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The conservative icon who reshaped American politics and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War In the second half of the twentieth century, no American president defined his political era as did Ronald Reagan. He ushered in an age that extolled smaller government, tax cuts, and strong defense, and to this day politicians of both political parties operate within The conservative icon who reshaped American politics and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War In the second half of the twentieth century, no American president defined his political era as did Ronald Reagan. He ushered in an age that extolled smaller government, tax cuts, and strong defense, and to this day politicians of both political parties operate within the parameters of the world he made. His eight years in office from 1981 to 1989 were a time of economic crisis and recovery, a new American assertiveness abroad, and an engagement with the Soviet Union that began in conflict but moved in surprising new directions. Jacob Weisberg provides a bracing portrait of America's fortieth president and the ideas that animated his political career, offering a fresh psychological interpretation and showing that there was more to Reagan than the usual stereotypes. Reagan, he observes, was a staunch conservative but was also unafraid to compromise and cut deals where necessary. And Reagan espoused a firm belief, just as firm as his belief in small government and strong defense, that nuclear weapons were immoral and ought to be eliminated. Weisberg argues that these facets of Reagan were too often ignored in his time but reveal why his presidency turned out to be so consequential. In the years since Reagan left office, he has been cast in marble by the Republican Party and dismissed by the Democrats. Weisberg shows why we need to move past these responses if we wish truly to appreciate his accomplishments and his legacy.


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The conservative icon who reshaped American politics and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War In the second half of the twentieth century, no American president defined his political era as did Ronald Reagan. He ushered in an age that extolled smaller government, tax cuts, and strong defense, and to this day politicians of both political parties operate within The conservative icon who reshaped American politics and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War In the second half of the twentieth century, no American president defined his political era as did Ronald Reagan. He ushered in an age that extolled smaller government, tax cuts, and strong defense, and to this day politicians of both political parties operate within the parameters of the world he made. His eight years in office from 1981 to 1989 were a time of economic crisis and recovery, a new American assertiveness abroad, and an engagement with the Soviet Union that began in conflict but moved in surprising new directions. Jacob Weisberg provides a bracing portrait of America's fortieth president and the ideas that animated his political career, offering a fresh psychological interpretation and showing that there was more to Reagan than the usual stereotypes. Reagan, he observes, was a staunch conservative but was also unafraid to compromise and cut deals where necessary. And Reagan espoused a firm belief, just as firm as his belief in small government and strong defense, that nuclear weapons were immoral and ought to be eliminated. Weisberg argues that these facets of Reagan were too often ignored in his time but reveal why his presidency turned out to be so consequential. In the years since Reagan left office, he has been cast in marble by the Republican Party and dismissed by the Democrats. Weisberg shows why we need to move past these responses if we wish truly to appreciate his accomplishments and his legacy.

30 review for Ronald Reagan

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    I have read a number of the presidential biographies in the American President Series. They are very concisely written and range from 250 to 400 pages, or in the audio format five to eight hours. This book is well written and researched. Weisberg explores a bit about what is called the Reagan enigma. He apparently was unable to be close to anyone including his children. He was known as the great delegator and never knew the details of his policies/legislation that he ordered done. Weisberg I have read a number of the presidential biographies in the American President Series. They are very concisely written and range from 250 to 400 pages, or in the audio format five to eight hours. This book is well written and researched. Weisberg explores a bit about what is called the Reagan enigma. He apparently was unable to be close to anyone including his children. He was known as the great delegator and never knew the details of his policies/legislation that he ordered done. Weisberg attempted to examine the Reagan presidency and not his legend. This book provides a good review of Reagan. I have read a number of the Reagan biographies and Weisberg’s book provides an unbiased review of Reagan. Jacob Weisberg is a political journalist and writes in the style of a journalist rather than as a historian. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is five and half hours. The book was published in 2016. Dennis Holland does a good job narrating the book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This relevant life history of Ronald Reagan is the best I have read out of about 5. Not only does it get his early life far more accurately to personality and self-believe, but it also gets the culture correctly where he lived. Others I have read do not. At all. But within his life facts to relationship (SO much one of those people who understand from the get-go that you are born and die alone- and subsequently live very much as an island with a closed door to any real intimacy of their core)and This relevant life history of Ronald Reagan is the best I have read out of about 5. Not only does it get his early life far more accurately to personality and self-believe, but it also gets the culture correctly where he lived. Others I have read do not. At all. But within his life facts to relationship (SO much one of those people who understand from the get-go that you are born and die alone- and subsequently live very much as an island with a closed door to any real intimacy of their core)and within the details of his 8 years as President- this one is accurate. It clearly with exact dimensions relates the persona and the "talk" to the reality of the onus to the "walk". Meaning that the talk often heralded one goal and the onus another. Especially since budget cuts and smaller government were a stated goal. And in some avenues that was not at all reflected in the actual spending. The style of the writing is succinct and of one whole piece. I love that and do not find it much in moderns. Non-fiction or fiction. For instance, a reflection upon an instance of proof for a certain character trait well observed at 19 is still reflected at the same level and type for one at 39 or 74. Reagan was not a perfect man by any means. But his peccadillos fit into the nuance of what and where and how to what was needed and desired in leadership. For great numbers of the populous and on the world stage within Cold War dynamic, the complete optimism and fuzzy detailing of sight (on far more than just the visual) fit like a quarter into a slot on a pop machine. This also covers the offspring, wives and their outcomes for a man who never let anyone get inside. With depth analysis of his marriages and style of fatherhood. IMHO, he became a master delegator because his mind was never centered on any details of the practical applications. Not falling into moody chides and/or incompetent delegators either, because he trusted others of more comprehension to make the picks. Nor did he consistently initiate walls between competing factions or world views by reaction that was different than the "joke". Weisberg cites all of the negatives. Both in domestic and foreign fields and within quirky and odd ball hierarchy. Reagan was also far more impaired physically from the bullet wound too than was revealed. And that was not the only aspect that was not what it appeared from the outside. If you are going to read any book on Reagan, read this one. It is part of the American Presidents series by Jacob Weisberg and I will read the editions of those Presidents from my lifetime, starting with Truman. Weisberg is so exceptional because he does not market nor interpret within a snarky worldview of his own. Nor reflect a revisionist value of moderns upon particulars of the past, nor on the avenues to address those events and choices. Lastly, I was surprised in about 3 or 4 different categories of his Presidential policies as they occurred in detail. Because his (Reagans's) quotes don't always reflect those paths, but often do reflect the outcomes. Highly recommend.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steven Peterson

