant student, of anything, and his disinterest in hard-nosed political scheming, while admirable, meant that this side of things was left to the other people in his orbit, not least his wife Nancy; sometimes this delegation could lead to chaos, and worse. But what emerges as a powerful signal through all the noise is an honest inherent sweetness, a gentleness of nature and willingness to see the good in people and in this country, that proved to be a tonic for America in his time, and still is in ours. It was famously said that FDR had a first-rate disposition and a second-rate intellect. Perhaps it is no accident that only FDR had as high a public approval rating leaving office as Reagan did, or that in the years since Reagan has been closing in on FDR on rankings of Presidential greatness. Written with love and irony, which in a great biography is arguably the same thing, Bob Spitz's masterpiece will give no comfort to partisans at either extreme; for the rest of us, it is cause for celebration.