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When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan

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No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan. In When Character Was King, Noonan brings her own reflections on Reagan to bear as well as new stories--from Presidents George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, his Secret Service men and White House colleagues, his wife, his daughter Patti Davis, and his close friends--to reveal the true nature of a man No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan. In When Character Was King, Noonan brings her own reflections on Reagan to bear as well as new stories--from Presidents George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, his Secret Service men and White House colleagues, his wife, his daughter Patti Davis, and his close friends--to reveal the true nature of a man even his opponents now view as a maker of big history. Marked by incisive wit and elegant prose, When Character Was King will both enlighten and move readers. It may well be the last word on Ronald Reagan, not only as a leader but as a man.


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No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan. In When Character Was King, Noonan brings her own reflections on Reagan to bear as well as new stories--from Presidents George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, his Secret Service men and White House colleagues, his wife, his daughter Patti Davis, and his close friends--to reveal the true nature of a man No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan. In When Character Was King, Noonan brings her own reflections on Reagan to bear as well as new stories--from Presidents George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, his Secret Service men and White House colleagues, his wife, his daughter Patti Davis, and his close friends--to reveal the true nature of a man even his opponents now view as a maker of big history. Marked by incisive wit and elegant prose, When Character Was King will both enlighten and move readers. It may well be the last word on Ronald Reagan, not only as a leader but as a man.

30 review for When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan

  1. 5 out of 5

    Doran Barton

    I finished reading Peggy Noonans book about Ronald Reagan last night. Its a great book about a great man that ends on a sad note (just like Reagans life will end after his long battle with Alzheimers). There was one part of the book that really stood out and impressed me so much so that I felt I needed to excerpt it here. ---------------beginning-of-excerpt----- Once, in the mid 1990s, I was asked by the University of Texas at Austin to take part in a lecture series in which various historians and I finished reading Peggy Noonan’s book about Ronald Reagan last night. It’s a great book about a great man that ends on a sad note (just like Reagan’s life will end after his long battle with Alzheimers). There was one part of the book that really stood out and impressed me — so much so that I felt I needed to excerpt it here. ---------------beginning-of-excerpt----- Once, in the mid 1990s, I was asked by the University of Texas at Austin to take part in a lecture series in which various historians and authors were asked to speak about the personal character of a specific modern president. I was honored to be included with Doris Kearns Goodwin, who spoke on Franklin Roosevelt, and David McCullough, who spoke on Harry Truman, and Hentrik Hertzberg on Jimmy Carton, for whom he had been a speechwriter, and Michael Beschloss on George Bush the elder. I would speak on Reagan. I reasoned, as I began my work, that one way to judge the character of a president is to see if he came through on the things he said he’d do when he ran for office. My impression was that Reagan had, on all the big issues. But as I researched it, comparing what he promised in 1980 with what he’d done by 1988, the sheer mounting of fact upon fact left me not only pleased but, in a way, moved. In 1980, on the campaign trail he promised he would cut the inflation rate. It ws running at 12.8 percent then, the last year of the Carter administration. It had reached its peak of 14.8 percent in March of that year. By 1983, Reagan had taken the actions—tough, politically damaging actions such as backing a tighter monetary supply and taking a recession in turn—that produced an inflation rate of less than 4 percent. Most important, inflation remained at 3 to 4 percent throughout the Reagan presidency. So he’d cut inflation by more than half almost since the beginning, and by the end it was less than a third of what it had been. He said he would cut taxes. The day he walked into office the top rax rate for individuals was 78 percent. The day he walked out, he’d cut it down to 35 percent. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute has said that no act in the past quarter centure had a more profound impact on the economy of the eighties and nineties than the Reagan tax cut of 1981. “The nation was in quite a deep hole of economic collapse when Reagan was elected. We were in the midst of the worst economic depression in 1980-81 than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s....Reagan’s tax cuts—combined with his emphasis on sound money, deregulation and free trade—created a mighty economic expansion....This expansion carried through the 1990s as well—creating America’s greated sustained wave of prosperity ever.” How high a wave? The economy grew by more than one third in size; it produced a $15 trillion increase in America’s wealth. And from 1981 to 1989—which is to say, from the beginning of the Reagan era to the end—every income group in the country from the richest to the poorest saw its income increase. Reagan said he’d get the economy going again. See above. And see this: The Dow Jones, which was at less than 800 at the beginning of his first administration, was at more than 2400 by the end of his second administration. He said he would decontrol oil prices. He did, and they began to plummet. He said he would reduce unemployment. It was high when he went into office, 7.4 percent. When he left it was down more than 30 percent, to 5.4 percent. As important, or more so, the number of new jobs began to rise. He said he would lower interest rates—and he did, cutting them to less than half what they were when he began his presidency. He said he’d reduce federal regulation, and he did. The Federal Register, which had eighty-seven thousand pages of rules and regulations under his predecessor, was cut back to a low of forty-seven thousand pages by 1986. He said he would cut the federal bureaucracy and he did. He said he would cut the budget and he did. He didn’t get nearly the cuts he hoped for, but in the words of the historian Michael Barone, “The budget cuts by themselves did not reduce government spending drastically, but they signalled that it would no longer be allowed to grow faster than the economy. The annual rates of growtth in federal outlays would turn out to be slowed down frm 17% and 15% over the period 1979-81 to 10%, 8%, and 5% during 1981-84.” He said he’d name a woman to the Supreme Court; he said he’d oppose racial quotas; he said he’d oppose abortion; said he would try to create a defense system against incoming missiles; said he would rebuild the armed forces; said he would move toward a six-hundred ship navy. Done, done, done, done, done, done and done. Every bit of it. He said he would not bow to the Soviet Communist state, and vowed to speak truthfully both of it and to it. This he did most dazzingly, most movingly of all. — Peggy Noonan, When Character Was King ---------------end-of-excerpt----- Wow.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lizzie