    This series features brief biographies of the American president. At one point, the Introduction suggests what these books are about: "Great presidents possessed by a vision of an ideal America." Many see Reagan as an examplar of this notion. This book, however, has a quite negative perspective on Reagan (too much so for my tastes--although Reagan certainly has much to answer for). The book explores his childhood and youth in some detail. His family context is a part of his development. We see This series features brief biographies of the American president. At one point, the Introduction suggests what these books are about: "Great presidents possessed by a vision of an ideal America." Many see Reagan as an examplar of this notion. This book, however, has a quite negative perspective on Reagan (too much so for my tastes--although Reagan certainly has much to answer for). The book explores his childhood and youth in some detail. His family context is a part of his development. We see him develop as a student at Eureka College in central Illinois. Early after graduation, he had a chance to broadcast baseball games in absentia for a Davenport radio station. Later, on to Hollywood. He was a fixture in B movies, never really making it to the big time--but able to make a good living. Later, he had a career in television. We do see his distance from family as he married and had children. People close to him would often feel a distance, a gap keeping them from knowing him better. His transformation from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican is told pretty well. Later, the move into politics and his service as Governor of California. After he completed his two terms, he began to wonder about the presidency. He gave it a try in 1976, but could not unseat then President Gerald Ford. 1980? There were a number of Republicans trying to win the nomination. Reagan triumphed here. Of course, the tale of his presidency is at the heart of this slender volume. We read of his strengths, such as an ability to articulate a vision of the United States that many people bought into. He had a political vision--small government, lower taxes, a stronger military, less regulation of business. The crux of the matter, according to the author: his vision was fragmented, filled with internal contradictions. Another problem: He would set out a general vision and hoped for actions to move toward it, but then leave working toward that goal for others. He was in large part a "hands off" president, and this him great problems in his second term (think Iran-Contra). Further, as the people whom he knew and trusted departed government, they were replaced by people with less loyalty to him, and they often created problems. And Reagan had a difficult time "disciplining" people. Foreign policy. . . . Reagan thought the Soviet Union to be an "evil empire." At some point, he conceived that increasing the military budget and developing new weapons systems would lead the Soviet Union to match the US--and, in the end, Reagan felt that this could lead to an implosion of the Soviet Union. The story of his relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev is also well told. During the second term, the author notes that incipient dementia began to manifest itself. This sometimes created problems when he was "out of it" on occasion. Still, there were moments: "tear down this wall Mr. Gorbachev!" The book has a quite negative cast to it, a little too much for my taste. Still, an interesting telling of the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter Ackerman

    Ronald Reagan, a book in The American Presidents series, and written by Jacob Weisberg, is probably the most accessible and concise biography that I have read on this U.S. President. Many Regan bios are written in light of how the author related to Regan or they spend time trying to get into his head. Though this biography touches upon the fact that Ronald Regan was as hard to get to know as he was warm and open in certain settings, the author does not let the reader get bogged down in that Ronald Reagan, a book in The American Presidents series, and written by Jacob Weisberg, is probably the most accessible and concise biography that I have read on this U.S. President. Many Regan bios are written in light of how the author related to Regan or they spend time trying to get into his head. Though this biography touches upon the fact that Ronald Regan was as hard to get to know as he was warm and open in certain settings, the author does not let the reader get bogged down in that conundrum, nor does he spend a lot of time trying to solve the mystery of how and why Reagan was like that. Instead the author sticks to the facts, interesting as they are, in the childhood, boyhood, young adulthood, and rise from actor to spokesperson to politician to President of this man. The work is also very fair in that it presents the gifts of the subject but also does not try to hide or apologize for the negatives - including those that arose throughout his Presidential administration . Though there are many choices of books to read about this President, I would highly recommend beginning with this as one gets an in depth, yet readable understand of the man and his place in history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    James Wilson

    Did you receive a copy of Bill O'Reilly's Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency this holiday season? If so, send it back to Amazon and order a copy of Jacob Weisberg's masterful Ronald Reagan.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Fohl

    I like these concise biographies of presidents. Everything included seemed necessary this biography feels like all wheat and no chaff. Jacob Weisberg seeks to answer three questions here. Why did Reagan change from a liberal to a conservative? What role did he really play in the Cold War? Why was he so psychologically impenetrable? I love the use of myopia and fog as metaphors to describe Reagans perpective. He is represented as a psychologically fascinating character. I didnt realize Reagan was I like these concise biographies of presidents. Everything included seemed necessary this biography feels like all wheat and no chaff. Jacob Weisberg seeks to answer three questions here. Why did Reagan change from a liberal to a conservative? What role did he really play in the Cold War? Why was he so psychologically impenetrable? I love the use of myopia and fog as metaphors to describe Reagan’s perpective. He is represented as a psychologically fascinating character. I didn’t realize Reagan was such a well known celebrity before politics. My big take always are that Reagan didn’t end the Cold War alone, but his personal optimism led to a peaceful end. Reagan was a distant man who connected better with “the people” than his own children. He was a great story teller but had a loose relationship with truth. I was surprised at how much he wrote and read. Knowing more about Reagan helps to understand the personal appeal of every president after him. Maybe he is the first post modern president or Information Age president. I learned more than I expected to and the book was an enjoyable read. What I learned: the USA USA USS chant is older than me. How Nancy Reagan’s astrologer actually effected presidential scheduling. (Announcing re-election campaign at 10:55 on a Sunday) The CIA did early cyber warfare that blew up a natural gas pipeline causing a nuclear sized explosion in Siberia in 1982! Where Grenada is and how tiny it’s population is. Grenada reminds me of the island in Cat’s Cradle. Reagan’s best speech writer was Peggy Noonan, although he edited lots of his speeches. He fell asleep meeting with the Pope twice. A quick thinking White House photographer deliberately dropped his camera to wake the president.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    I don't know whether this was a well-researched book about Ronald Reagan or not. It seemed to be. What I do know is that I enjoyed reading it immensely. These short biographical portraits in the The American Presidents series have run the gamut from great to so-so (I don't think I've yet read an all out horrible one), but this one definitely swings towards the great end of the pendulum. I think that's partly because this was like opening a cultural and political scrapbook of my childhood. I don't know whether this was a well-researched book about Ronald Reagan or not. It seemed to be. What I do know is that I enjoyed reading it immensely. These short biographical portraits in the The American Presidents series have run the gamut from great to so-so (I don't think I've yet read an all out horrible one), but this one definitely swings towards the great end of the pendulum. I think that's partly because this was like opening a cultural and political scrapbook of my childhood. Nostalgia reigned supreme here; the names, places, and events scattered throughout the book were the NBC Nightly News of my life, ages 10-18. I remember jokes WE told about Russian presidents (tell Yuri to go a cliff "and drop off" - get it); "jokes" HE told about Russian presidents ("we will begin bombing Russia in five minutes"); I remember him getting shot (we weren't sent home early). The names mentioned in this book - Deaver, Regan, Caspar Weinberger, Oliver North were names repeated on the evening news by John Chancellor or Tom Brokaw. Bedtime for Bonzo. My dad, a rabid democrat, didn't like him. I lived in a Republican bastion which did. Remember when Barbara Bush called Geraldine Ferraro a word "that rhymes with witch?" Remember when Nancy Reagan was on Different Strokes? Remember Joan Quigley? Remember when we bombed Libya (I really thought that was the end of the world, quite frankly; that all-out nuclear war had started), or when we invaded Grenada? I'm sure you children of the 80s can think of more things than that. What is in the book (the death of three Russian leaders one after the other) will remind you of whatever isn't in the book (the fifth grade playground joke about Yuri Andropov, for example). For a history book, and a short one, this was great fun.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    I won this biography from a goodreads drawing. This is part of a series of biographies, with the goals of providing a biography, historical context, and Influence for our times. I regret to say this book failed at all three. The biographical portion is less biography than armchair psychoanalysis. Several remarkable instances in Reagan's life are left out. Instead, we get a lot of talk about Reagan's famous wall of reserve and the consequences of being the son of an alcoholic. Fitting Reagan into I won this biography from a goodreads drawing. This is part of a series of biographies, with the goals of providing a biography, historical context, and Influence for our times. I regret to say this book failed at all three. The biographical portion is less biography than armchair psychoanalysis. Several remarkable instances in Reagan's life are left out. Instead, we get a lot of talk about Reagan's famous wall of reserve and the consequences of being the son of an alcoholic. Fitting Reagan into historical context wouldn't seem to be all that hard, but unfortunately, the author seems wholly unfamiliar with the history of the republican party. This is strange. Republicans do not reside in some remote foreign country. Weisberg doesn't seem to understand what really happened at Reykjavik, nor does he know the history of SDI. The third goal of the book is nothing but the usual left wing nonsense of proclaiming the republican party of today is so extreme that they would reject Reagan if he were a modern politician. This is a saw that liberals started using right after Reagan died. It is, of course, false. Once again, the author's complete ignorance of republicans prevents him from even approaching anything like real analysis. There might be some useful stuff here, but Dinesh D'Souza's biography is still the best, by far.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chelsi

    This book was definitely eye-opening. As Jacob Weisberg points out, Reagan is often lifted to a pedestal, a president who did no wrong. But that in itself is an oxymoron, and this book describes Reagan's presidency, both the good and the bad. However, I had to give it two stars because, though I'm no politician and can't comment on the political aspect, I really did not like the tone of the book. Reagan is constantly cast in a bad light, seeming to devise the bad and just stumble into the good This book was definitely eye-opening. As Jacob Weisberg points out, Reagan is often lifted to a pedestal, a president who did no wrong. But that in itself is an oxymoron, and this book describes Reagan's presidency, both the good and the bad. However, I had to give it two stars because, though I'm no politician and can't comment on the political aspect, I really did not like the tone of the book. Reagan is constantly cast in a bad light, seeming to devise the bad and just stumble into the good of his presidency. It felt like, even in the end, Reagan was to blame for his own illness and Alzheimer's Disease. I always look for non-biased biographies, but this one didn't quite cut it. Again, my opinion.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Pat Carson

    If we consider that Reagan's approaches to the Soviet Union helped finally end the Cold War, then Reagan was a successful president. If we view the total Reagan package, as presented here, we may have a totally different feeling. Good read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ben Truong