    "In a time of malice he was not malicious; in a time of lies he did not falsify; in a time of great pressure he didn't bend or break; in a time of disingenuousness he was clear and candid about where he stood and why. And in a time when people just gave up after awhile and changed the subject, he remained on the field for the long haul." I had seen this book on a number of reading lists of people whom I admire and so it has been on my "to read" shelf for some time. I knew when I read this quote, "In a time of malice he was not malicious; in a time of lies he did not falsify; in a time of great pressure he didn't bend or break; in a time of disingenuousness he was clear and candid about where he stood and why. And in a time when people just gave up after awhile and changed the subject, he remained on the field for the long haul." I had seen this book on a number of reading lists of people whom I admire and so it has been on my "to read" shelf for some time. I knew when I read this quote, that this was a book that I wanted to review well and from my heart. When Character Was King, by Peggy Noonan I have always admired Ronald Reagan. He stands out in my memory and in my heart as a great man who always reminded me just a little bit of my grandfather. His voice I can bring to mind in an instant, whereas the tone and timbre of most other presidents of my lifetime I would have to struggle to recall. (and some I would prefer to forget) I was never a fan of Nancy, though looking back now I see, to a large extent, not only did I give little grace to her but I also fell for the mass media's caricature of who she was and I am sorry for that. Every once in a long while, there is a book that touches my heart in deep and unexpected ways. This was one of those. I believe that it is, perhaps, a combination of factors that made this so. Not the least of which is that Peggy Noonan is a gifted writer who knew and worked for Ronald Reagan. I was 15 when he was elected, 16 when he was shot and 23 when he left office. He was president in the years when I began to think about and care about politics to any degree. I saw him handle national safety issues with authority, national disasters with compassion, foreign relations with a firm stance and an assurance of who were as a nation. I grew up during the height of the Cold War, when the nuclear arms and capabilities of the USSR were a clear and present danger. Ronald Reagan, seizing opportunity as the leadership of the "evil empire" changed, went from firm to diplomatic to historic agreements with Gorbachev and the world became a less frightening place. President Reagan was a leader who made me proud to be an American citizen. "Years ago, thinking about his humor, I said it seemed to me that wit penetrates and humor envelops, that wit seems a function of verbal intelligence while humor is imagination operating on good nature. I still think that, and think Reagan was a man of abundant humor with a great appreciation for comedy." I loved this quote as well and dog-earred the page to return to when writing this review, as a did to page after page, only later recalling that it was a library book. I think this was a great part of the reason that Ms. Noonan and other biographers were hard pressed to find a single individual, even those politically opposed to him, that disliked Ronald Reagan. He had it right in so many way, reading some of his speeches now, brings tears to my eyes as I wonder how things have gone so wrong now. The speech that was televised October 27th, 1954, when he was stumping for Barry Goldwater, remains one of his finest. I quote it here extensively because it is so deeply relevant for today. "I believe that the issues confronting us cross party lines. No nation in history has ever survived a tax burden that reached a third of it's national income. Today, thirty-seven cents out of every dollar earned in this country is the tax collector's share, and yet our government continues to spend seventeen million dollars a day more than the government takes in... The idea that the government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and most unique idea in all the long history of man's relation to man. This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self- government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far distant capital can plan our lives for us better than wee can plan them ourselves. You and I are increasingly told that we have to choose between a left or a right. There is only an up or down: up to man's age-old dream-- the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order--or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarianism motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course." And the brilliant Westminster Speech so starkly contrasted by current president Obama's "Apology Tour". The United States under Ronald Reagan was a time of recovered and renewed economy and morale. It wraps up for me in his own address as he spoke to the nation for the final time as President of the United States. " ..that's what it was to be an American in the 1980's. We stood, again, for freedom. I know we always have, but in the past few years the world again, and in a way ourselves, rediscovered it." Ms. Noonan puts it thus, beautifully, "He had courage. He always tried to do what he thought was right. And when doing what was right demanded from him great effort or patience or tenacity, or made his the focus of unending attacks and criticism, he summoned from within the patience and the tenacity and the courage to face it all. To face it down. And when his great work was finished he left and went peacefully home. These are among the things that made him for an ordinary man, but a most extraordinary man indeed." As a tribute to a man and a record of a time entirely gone, it would behoove you to read this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... Peggy Noonans When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan was published in late 2001. Noonan is the author of nine books, a political commentator and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. From 1984 to 1986 she was a speechwriter for President Reagan. In 2017 Noonan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Despite providing some degree of coverage of nearly all of Reagans life, Noonans 327 page book is not a traditional biography. Instead, it https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... Peggy Noonan’s “When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan” was published in late 2001. Noonan is the author of nine books, a political commentator and a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. From 1984 to 1986 she was a speechwriter for President Reagan. In 2017 Noonan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Despite providing some degree of coverage of nearly all of Reagan’s life, Noonan’s 327 page book is not a traditional biography. Instead, it is essentially a semi-insider’s review of Reagan’s life, character and legacy. Distilled to its essence, it is a character study written by a part-time eyewitness but an astute, full-time observer. “When Character Was King” begins in earnest with Reagan’s childhood, focusing on the aspects of his environment which shaped who he was and who he was to become. The author shares anecdotes and stories which she believes are most instructive, never relying on a monotonous recitation of his diary. The book proceeds through his life at a relatively rapid rate, skipping some events but slowing for others in order to dwell on his most revealing moments. Noonan’s style is extremely articulate and readable; she is an extremely talented author with a unique gift for written expression. But while readers of all political persuasions will enjoy her fluid, first-person voice, some will find the narrative too sympathetic and sappy. Written three years before Reagan’s death, it occasionally resembles a sugar-coated eulogy for someone not quite departed. Noonan does not dissect Reagan with the precision and sterility of a trained psychologist, but as someone who worked in close proximity to him for three years while never losing sight of him thereafter. She does not get lost in her subject’s life as do some biographers. Noonan is able to step back and see the big picture…to identify large-scale patterns in bits of his life which at first glance appear disjointed or unrelated. There are too many fine moments in the book to comprehensively reveal, but they include dozens of insightful anecdotes, a touching and revealing chapter on Nancy Reagan, a partisan but well-written summary of Iran-contra and an illuminating look at Reagan’s use of humor. Appropriate for a character study but not ideal in a biography, Noonan’s eye is always on her subject…but not always on history. Context is frequently provided but occasionally ignored. In addition, she does not dwell on every key milestone in Reagan’s life. His gubernatorial career, for example, receives just ten pages of coverage while the attempt on his life (which is far more revelatory for her mission) receives two full chapters. But readers who come away feeling underwhelmed are likely to do so primarily because this book is intrinsically sympathetic and lacks the feel of a ponderous political tome. Reagan’s policy priorities take a clear back seat to the author’s assessment of his character. And Noonan clearly feels that his exceptional character was the key element in his political success. Overall, “When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan” is an interesting and thought-provoking review and assessment of Reagan’s character and personality. Its rapid pace and abbreviated format precludes a deeper analysis of his life and political career. But Peggy Noonan successfully teases out and exposes much of the essence of the 40th president and comes as close as anyone to unmasking this magical and mysterious man. Overall rating: 4¼ stars