    Ronald Reagan is the thirtieth-ninth book in The American Presidents series a biographical series chronicling the Presidents of the United States. Jacob Weisberg wrote this particular installment and edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Sean Wilentz. Ronald Wilson Reagan was an American politician who served as the fortieth President of the United States from 19811989 and became a highly influential voice of modern conservatism. Prior to his presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union Ronald Reagan is the thirtieth-ninth book in The American Presidents series – a biographical series chronicling the Presidents of the United States. Jacob Weisberg wrote this particular installment and edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Sean Wilentz. Ronald Wilson Reagan was an American politician who served as the fortieth President of the United States from 1981–1989 and became a highly influential voice of modern conservatism. Prior to his presidency, he was a Hollywood actor and union leader before serving as the thirty-third Governor of California from 1967–1975. Many observers during Ronald Reagan's presidency held a low opinion of his intellect, but most historians agree, often reluctantly, that he presided over significant changes in the United States. Although no conservative like his subject, Weisberg takes his historical duties seriously, laying out Reagan's actions. A successful radio announcer and actor, Reagan enjoyed politics, serving twice as Screen Actors Guild president before election as California Governor in 1966. Attuned to the national rightward swing, he denounced government, regulation, and taxes, but left implementation to his staff, who discovered, to their annoyance, that he hated conflict and had no objection to compromise. The massive tax cut that began his presidency did not discourage him from extolling a balanced budget, and he accepted the almost yearly tax increases that followed. He appointed Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, but also, despite objections, Sandra Day O'Connor. The electorate loved his speeches attacking student protesters, welfare, and communism, but activism seemed to bore him, except in his campaign against nuclear war. Ignoring opposition from his administration and outrage from conservative commentators, he embraced disarmament proposals from the new Soviet premier, Mikhail Gorbachev. All in all, Ronald Reagan is a good, albeit concise biography of the fortieth President and it is a good continuation to what would hopefully be a wonderful series of presidential biographies, which I plan to read in the very near future.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steven Freeman

    Good short biography of Reagan that puts his presidency into perspective. Regan was full of contradictions. He ran as a conservative war hawk, but wanted elimination of all nuclear weapons and negotiated with the Soviets against the advice and wishes of his Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor. He wanted small government and less taxes, but raised federal spending from $671 billion when he took office to $1.44 trillion when he left and increased the national debt from $998 billion Good short biography of Reagan that puts his presidency into perspective. Regan was full of contradictions. He ran as a conservative war hawk, but wanted elimination of all nuclear weapons and negotiated with the Soviets against the advice and wishes of his Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor. He wanted small government and less taxes, but raised federal spending from $671 billion when he took office to $1.44 trillion when he left and increased the national debt from $998 billion to $2.86 trillion. He drastically cut income taxes and significantly increased military spending that could not be offset by cuts in domestic programs. This resulted in him increases taxes in 1982 (the largest in history), 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988. Yet he would conveniently ignore these increases when asked about them. His failing memory and onset of Alzheimer's was hidden from the public, but his inability to remember let him off the hook on his presidency's biggest scandals. His likeability and eternal optimism offset the reality that he often had is facts wrong and did not care - perception was more important than reality. In the end, government expanded under his watch, but people expected less from the government and liked it less.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    I've read a number of Reagan studies and biographies and I thought this was the most even handed. It's part of a presidential series and very well written. I was active politically during the Reagan years and am always shocked by his subsequent beatification, largely funded by dark money, Fox news and others who probably didn't live through Reagan's reign of error: Iran-Contra, massive transfer of money from the middle class to the rich, the squashing of labor unions and beginning of jobs I've read a number of Reagan studies and biographies and I thought this was the most even handed. It's part of a presidential series and very well written. I was active politically during the Reagan years and am always shocked by his subsequent beatification, largely funded by dark money, Fox news and others who probably didn't live through Reagan's reign of error: Iran-Contra, massive transfer of money from the middle class to the rich, the squashing of labor unions and beginning of jobs leaving the U.S. When he left office, the country was fiercely divided about him - for good reason. This volume mixes the bad with the good and reminds you that Reagan evolved from the cold warrior to a force for disarmament with the USSR.

  14. 5 out of 5

    robin friedman

    Ronald Reagan In The American Presidents Series I read Thomas Mallon's sympathetic if unsatisfactory novel, "Finale" about the Reagan presidency and felt the need to read more about Ronald Reagan. The ongoing presidential election, with its divisiveness and with what many people find the unsatisfactory character of the two major party candidates, also encouraged me to revisit Reagan. Over the years, I have read many of the presidential biographies published in the American Presidents series and Ronald Reagan In The American Presidents Series I read Thomas Mallon's sympathetic if unsatisfactory novel, "Finale" about the Reagan presidency and felt the need to read more about Ronald Reagan. The ongoing presidential election, with its divisiveness and with what many people find the unsatisfactory character of the two major party candidates, also encouraged me to revisit Reagan. Over the years, I have read many of the presidential biographies published in the American Presidents series and turned to the series' recent book (2016) on Reagan by Jacob Weisberg. I have found that the biographies in this series meet its stated goal of presenting "the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar." While short and accessible, these presidential biographies frequently offer insights and scholarly contributions in their own right as opposed to bland summaries. This is the case with Weisberg's volume on Reagan (1911 -- 2004). His book offers a complex personal and political portrayal of our 40th president who served two terms from 1981 --1989. Weisberg, the author of several earlier books about contemporary American politics, is critical of many of the specifics of Reagan's political vision and presidency. He finds Reagan had two related "blind spots". First, Weisberg finds Reagan overly critical of government and of the role it can play for good in a large, diverse country. Second, Weisberg argues that Reagan went too far in his support for the free market. "Religious voluntarism and personal generosity weren't substitutes for the Great Society, however flawed some of its programs were." It is a virtue in a book to take a position and to state and defend it. Not every reader will agree with Weisberg, but his book and arguments will stimulate thinking about Reagan and his leadership. Weisberg has many positive things to say about Reagan. He admires his optimism, faith in American life, intuitive ability to understand an issue, and gifts as a writer and speaker. He sees Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt as the two most influential presidents of the 20th century and works hard and fairly to impress Reagan's importance upon the reader. Weisberg's study endeavors to address three issues that, he finds, have not been answered adequately in earlier studies of Reagan: 1. the reasons for Reagan's move from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican, 2. Reagan's role in ending the Cold War and 3. the reasons why Reagan was, by all accounts, "psychologically impenetrable." The book offers insights on all three questions. On the most specific question, Weisberg finds Reagan played a more pivotal role in ending the Cold War than his critics grant him. The other two questions, while addressed, are much more difficult to answer convincingly. The book offers a thoughtful treatment of Reagan's early life in Illinois small towns during the Depression and discusses how Reagan's optimism and cheerfulness might have arisen from his difficult early experience. There is a good treatment of Reagan's career as a broadcaster and as an actor with an emphasis of what Weisberg finds as Reagan's detachment and his difficulty in forming close personal relationships. Weisberg shows Reagan's gradual shift from liberal to conservative. His account teaches that Reagan was more thoughtful and more of a reader than is sometimes believed. The book gives good detail on Reagan's entry into politics, his campaigns, and his presidency. He offers a good if brief overview of the many issues of the presidency, both domestic and foreign. He criticizes the conservative character of Reagan's domestic program and finds that Reagan himself was unable to follow though with it in detail. He discusses both the virtues of Reagan's hands-off management style and also the several scandals that ensued in its wake. The book praises Reagan for his insights and actions in ending the Cold War while criticizing his role in the Iran-Contra affair. While Weisberg recognizes Reagan's gifts in bringing optimism and hope to the United States after a series of failed presidencies (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter), he underestimates the importance of this accomplishment. The assessment of strengths and weaknesses is at the heart of an informed study and readers and students may differ. In my view, Weisberg underestimates Reagan's strengths. As shown in his 1989 farewell address which Weisberg quotes at length (p. 147), Reagan offered a vision, not of an America based upon greed and crony capitalism but rather on one offering full scope for the exercise of the potentialities of its people. Reagan said: "I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall,proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity." This is a vision that remains to challenge and inspire Americans, liberal or conservative, in our national life. The book closes with a timeline of Reagan's life and, most importantly, with a bibliography that shows the influence and controversy that the Reagan era has had and will continue to have. The bibliography is an excellent resource for those wishing to learn more. Weisberg has written a fine book about Reagan which helped me think about the role of his vision for the United States during these difficult times. Robin Friedman

  15. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    A fair treatment of Reagan's strengths & weaknesses, and how he became a great President. Weisberg, not particularly a fan, says hes second only to FDR in the 20th century. Reagans sunny optimism, his lack of complication, his ability to live with self-contradiction. His remarkable powers of persuasion. Reagans reality-distortion field: "Star Wars", which Weisberg says terrified the Soviets. The Soviet Union didnt fall: it was pushed. Reagan's sad decline into Alzheimer's dementia. A A fair treatment of Reagan's strengths & weaknesses, and how he became a great President. Weisberg, not particularly a fan, says he’s second only to FDR in the 20th century. Reagan’s sunny optimism, his lack of complication, his ability to live with self-contradiction. His remarkable powers of persuasion. Reagan’s reality-distortion field: "Star Wars", which Weisberg says terrified the Soviets. “The Soviet Union didn’t fall: it was pushed.” Reagan's sad decline into Alzheimer's dementia. A remarkably well-written and interesting short biography. Not to be missed, if you have any interest in recent history. 4.4/5 stars.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alec Rogers