  4. 5 out of 5

    Mick Wright

    Peggy Noonan does a wonderful job reminding us that Ronald Reagan was not only a President worth celebrating but also a man of character worth honoring. Noonan takes readers on a fast-paced tour through Reagan's formative years, his professional career and his political journey, stopping only long enough to mention a few illustrative anecdotes from each period. At times Noonan has a hard time leaving herself out of the story, but she succeeds in explaining Reagan by interviewing the people closest Peggy Noonan does a wonderful job reminding us that Ronald Reagan was not only a President worth celebrating but also a man of character worth honoring. Noonan takes readers on a fast-paced tour through Reagan's formative years, his professional career and his political journey, stopping only long enough to mention a few illustrative anecdotes from each period. At times Noonan has a hard time leaving herself out of the story, but she succeeds in explaining Reagan by interviewing the people closest to him, and in bringing out the context and details behind the most memorable moments of his life and Presidency. Written in 2001 while Reagan was still living, after a new Republican President had just entered the White House, and while the attacks of September 11 had just occurred, the reflections are shaded by the time period and add a second layer of texture to the narrative. The section on Iran-contra, considered the worst chapter of Reagan's presidency, would be written differently today, given the Obama trade of high-level terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for captive deserter Bowe Bergdahl. And certainly Reagan's reaction to the attack on Korean Air Flight 007 would warrant more than a passing mention, in light of Russia's continued aggression in Ukraine and the downing of Malaysian Air Flight 17. Perhaps more than anything, we would notice Reagan's love of America, and his desire to make it a diplomatic and military force for good, his praise of entrepreneurship and liberty, and his ability to work and communicate with Americans from all walks of life. This contrasts with the small, bankrupt America that now leads from behind, apologizes for its power, leaves its ambassadors to die, tells small businesses "you didn't build that" and gives undue scrutiny to politically disfavored groups.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    This was a great book about Ronald Reagan. What struck me so much about it is how relevant his philosophy is towards today's economic woes, despite the fact it was written in 2001. It's impossible not to compare the past climates in 1964 and again in 1979 with today's huge deficit and general malaise in the country. Among some of the things that struck me was his desire to reduce the size of an unwieldy and ineffectual government, hearkening back to the original intent of the U.S.'s founding This was a great book about Ronald Reagan. What struck me so much about it is how relevant his philosophy is towards today's economic woes, despite the fact it was written in 2001. It's impossible not to compare the past climates in 1964 and again in 1979 with today's huge deficit and general malaise in the country. Among some of the things that struck me was his desire to reduce the size of an unwieldy and ineffectual government, hearkening back to the original intent of the U.S.'s founding fathers. His plan to reduce taxes in order to promote growth in the economy made perfect sense and was successful (Kennedy did this as well and well, what do you know? It works!) Rather than raise taxes which hurts the economy, growth led to the boom in America that lasted from the Reagan years all the way through the Clinton years. So much of what Reagan was saying way back in his first political speech for Goldwater in 1964 made sense and he kept at it, never deviating from his original intent. Did he use polls to make decisions? Never! I could go on an on. Beautifully written homage to Reagan from Noonan, whose writing tugs at your heartstrings, bringing up so much emotion and genuine fondness for this great president. Beginning with his birth and childhood, his days in Hollywood and SAG president, the governorship of CA and through the presidency leading up to his sad years with Alzheimer's - all in a simple and seemingly effortless prose. This book is full of lessons of what is wrong economically with the U.S. now. 4.5/5

  6. 5 out of 5

    BJ Rose

    It is very obvious in the reading that Peggy Noonan admired Reagan - for his kindness, for his honesty, for his reliability. She states that the most important thing a man can bring to the presidency is his character, and she goes on to show - through interviews with Reagan, his family members, close friends, and some political enemies - why she is convinced that Reagan's character was of a high, moral fiber. She doesn't sugarcoat his first failed marriage or the major scandal of his It is very obvious in the reading that Peggy Noonan admired Reagan - for his kindness, for his honesty, for his reliability. She states that the most important thing a man can bring to the presidency is his character, and she goes on to show - through interviews with Reagan, his family members, close friends, and some political enemies - why she is convinced that Reagan's character was of a high, moral fiber. She doesn't sugarcoat his first failed marriage or the major scandal of his administration - the Iran/Contra affair. I definitely learned some new things in this read. I was not aware, for example, how very close to death Reagan came in the attempt on his life that so tragically damaged Jim Baker with a bullet to the head. And I remember the air-traffic controllers' strike, and the outrage by many that Reagan fired most of them, but I did not know that the union demanded a 100% pay increase or they would 'shut down the skies' - Wow!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Even if I was a fan of Ronald Reagan, this simpering biography would probably have still made me upchuck. Particularly amusing was the foreword where Noonan, in 2001, predicts that George W. Bush would become one of the greatest presidents the US has ever seen. I bet she wants to take that back now. A good biography does not oversell someone's successes and skim over their faults. This book does both.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Meggie