    Jacob Weisberg is a thoughtful analyst of American politics whose articles I often enjoy. In this brief biography of Ronald Reagan for the American President Series, he makes many interesting observations about Reagan and his presidency, and I believe he set out to be fair and honest is his appraisal. But his rendition of the facts made it difficult for me to comprehend how he came to be in Weisbergs view the most significant President of the 20th century after Franklin Roosevelt. At the outset Jacob Weisberg is a thoughtful analyst of American politics whose articles I often enjoy. In this brief biography of Ronald Reagan for the American President Series, he makes many interesting observations about Reagan and his presidency, and I believe he set out to be fair and honest is his appraisal. But his rendition of the facts made it difficult for me to comprehend how he came to be in Weisberg’s view the most significant President of the 20th century after Franklin Roosevelt. At the outset Weisberg perceptively notes the contradiction between Reagan’s growing reputation and the mystery of what he was able to accomplish despite what Reagan’s first fiancé tactfully labelled his difficulty of “distinguish[ing] fact from fancy.” By focusing on Reagan’s own copious writings – memoirs, speeches, letters – he credits Reagan as a well read, thoughtful and highly articulate statesman. And his use of these primary sources are usually cited when the book is at its most revealing. As is necessary given the limited size of books in this series, Weisberg’s selection of facts is telling and judicious when recounting Reagan’s early years. His use of Reagan’s childhood reading material (Horatio Alger and science fiction), the unhappiness of a home life submerged by his embrace of the school theatrical, and even a poem that Reagan wrote embracing the joys of life rather than its sorrows all skillfully illuminate Reagan’s personality. His first job out of college as a radio sports broadcaster required that he make stories up with only the barest of facts coming off a ticker as if he were actually at the game rather than miles away at a studio help us understand his communication style. When it comes to Reagan’s presidency, Weisberg unfortunately switches gear, opting for breadth over depth. This can lead to very facile analysis. For instance he blames the S&L crisis solely on a deregulatory bill Reagan supported. He also seems to want to include every gaffe or misstep in the eight years Reagan was in office. While each item may (or may not) be accurate in itself, cumulatively this proves a mistake in a book of this size, giving them an outsized impact and making it harder for us to understand Reagan’s successes as Weisberg sees them. When discussing Reagan’s interactions with the Soviets, though, Weisberg is generally on more solid ground. He nicely details Reagan’s negotiations with the Soviets, explaining how various sources shaped Reagan’s surprising support for nuclear disarmament and his view that the Russian people (separate from the Soviet government) wanted peace. But characterizing Reagan’s views as a “conversion” from cold war hawk to anti-nuclear dove misses the essence of Reagan’s strategy of using hawkish means in pursuit of peace ends. Still, Weisberg acknowledges that Reagan was virtually alone in understanding that the USSR could change, a view not generally shared by his own staff, conservative supporters or liberal critics. Perhaps the biggest failure of Weisberg’s account is his neglect of the political context in which Reagan’s life and administration played out. For instance, when trying to account for Reagan’s conversion from a faithful New Dealer to conservative icon he fails to even consider Reagan’s own explanation that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it had left him. When evaluating the growth in distrust of government between 1962 and 1980, he claims Reagan was its “the most prominent face,” which writes Johnson/Vietnam and Nixon/Watergate out of the story. Weisberg seems unable to resolve the Reagan paradox as successfully as he is to frame it. Given Weisberg’s litany of criticism and the seeming less endless blame he places on Reagan’s policies (e.g., his aides post government ethics failing were the fault of Reagan’s celebration of entrepreneurs. The 2008 financial crisis the fault of his skepticism of regulation. His supposed message that Americans could “have it both ways” without making tradeoffs) it’s hard to reconcile his generally more positive conclusions about the Reagan presidency. In fact, Reagan shared with his early political hero Franklin Roosevelt a personal approach to governance that emphasized intuition, anecdote and the ability to connect with ordinary people. This proved more important than mastery of details, consistency of policies and other flaws that both shared (and which could drive their critics including Weisberg crazy) in explaining how Ronald Reagan restored America’s flagging confidence and proved that principle and compromise need not be exclusive traits in political life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Ronald Reagan is one of the most recent volumes of The American Presidents Series, and Jacob Weisberg and his editors seem to have learned what works. This is a really solid account of Reagan's evolution as a politician and his presidency. What's most interesting is that even though Reagan talked the conservative talk, the policies and legislation enacted while he was Governor and Presidnet were actually centrist, including numerous tax increases. Best of all, whether you are a fan or detractor, Ronald Reagan is one of the most recent volumes of The American Presidents Series, and Jacob Weisberg and his editors seem to have learned what works. This is a really solid account of Reagan's evolution as a politician and his presidency. What's most interesting is that even though Reagan talked the conservative talk, the policies and legislation enacted while he was Governor and Presidnet were actually centrist, including numerous tax increases. Best of all, whether you are a fan or detractor, I think you'll see a Reagan that you recognize in this remarkably balanced account.

  18. 4 out of 5

    John

    This is about as concise a biography of Reagan as one could imagine. One reason for this is that apparently Reagan had very little inner life (cf. the Edmund Morris bio), so there's not much to tell about his emotional drama, if it even ever existed. The book generally considers Reagan to be a great myth-maker, but essentially a hypocrite -- one who would call for the reduction in government, only to, again and again, spend vast amounts of taxpayer money (or go into debt). Weisberg is judicious This is about as concise a biography of Reagan as one could imagine. One reason for this is that apparently Reagan had very little inner life (cf. the Edmund Morris bio), so there's not much to tell about his emotional drama, if it even ever existed. The book generally considers Reagan to be a great myth-maker, but essentially a hypocrite -- one who would call for the reduction in government, only to, again and again, spend vast amounts of taxpayer money (or go into debt). Weisberg is judicious in his account of the fall of the Soviet regime and the destruction of the Berlin Wall. He never really says whether Reagan's actual position really had anything to do with what happened, but he says again and again that Reagan was the only person in his conservative circles who stuck to and believed in the idea that the Soviet system would collapse on its own (and to support this kind of historical determinism, Reagan even occasionally quoted Marx regarding the flow and inevitability of history). The book also necessary debunks a lot of the Reagan myth. For instance, Weisberg dismantles the notion that Reagan was a tax-cutter and government reducer: 'Reagan left the Governor's Mansion in 1975 without any significant record as either a tax cutter or a budget cutter. During his time in office, California's top personal income tax rose from 7 percent to 11 percent, while the sales tax rose from 3 percent to 6 percent, the corporate tax rate went up from 5.5 percent to 9.0 percent, and the top inheritance tax rose from 10 percent to 15 percent. State revenues climbed from $2.9 billion in 1966 (the last year before Reagan took office) to $8.6 billion in 1974 (the last year for which he was responsible). In inflation-adjusted terms, state government doubled on his watch, a faster rate of growth that under his predecessor, Pat Brown, or his successor, Jerry Brown.' (p. 50) He notes several occasions when Reagan would ignore the facts or not search for them, playing to the biases of his audience. Example: 'On the campaign trail, he would tell the story of a Chicago "welfare queen" who became his emblem of the problem. "She has eight names, thirtyaddresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran's benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. Ahd she is collecting Social Security on her cards," he said. "She's got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000." This story was largely accurate, but rested on a mistaken assumption. Middle-class whites who believed that federal social security spending meant transferring their tax dollars to minorities thought that the welfare queen was black, as did Reagan. Linda Taylor, the person on whom the story was based, was actually white.' (p. 54) He notes that the Reagan boom had everything to do with spending: 'By late 1983 the combination of tax cuts and deficit spending was delivering a tremendous Keynesian boost to the economy. GDP rose 4.6 percent that year. It would rise 7.3 percent in 1984, the economy's best annual performance in two decades.' (p. 111) And that the 80s generally were not so rosy, economically. There was obviously the slump after his first election, but in the second term, let us not forget the drop in the Dow of 22.6% in one day in October of 1987 (p. 137). Good index. About my only complaint is that the book could use a 2-3 page guide to further reading.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I won this in a Goodreads giveaway. The back cover promised a "bracing portrait" and "fresh psychological interpretation" of Reagan. The fresh psychological interpretation seemed to emphasize his optimism and effects of growing up with an alcoholic father. The author seemed surprised that Reagan didn't recognize or seem to acknowledge his father's faults until much later in life as opposed to his brother who seemed to have a much gloomier and perhaps objectively realistic perspective. The author I won this in a Goodreads giveaway. The back cover promised a "bracing portrait" and "fresh psychological interpretation" of Reagan. The fresh psychological interpretation seemed to emphasize his optimism and effects of growing up with an alcoholic father. The author seemed surprised that Reagan didn't recognize or seem to acknowledge his father's faults until much later in life as opposed to his brother who seemed to have a much gloomier and perhaps objectively realistic perspective. The author failed to note or realize however the age difference between the brothers and how that affects one's perspective. What is a small age difference later in life is huge early on. Reagan was 11 when he was first really confronted with the truth of this father's addiction. Prior to that, it just seemed like normal life. The author seems to take this and use it to paint a picture of Reagan as not only emotionally distant, but also of questionable intelligence. When describing his political evolution as a young adult, he seems to imply that Reagan was just absorbing the thoughts and ideas of those around him without really thinking about any issues, how they are related, etc. Some of the 'influences' on Reagan are also a bit of a reach. He lists an executive at GE, whom he acknowledges never had any contact with Reagan and cites no evidence of Reagan interacting with any material from this executive, as an influence simply because he used the phrase 'business climate' which is a phrase coined by the individual. Working for any company you're going to pick up that company's corporate lingo; each large company has it. It seemed like Reagan was being portrayed as something of a simpleton, blessed by his talent for speaking and being moved along by others. The author would then realize he was going too far in one direction and try to bring it back to center, but never seemed to really accomplish it. One of the things that really bothered me is that this book describes itself as biography. However, at times the author starts commenting on decisions that were made, condemning some and praising others and in some cases saying that Reagan did X but he really should have done Y. This becomes political commentary then, changes the entire tone of the book, and honestly causes me to question the motives of the book. I also found it interesting that a note from the editor essentially admits to thinly concealed hostility towards Reagan while in office and afterwards in addition to great confusion regarding Reagan's accomplishments and how he's remembered.