    This is a beautiful portrait of president Reagan, and presents a picture of the kind of character and person we should look for in a president. Peggy Noonan certainly writes with a strong positive bias, from her perspective if a White House staffer and Reagan-lover. Yet, I appreciated the anecdotes of Reagan's temperament and reactions to situations he found himself in. I think reading this book as we head into this election year helps me understand what it takes to be a president. And really, This is a beautiful portrait of president Reagan, and presents a picture of the kind of character and person we should look for in a president. Peggy Noonan certainly writes with a strong positive bias, from her perspective if a White House staffer and Reagan-lover. Yet, I appreciated the anecdotes of Reagan's temperament and reactions to situations he found himself in. I think reading this book as we head into this election year helps me understand what it takes to be a president. And really, Reagan's example is one we all can follow as we live life and seek to make the right decisions.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Steve Hemmeke

    Noonan is a great writer. She captures the spirit of the man and his motives very well. She often takes on a sentimental tone, with lots of inside jokes and obscure people. (Noonan is an insider herself, so has a penchant for name dropping, and letting us know she is in the know, it seems.) You have to let some of this go over your head, and just grab what you can. The book is light on policy what was Reagan actually trying to do? Its in there now and then, mostly indirectly, but the author seeks Noonan is a great writer. She captures the spirit of the man and his motives very well. She often takes on a sentimental tone, with lots of inside jokes and obscure people. (Noonan is an insider herself, so has a penchant for name dropping, and letting us know she is in the know, it seems.) You have to let some of this go over your head, and just grab what you can. The book is light on policy – what was Reagan actually trying to do? It’s in there now and then, mostly indirectly, but the author seeks to depict the man more personally. (Reading Noonan lately, I wonder if she has drifted away from his agenda and policy goals.) If you appreciate Reagan, this book is worth your time. 3 stars

  10. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    So, I don't normally write reviews, but some of the lines/passages had me rolling and need to be repeated: "In March 2001, I met with Rush Limbaugh, a man I admire..." (250) -- that really tells you just about all you need to know about this book. "Truman had followed a charismatic leader, had seemed too plain and uninteresting to fill a president's shoes and was, his first few years in office at least, a bland public speaker, an uninspiring man. But this plain, uninteresting, colorless man had So, I don't normally write reviews, but some of the lines/passages had me rolling and need to be repeated: "In March 2001, I met with Rush Limbaugh, a man I admire..." (250) -- that really tells you just about all you need to know about this book. "Truman had followed a charismatic leader, had seemed too plain and uninteresting to fill a president's shoes and was, his first few years in office at least, a bland public speaker, an uninspiring man. But this plain, uninteresting, colorless man had managed to do pretty much everything right. He rallied his war-tired nation to rebuild Europe, to support the Marshall Plan, to stop Soviet communism in Greece, to wage a war to stop it in Korea. He was a leader. He just didn't seem at the time, early on, to be one. I think in Bush we have a Truman. And my hunch is: Bush thinks so too." (309-310) I don't even know where to start with this, but let's just say that trying to equate George W. Bush to Harry S Truman is ... disturbing. And Truman, uninspiring?! I can't even with this. And then there was this, an anecdote describing the difference between Republicans and conservatives: "In 1986, after I had left the White House as a speechwriter for the president, I went home to Virginia, where I lived, and began to write a book. I wanted to capture a time that I could see receding like a wave, the Reagan era, for I felt it had been big and historic. At the same time I wanted to capture what it was like to work in the White House, what it was like to be a young woman there with no importance but eyes, and with feelings. When I thought about what it was that I wanted to describe, my mind always went to a picture: the way early in the morning on a blustery day, on the stark black-and-white-tiled floors of the Old Executive Office Building, where I worked, everyone's big black open umbrellas would be placed outside their offices on the floor, and how beautiful the round shape of the umbrellas looked as they silently dripped on the marble. Silently, as other umbrellas had for generations, when they had covered the heads of the secretary of John Foster Dulles and Jimmy Forrestal and Rosemary Woods... I was happy to be working on such a great thing, a book. But I was out of the White House. And when I would meet with former colleagues at a party or symposium they would look at me and say "What are you doing now?" And I would say with pride, "I am writing a book." And they would look at me appraisingly, as if I'd said, "I'm in physical therapy to heal a badly fractured leg." And they'd say, "But what are you - doing?" I told a friend about it, a tough, shrewd man. I said, "Why do they do that, why do they think writing a book isn't doing something?" He said, "Because they're Republicans. Democrats respect books because they respect ideas. Conservatives respect books because they respect ideas. Republicans respect money." Ah, I said. He told me the next time someone asked me what I was doing I was to answer, "I got a huge advance for a book." He said they would be impressed. And you know, I think they were. So that's the difference between Republicans and conservatives." (144-145) Final thoughts: I wish I'd picked up a Reagan bio written by someone who wasn't so obviously enamored with her subject. I haven't read any other Reagan bios yet, so I can't recommend anything specific, but keep looking if you want to read an even-handed history.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lynne

    I decided to escape to a different political time with this biography. Noonan clearly admires Reagan (she worked for him as a speechwriter) and writes this book in her colloquial, journalist style. The first 1/3 of the book was slow and difficult to get into (my husband put the book down), but my advice to him and anyone else would be to skip to when Reagan becomes President. The book picks up and has interesting insights from the White House in the 1980s. I was especially touched when Noonan I decided to escape to a different political time with this biography. Noonan clearly admires Reagan (she worked for him as a speechwriter) and writes this book in her colloquial, journalist style. The first 1/3 of the book was slow and difficult to get into (my husband put the book down), but my advice to him and anyone else would be to skip to when Reagan becomes President. The book picks up and has interesting insights from the White House in the 1980s. I was especially touched when Noonan recalls her experience meeting with Reagan after his Alzheimers diagnosis, when he no longer remembered her. Her deepest feelings of love and respect overwhelm all of her intentions to have a different conversation with him. I have to admit, I got a little teary-eyed imagining the same conversation with any number of individuals that I deeply admire. It would have been a four-star book for me if the earlier portion of the book had been more engaging. As it was, I still liked it and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys biographies or political memoirs.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    The Goodreads description says "No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan", and having read a few book about him and two by him, I have to agree. She really gets to the heart of who he was. She uses a few stories of things he did and said, but ultimately, they all speak to his character, which is the sole intent of the book. Two sections stood out to me, when he was shot, as she tells it from a perspective and includes lots of details that I had not heard before, and his final The Goodreads description says "No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan", and having read a few book about him and two by him, I have to agree. She really gets to the heart of who he was. She uses a few stories of things he did and said, but ultimately, they all speak to his character, which is the sole intent of the book. Two sections stood out to me, when he was shot, as she tells it from a perspective and includes lots of details that I had not heard before, and his final years, which I had read almost nothing of. I highly recommend this for everyone. From those who have only a basic understanding of Reagan, that he was an actor who became President, to those who really had a passion about him, both positive and negative. Noonan spoke to people who represented all of those views as well. Based on the title, you can probably guess what she came away with. Good book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Raymond Spitzer

    I already thought that Ronald Reagan was the best president of my lifetime. This book had some thngs about him I didn't already know which made me esteem him even more. How I miss him! How our country misses him. His admirable traits are just like those of George Washington and Abrham Lincoln. He literally saved our country from oblivion with his presidency, although we have since thrown away all the reforms he made to get us back on track. He maintained that it wasn't him. He simply reminded I already thought that Ronald Reagan was the best president of my lifetime. This book had some thngs about him I didn't already know which made me esteem him even more. How I miss him! How our country misses him. His admirable traits are just like those of George Washington and Abrham Lincoln. He literally saved our country from oblivion with his presidency, although we have since thrown away all the reforms he made to get us back on track. He maintained that it wasn't him. He simply reminded people of the vision of our founding fathers. This is true, but it took a great man to do it the way he did, despite all the challenges of his time. Peggy Noonan really wrote a winner with this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jessie Gussman

    An inspiring book about a man of integrity who did what he thought was right and always tried to tell the truth. And had an amazing sense of humor--the chapter on his shooting had me in stitches and tears. He prayed for the man who shot him even as he lay bleeding and watching as his friends who had also taken bullets were wheeled by. Writing humorous notes and quipping one-liners as he recovered in ICU. Character, indeed, was king. A true role model for all Americans. I loved this quote from An inspiring book about a man of integrity who did what he thought was right and always tried to tell the truth. And had an amazing sense of humor--the chapter on his shooting had me in stitches and tears. He prayed for the man who shot him even as he lay bleeding and watching as his friends who had also taken bullets were wheeled by. Writing humorous notes and quipping one-liners as he recovered in ICU. Character, indeed, was king. A true role model for all Americans. I loved this quote from the book, "And at any rate, candor is a compliment: It assumes the person receiving it is strong enough to take it, and think about it." While reading, especially the political parts, this quote kept running thought my head, "There is no new thing under the sun."

  15. 5 out of 5

    M. L. Wilson

    In the current corrosive political climate, I needed to remind myself what a true patriot as President was like. I've always admired Ronald Reagan from the time I became aware of him when he was the governor of California. I was a child then, but even I could see that he presented a stark contrast to the men who held that office before and then after. Peggy Noonan paints a very bright portrait of the man who did so very much for this country. Despite critic's attempts to sully his reputation, the In the current corrosive political climate, I needed to remind myself what a true patriot as President was like. I've always admired Ronald Reagan from the time I became aware of him when he was the governor of California. I was a child then, but even I could see that he presented a stark contrast to the men who held that office before and then after. Peggy Noonan paints a very bright portrait of the man who did so very much for this country. Despite critic's attempts to sully his reputation, the majority of the citizens of the world - Reagan's former nemesis, Mikhail Gorbachev included - correctly regard Ronald Reagan as a great man and a good friend. It is a fast read and for those old enough, a sweet trip down memory lane.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I like presidential biographies right up until they become president and everything is just a politics book. I guess it is easier to see bias when it is opposite to the ones that you hold. Because there was definitely a Reagan-can-do-no-wrong feeling throughout the book which sometimes made me a little uncomfortable. I didn't know much about Reagan except when he was president though and he had an interesting path to politics. It is nice to hear that what you are doing in your 20s isn't what I like presidential biographies right up until they become president and everything is just a politics book. I guess it is easier to see bias when it is opposite to the ones that you hold. Because there was definitely a Reagan-can-do-no-wrong feeling throughout the book which sometimes made me a little uncomfortable. I didn't know much about Reagan except when he was president though and he had an interesting path to politics. It is nice to hear that what you are doing in your 20s isn't what you'll be doing forever necessarily.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    My New Year's resolution was to read more non-fiction and to try to read about people that are outside of my normal interest and point of view. So, that's how I ended up reading this book and I'm glad I did. I enjoyed Noonan's writing style. She made it clear from the beginning that she really admired Ronald Reagan so I knew it would have that slant, but still I feel like I learned a great deal about him and the time in which he was president.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

    The juxtaposition of a phrase like "when character was king" with the smiling face of the man who, about people with AIDS, said "Those who live in sin, die in sin" is really, really, too much.