  20. 5 out of 5

    James Banzer

    It does not seem that Jacob Weisberg has tried to paint a positive picture of the 40th president of the United States. Don't let that deter you if you admire Ronald Reagan. Weisberg also does not ignore the good points about Reagan, including the fact that he was a great intuitive leader of the 20th century. This work, simply entitled Ronald Reagan, is a balanced view of a complex man who had humble midwest beginnings. Weisberg's portrait is of a man who went through a range of occupations. He It does not seem that Jacob Weisberg has tried to paint a positive picture of the 40th president of the United States. Don't let that deter you if you admire Ronald Reagan. Weisberg also does not ignore the good points about Reagan, including the fact that he was a great intuitive leader of the 20th century. This work, simply entitled Ronald Reagan, is a balanced view of a complex man who had humble midwest beginnings. Weisberg's portrait is of a man who went through a range of occupations. He was a sports announcer, movie actor, head of the Screen Actor's Guild and a politician. He was a Democrat before he transitioned into a Republican. Weisberg's book gives a clear picture of how a man who was once an ardent supporter of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt morphed into a powerful force within the Republican party. The events that led up to his assencion into the presidency are laid out, including his electon to the California governor's office. The reader is reminded of President Gerald Ford's Republican nomination for the presidency and his subsequent defeat to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Reagan waited for a time four years later when he was able to rise to the occasion. It is easy to surmise why some people who think Reagan was one of the great U.S. Presidents would be put off when Weisberg points out the negativties. But the fact is that even the greatest people in history had their flaws. It could be considered neglegent reporting to ignore things like how the leader of the free world fell asleep while in the presence of Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. To overlook the fact that some people thought the onset of Alzheimer's disease began before the end of his presidency might indeed disqualify Weisberg as an objective journalist. Controversies like the arms for hostages scandal are a crucial part of the Reagan story, and the author treats that subject well. The story of course includes Reagan's historic relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev. The fall of the Soviet Union came under Reagan's watch, and this will go down as one of his lasting legacies. The U.S. president's influence without any doubt was significant in the downfall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Weisberg acknowledges the Reagan factor in the Soviet implosion in his pleasing biographical portrait of an important American political figure. I got this fine biography as a complimentary copy, thanks to Goodreads!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kurt Pankau

    This is a fascinating look at a man who has been mythologized by both his ardent fans and his detractors. Weisberg explores Reagan's transformation from a New Deal Democrat to the man who would remake a battered Republican Party in his own image. He frequently refers to Reagan's own writings and interviews and paints a very nuanced portrait. Reagan was shrewd but never cynical. He pursued positions of political power but was also genuinely modest. He was funny and charismatic but incredibly This is a fascinating look at a man who has been mythologized by both his ardent fans and his detractors. Weisberg explores Reagan's transformation from a New Deal Democrat to the man who would remake a battered Republican Party in his own image. He frequently refers to Reagan's own writings and interviews and paints a very nuanced portrait. Reagan was shrewd but never cynical. He pursued positions of political power but was also genuinely modest. He was funny and charismatic but incredibly emotionally distant. But above all else he was deeply, madly in love with his country. He was frustratingly myopic and eager to dismiss inconvenient facts, but he was also prescient about the pending downfall of the Soviet Union and locked horns with his own cabinet in order to end the Cold War. His story is amazing and eye-opening. Fans of Reagan will probably (and have already, based on a cursory glance at other reviews) dismiss this book because of Weisberg's politics, but the author goes to great lengths to defend his conclusions with outside sources, many of those written by Reagan himself. Indeed, a third of the book is notes, index, and bibliography. And to my reading, Weisberg's treatment of Reagan felt mostly even-handed, although a few discursive asides make it clear that he's not a fan of the man's politics. The book did not feel particularly well organized. Chapter titles are taken from pithy Reagan quotes, which don't give any indication whatsoever of their content. A few chapters felt like they almost had cliffhanger endings, which I didn't care for in a non-fiction book. At barely-over 200 pages, it was a brisk and thoroughly engaging read, but it often felt abrupt. More than once I wanted a little more context to what I was reading and had to go back and re-parse the page I'd just gone over to be sure I hadn't missed something. So I didn't love it, but I still recommend it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dionne