  19. 4 out of 5

    John Nelson

    The major party candidates in the just-completed Presidential election were a disappointing pair: the bombastic and sometimes maladroit Donald Trump versus the supremely dislikable Hillary Clinton, who possessed virtually every negative character trait it's possible for a person to have. Neither was able to articulate an inspiring message; Trump's policy views were a mixed bag, while Hillary was wrong on virtually every issue. It was against the backdrop of this depressing campaign that I picked The major party candidates in the just-completed Presidential election were a disappointing pair: the bombastic and sometimes maladroit Donald Trump versus the supremely dislikable Hillary Clinton, who possessed virtually every negative character trait it's possible for a person to have. Neither was able to articulate an inspiring message; Trump's policy views were a mixed bag, while Hillary was wrong on virtually every issue. It was against the backdrop of this depressing campaign that I picked up Peggy Noonan's book on Ronald Reagan. It was my attempt to escape from the dreariness of the present into the much more inspiring story of the recent past. This book is not a traditional biography. It also is not simply a memoir of the author's years working in the Reagan White House. Rather, it is a combination of the two. The author tells Reagan's story from birth to just before death, after he had been forced to withdraw from public life, when the book was published. She also draws liberally on her own experiences working for Reagan when he was President, giving the book a personal tone. Noonan does not shy away from depicting the less attractive parts of Reagan's story. For example, although Ronald and Nancy Reagan were extremely close, they were rather indifferent toward their children, as well as Reagan's children from his first marriage. Ms. Noonan compares their two-is-all-we-need stance unfavorably to the large and imperfect but obviously loving and successful Bush clan. President Reagan also comes in for some justified criticism for allowing the poorly-conceived Iran-Contra affair to take place. Still, the picture that emerges is of a thoroughly decent man who entered politics not for self-aggrandizement or to stroke an outsized ego, but because he saw the country headed on the wrong course and realized something needed to be done. Importantly for his legacy, Reagan was not afraid to think big. When Reagan became President, the economy was slowly withering away under an ever-expanding burden of taxes and regulation. (Remember Jimmy Carter's "malaise," anyone?) Even most self-identified conservatives believed the trend could not be reversed, and the best that could be hoped for was was to slow down its progress and try to minimize the damage. Reagan proclaimed it still was "morning in America" and that ordinary citizens could be counted on to make their own decisions without the heavy hand of government dictating the result. By doing so, he unleashed a wave of growth and progress that lasted, with only a few minor hiccups, nearly three decades. On foreign policy, the United States had ceded numerical superiority in most weapons to the Soviet Union, and the Soviet army was on the march in Poland, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Once again, the so-called "experts" claimed the best that could be hoped for was a policy of "detente" which slowed but did not stop the perpetual growth of the Soviet military and avoided conflict by discreetly looking away from Soviet aggression around the fringes of its empire. Reagan sought peace through strength. He spoke the truth in plain terms, describing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and delivering a speech in the shadow of the Berlin Wall in which he challenged Soviet Premier Gorbechev to tear it down. When the Soviet Union finally capitulated and produced an interlocutor with whom real negotiations were possible (Gorbechev), Reagan signed a treaty eliminating an entire class of weapons, with more to follow in its wake after Reagan's second term ended. The contrast between Reagan's great successes and the defeatist "detente" group could not have been more compelling. Throughout it all, Reagan endured vicious personal attacks from the Democratic Party and the mostly left-leaning Washington press corps. Reagan let the slander dissipate like water sliding off a duck's back, and kept his eye on the projects he had been elected to carry out. By the time his years in office ended, he had become the last truly great President this country has seen. President Reagan set a high standard for his successors in office. None yet have lived up to that standard. The first President Bush did a highly competent job managing the winding down of the Cold War, but few would argue that he reached the standard of greatness. Clinton had the good fortune to be in office while the country enjoyed the economic and foreign policy momentum bequeathed by Reagan, and will be remembered by history primarily for embarrassing the nation with his lies and personal peccadilloes. The second President Bush's tenure was a mixed bag, and the less said about President Obama, the better. Reagan, however, also gives us reason to hope for the future: if an ex-actor, and not a very good one, who grew up in an unstable, lower middle-class household in a small town in Illinois can develop the perspective and strength of character to become a great President, there should be plenty of candidates who can do the same in the future, if only we can find them.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bobby

    I don't typically write reviews here on Goodreads, but I felt I would make an exception here. I am not a Republican or a conservative, so reading this book was really a bipartisan gesture. Peggy Noonan had written something very nice about a book called Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews, and I saw it as a similar gesture--deciding to return the favor. Noonan won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary this year, and I'm not surprised. She is a fantastic writer. There were parts that I don't typically write reviews here on Goodreads, but I felt I would make an exception here. I am not a Republican or a conservative, so reading this book was really a bipartisan gesture. Peggy Noonan had written something very nice about a book called Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews, and I saw it as a similar gesture--deciding to return the favor. Noonan won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary this year, and I'm not surprised. She is a fantastic writer. There were parts that absolutely challenged my belief system, but there were also parts that really changed my perspective on certain figures in recent history--let alone Reagan. It's nice to know that some of our politicians are human underneath that pinstriped politician costume they're always wearing. This book has inspired me to continue to challenge my beliefs, and to educate myself in the history of those I may disagree with politically.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Ms Noonan writes in a context that is relative and instructional. All U. S. Citizens should read this as a clarifying and exposing document of President Reagans times. Ms Noonan writes in a context that is relative and instructional. All U. S. Citizens should read this as a clarifying and exposing document of President Reagan’s times.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Josephine

    I dont know if I would have necessarily chosen this title if I had written this book, but after finishing this biography on Ronald Reagan, I think it really fits. Peggy Noonan for the most part did a really fabulous job of giving the reader a clearer idea of who Ronald Reagan was; and its clear from every story that is told in this book that Reagan was a really good man. In recalling the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Reagan, Noonan tells the story of how, a few days after hed been I don’t know if I would have necessarily chosen this title if I had written this book, but after finishing this biography on Ronald Reagan, I think it really fits. Peggy Noonan — for the most part — did a really fabulous job of giving the reader a clearer idea of who Ronald Reagan was; and it’s clear from every story that is told in this book that Reagan was a really good man. In recalling the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Reagan, Noonan tells the story of how, a few days after he’d been shot, Reagan wasn’t feeling well and went to the bathroom connected to his room. Water sloshed out of the sink as he slapped some water on his face — and his aide found him on the floor, mopping up the water with paper towels. The aide said, “Mr. President, what are you doing? We have people for that.” But Reagan wouldn’t hear of it — he was cleaning up his own mess. In another moving story, Noonan relays Anne Higgins’ memories of Reagan. Higgins was Reagan’s director of correspondence and special assistant to the president. Every day, she and her team read the tens of thousands of pieces of mail that was sent to Reagan; Higgins would decide which would go to the president. She tells of a time when a woman wrote a beautiful letter about saying goodbye to her son when he joined the army — and Reagan took the time to write back and say he would do his best to keep her son safe. A month later, he wrote her again and said, “I haven’t heard from you — how is your son? Please let me know and keep me posted.” Dan Rostenkowski, the former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in turn, recalls how Reagan was a man of his word. “What I cherished and admired was that when we shook hands he never left his commitment. No question about it, we operated with trust.” (p.243) Noonan also clears up the famous misconception that Reagan’s lack of interest in details was a lack of interest in facts. This simply wasn’t true. “The secret with Reagan wasn’t much of a secret. He would tell his aides what he wanted done — a reduced and simplified tax code, for instance. He sent them off to do it. He didn’t want to be bothered with details of strategy and tactics; he wanted the men and women he hired to create the strategy, decide on tactics and then tell him, completely. Then he would sign off or question this part or that…He wanted to be told everything and was kept informed by his first administration. But by the end, I think he was dealing with aides who interpreted his lack of interest in the nitty gritty with a lack of interest in knowing what was going on. That was a mistake. And when Reagan understood what had happened, he no longer felt the respect and affection for them that he had in the past.” (p.276) The chapters dealing with the assassination attempt on Reagan were chilling; but the way it was written made you feel as though you were there, witnessing history unfold. Overall, I thought the book was compelling…but…I wasn’t crazy about the hokey way Noonan wrote certain sections of this book — it was a little like having a giant, robotic Jiminy Cricket narrating an Epcot Centre ride, urging the reader to now drop into someone else’s memory to observe what happened. This aside, I’d recommend checking this book out.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Zellner

    Excellent book of a true American hero.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda Perkes

    I credit Peggy Noonan for getting me interested in Politics, so I'm biased. She's really who I've wanted to grow up to be for a very long time. The writing here is good, and Noonan always makes me long for a kinder, gentler President. I admire Reagan, Noonan, and reading, so I was bound to love it from the get-go.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Josh Carter

    Interesting book. Best part was the first half, which talked about Reagans early years, prior to the political scene. Noonan blew it when she started talking about the Reagan political years. It read almost like a whimsical, mythologizing of a right wing caricature. Her only criticisms of Reagan essentially amounted to her postulating that his major flaws (like his judgment regarding Iran-contra scandal) were merely the product of his genuine goodheartedness (or basically that he was just such a Interesting book. Best part was the first half, which talked about Reagan’s early years, prior to the political scene. Noonan blew it when she started talking about the Reagan political years. It read almost like a whimsical, mythologizing of a right wing caricature. Her only criticisms of Reagan essentially amounted to her postulating that his major flaws (like his judgment regarding Iran-contra scandal) were merely the product of his “genuine goodheartedness” (or basically that he was just such a good guy that he couldn’t help but be naive). It’s reads like hearing someone talking fondly about an adopted father figure who can do no wrong, and feels more wishful than authentic. There’s also an overarching sense of grandiose, arrogance in the political section of the book, which can become very irritating. The way the author writes of “great men placed in history at just the right moments to accomplish great deeds”, and relates to the readership how “freedom” vanquished tyranny. These sentiments are very frequent among conservatives, and tend to overly simplify and generalize historical events to a fault. Perhaps this was genuinely how Reagan saw the world. It certainly was how G.W. Bush did, even as he installed the PATRIOT ACT and led American forces into war, all in the name of “freedom”. Noonan certainly comes across as someone who’s swallowed the Neo-Con Koolaid when writing about the Reagan administration’s policies. You can tell that she really, truly believes her and her colleagues were on what they’d call the “right side of history”, but true history isn’t romantic and doesn’t read like a storybook. It is nuanced and complex with much fault to be assigned in all camps. All in all I enjoyed the read, especially the non-political bits, despite the sometimes broken/disjointed prose, but would I recommend it to a colleague? Probably not.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I love Ronald Reagan. Part of it is irrational: when I was a little boy, and became aware of politics, Reagan was the President. Sure, I vaguely remember Watergate and the end of the Viet Nam war; I sort of remember Ford. In the second grade, when my teacher told us that our new President, Jimmy Carter, had been a peanut farmer, I remember thinking, "Huh?" But it was Reagan who first captured my young mind and heart. I remember when he was shot. I remember seeing him bounding around the White I love Ronald Reagan. Part of it is irrational: when I was a little boy, and became aware of politics, Reagan was the President. Sure, I vaguely remember Watergate and the end of the Viet Nam war; I sort of remember Ford. In the second grade, when my teacher told us that our new President, Jimmy Carter, had been a peanut farmer, I remember thinking, "Huh?" But it was Reagan who first captured my young mind and heart. I remember when he was shot. I remember seeing him bounding around the White House. He came to Boston once and drank beer in a pub with Tip O'Neill. He was funny. He made me feel safe. As I said, it's emotional, sort of how my mother's generation feels about John Kennedy: when you are a child, the President seems larger than life; he is America. Or, that's how I saw it at age 10. Of course, the reality of the Reagan presidency is much more complex than my childhood remembrances. Peggy Noonan--one of my favorite writers--writes more about Reagan's character than the details of his policies in this wonderful book. Noonan was a young speech writer in the Reagan White House, and is responsible for some of the President's more memorable lines. In the late 1990s and early 2000, she interviewed many of the people who knew Reagan best, and tried to look at how Reagan's early experiences as a child, then as an actor, then as a political activist, shaped his personality and his values. She succeeds wildly, in my opinion. This is a great, great book. Of course, Ronald Reagan is one of those people who you either love or you are a fucking commie. For me, I loved him, and I still do. He was our last great president...at least until the next one.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Darren Labrum