    "In one way, Reagan isn't hard to understand at all: he knew what he believed, meant what he said, and made clear what he intended to do. He didn't suffer from anxiety or self-doubt."~Jacob Weisberg Ronald Reagan by Jacob Weisberg is the 4th book on Reagan that I've read so far. I was offered a free copy of the book if I would review it. Since, I love to read biographies on the presidents and first ladies, I was more than happy to review the book. It is part of The American Presidents series, "In one way, Reagan isn't hard to understand at all: he knew what he believed, meant what he said, and made clear what he intended to do. He didn't suffer from anxiety or self-doubt."~Jacob Weisberg Ronald Reagan by Jacob Weisberg is the 4th book on Reagan that I've read so far. I was offered a free copy of the book if I would review it. Since, I love to read biographies on the presidents and first ladies, I was more than happy to review the book. It is part of The American Presidents series, which says, "It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar." I think this book definitely accomplishes the above objectives. It does a fairly good job of giving a concise view of Reagan as a person and as a president. I did a 3 part series on my blog entitled, Why I Love Ronald Reagan, so I will admit that I'm a little biased in his favor. That said, I felt like Weisberg's liberal bias did come through at times. While giving Reagan credit for some things, he seems to hold the elitist view that many have had for him that he wasn't overly smart and was lacking depth. The following quote is a perfect example, "Reagan's televised address, which he rewrote heavily himself, displayed both his limitations as a thinker and his tremendous gifts as a communicator." This wouldn't be the first book on Ronald Reagan that I would recommend, but I would recommend it for those who want a nice, short biography that gives a good overview of his life.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie B

    Son of a closet alcoholic, Ronald Reagan grew up poor, but was determined to become more than the status quo. In Ronald Reagan, Jacob Weisberg highlights Reagans early career as a B-rated movie actor, the Screen Actors Guild president, the California governorship, and eventually his rise to the presidency. Included are numerous encouraging quotes from Reagans diary entries along with personal and professional letters. Jacob Weisberg who authored, The Bush Tragedy, and a series of small volumes Son of a closet alcoholic, Ronald Reagan grew up poor, but was determined to become more than the status quo. In Ronald Reagan, Jacob Weisberg highlights Reagan’s early career as a B-rated movie actor, the Screen Actors Guild president, the California governorship, and eventually his rise to the presidency. Included are numerous encouraging quotes from Reagan’s diary entries along with personal and professional letters. Jacob Weisberg who authored, The Bush Tragedy, and a series of small volumes called, “Bushisms”, can only lead the reader to deduce Weisberg’s political views, which were occasionally reflected in Ronald Reagan. The 40th President is portrayed as an aloof, lead-from-behind, reactionary President who is emotionally removed even from his closest family members. The biography, Ronald Reagan, is part of The American Presidents series, with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. one of the main series editors. The series includes 40 published presidential biographies, ranging from America’s earliest leaders, such as Thomas Jefferson, to the more recent, 43rd President George W. Bush. *** 3 Stars The American Presidents Series: Ronald Reagan by Jacob Weisberg 208 Pages Published January 2016 by Times Books Genre: Biography, History, Non-fiction, Series ASIN: B00ZON5MI8 *Disclaimer: This paperback copy was received through Manhattan Book Review and Time Books in exchange for an honest review. The original post can be found here. Gilt & Buckram Reviews . . . the framework that holds adventure.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Young

    A very short, concise rendering of Reagan's life. Won't reveal much new if you've read some of the longer books on the man, but Weisberg's analysis focuses on a few of the central questions in Reagan's life: why did he abandon liberalism? How did he intuit that the Soviet Union would ultimately collapse? Why was he so distant and unreachable emotionally, and such a bad manager of his staff? Weisberg is a liberal, but he's even-handed in his treatment of Reagan, and really praises the man's A very short, concise rendering of Reagan's life. Won't reveal much new if you've read some of the longer books on the man, but Weisberg's analysis focuses on a few of the central questions in Reagan's life: why did he abandon liberalism? How did he intuit that the Soviet Union would ultimately collapse? Why was he so distant and unreachable emotionally, and such a bad manager of his staff? Weisberg is a liberal, but he's even-handed in his treatment of Reagan, and really praises the man's instinct for peace with the USSR even when his entire administration opposed it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Fred Kohn

    I was concerned that the author's liberal politics would seriously skew this book. It really wasn't all that noticeable until the last chapter, and even there Weisberg makes the attempt to give credit where credit is due. I liked his statement in the conclusion that "the Soviet Union didn't fall, it was pushed." A lot of liberals would never acknowledge that.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Winston K

    This is why I'm proud to be considered a conservative.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Findley

    Never before have I read a biography where the writer let his contempt for the subject shine through so clearly. I think the kindest comment I can make is that it was well-researched and referenced.

  28. 4 out of 5

    James P

    Weisburg has an interesting approach to biography. Baffled by Reagan's success...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Danmcgohan

    Easy read. Author more critical of Reagan than I. Interesting how President Reagan evolved into a conservative.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Steve Solnick

    Excellent short bio. Stronger on Reagan's foreign policy legacy than his domestic legacy, especially the weird intersection of fantasy and idealism that culminated at Rejkyavik.

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