    When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan takes us through Reagan's life from childhood until his final farewell address and beyond. All is explored with key insights from Peggy Noonan who had an insider's look into the administration during his two terms as president. The book gives important looks into his battles with communists in Hollywood, the Goldwater Speech, his governorship, the air controller strike, Grenada, Libya and Gaddafi, Iran-contra, his assassination attempt, his When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan takes us through Reagan's life from childhood until his final farewell address and beyond. All is explored with key insights from Peggy Noonan who had an insider's look into the administration during his two terms as president. The book gives important looks into his battles with communists in Hollywood, the Goldwater Speech, his governorship, the air controller strike, Grenada, Libya and Gaddafi, Iran-contra, his assassination attempt, his directives against terrorist groups, the strategic defense initiatives (SDI or Star Wars), key speeches, and his positions to deal with the communist Soviets. There are many moving topics in the book including the explanation of how the prisoners that were being held in the gulags (prison camps) of Soviet Russia would tap and hit the pipes to communicate to the other prisoners whenever they would hear any type of news or rumors through his messages to the Soviet government. Reagan recognized the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and communism as a "sad and bizarre" chapter in human history. The chapter on comedy is hilarious. He said he would cut taxes. He came into office with a 78 percent tax rate. He left with tax rates down to 35 percent. Promised to cut inflation. He did. Said he’d get the economy going again. He did. Said he would reduce unemployment. He did. Said he would cut the budget. Government growth in federal outlays slowed dramatically by the time he finished. Promised to reduce federal regulation. He did. This book helps to understand why he is ranked as one of the great presidents.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Arianagranderalphie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The author of this book is Peggy Noonan who is an outstanding writer and a very precise woman. The genre of this book is an autobiography on President Ronald Reagan. The people in this book include interpretations of Peggy's, (who was his secratary) encounters and meetings..etc with the president himself. The book dragged on a little too much for my liking, but overall the book was very detailed and specific and I enjoyed reading it. The book is taking place in the time period that Ronald Reagan The author of this book is Peggy Noonan who is an outstanding writer and a very precise woman. The genre of this book is an autobiography on President Ronald Reagan. The people in this book include interpretations of Peggy's, (who was his secratary) encounters and meetings..etc with the president himself. The book dragged on a little too much for my liking, but overall the book was very detailed and specific and I enjoyed reading it. The book is taking place in the time period that Ronald Reagan was President of the United States of America, and places located ex: Washington DC, California, Texas and even countries abroad. One of the most major events in the book is the shooting of Ronald Reagan who was shot, and on the way to the hospital, he went in to cardiac arrest. Some major conflicts in the book were hardships the President had to face and he over came most of them but some, he was unable to. I found the book to be very involved in the more political/business side of his terms as president, but I feel like I would want to know more about the personal and family life of Mr. Ronald Reagan. I would recommend this book to someone who is very in to the political aspects of life, and someone who is interested in this book for the simple times as president and things that happened while he was in office. I don't think I would recommend this book to people like me, who is more interested in how he came over hardships that he faced, and who he turned to when he was in peril and things like that. Much more of a inquisitive person, not more of a simplistic guy.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    This is the second book I've read on the life of the wonderful man. Truly, President Ronald Reagan was a man of excellence in character. Peggy Noonan's biography is infinitely better written than that of Edmund Morris. It's evident all throughout the book, from the first page to the last, that Ms. Noonan loved and respected President Reagan. In Mr. Morris's fictionalized memoir, the leaven of his antipathy contaminates each and every page. Although Reagan demonstrated his greatness in so many This is the second book I've read on the life of the wonderful man. Truly, President Ronald Reagan was a man of excellence in character. Peggy Noonan's biography is infinitely better written than that of Edmund Morris. It's evident all throughout the book, from the first page to the last, that Ms. Noonan loved and respected President Reagan. In Mr. Morris's fictionalized memoir, the leaven of his antipathy contaminates each and every page. Although Reagan demonstrated his greatness in so many ways, in my opinion his brightest moment was when he welcomed into his office Ms. Frances Green, an 83 year old woman, living on Social Security, who had mistaken a fundraising letter to be an actual invitation to have dinner with the President at the White House. After travelling for four days by train from San Francisco, she finally shows up at the White House dinner. Of course, she was turned away, but not without a promise of a White House tour the following morning. When President Reagan saw her, he called out 'Frances! Those old computers, they fouled up again! If I'd known you were coming, I would have come out there to get you myself!' This great man gave Frances his time and attention. They talked of California, home to both of them. He demonstrated love and compassion for this elderly woman, whose only income was her small Social Security check, a woman who was all alone in the world and could not possible offer him anything. Now that's a great man!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Melinda

    I absolutely loved this book! Having been too young or too unaware to truly appreciate the two terms of Reagan's presidency, it was both fascinating and endearing to discover Reagan's rise to fame, his political experiences and what was really behind his shooting, the Iran-Contra scandal, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and other monumental incidents. Beyond all that, what I truly enjoyed was understanding what kind of man he was, the essence of his character, that made him so warm, I absolutely loved this book! Having been too young or too unaware to truly appreciate the two terms of Reagan's presidency, it was both fascinating and endearing to discover Reagan's rise to fame, his political experiences and what was really behind his shooting, the Iran-Contra scandal, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and other monumental incidents. Beyond all that, what I truly enjoyed was understanding what kind of man he was, the essence of his character, that made him so warm, genuine, determined and remarkable. I was surprised to read that Reagan was such a great writer of short stories. I loved how Noonan incorporated passages of verbatim from such stories as well as from so many of his memorable speeches. This really added to his overall greatness and charisma for me. I equally loved that he was such a prayerful man - often praying several times a day, and making the consistent effort to peacefully commune with God and recognize His answers. Noonan masterfully weaves the personal experiences that shaped Reagan into a beautifully worded book that I can easily see myself reading again.

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