Best Books About Reagan

ChicagoBoyz will be hosting a roundtable discussion to celebrate the centenary of the birth of President Reagan, the week of February 6th 2011.

In the meantime I would like to get the views of our contributors and readers on what are the best books about Reagan, the Reagan presidency, the Reagan era. Please leave comments with your favorites.

I note that President Obama was recently reading Lou Cannon’s book The Role of a Lifetime, which is supposed to be very good.

I have read and enjoyed several books about Mr. Reagan, his presidency and his era. I will restrict myself to one favorite. If I had to pick one, I would give the palm to Peggy Noonan’s book What I Saw at the Revolution. Used copies are available for a penny. This book captures the impact Mr. Reagan had on our national morale, which is not always captured in other writings about him. I say this despite still being mad at Ms. Noonan about her unforgivably uncritical response to Mr. Obama’s candidacy.

I am currently reading John O’Sullivan’s book, The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World. I am about one third done with it and it is excellent.

6 thoughts on “Best Books About Reagan”

  1. I have read a couple of books that were filled with letters he wrote to ordinary citizens while he was president – replies to letters that they wrote him. I wish I could remember the titles but I can’t, I am sure a routine Amazon search would find them. Amazing stuff.

  2. Hi Lex

    I concur that Cannon’s The Role of A Lifetime and Noonan are the place to start.

    There was a prolific outpouring of memoirs by former members of the Reagan administration in the years during and after his time as president. I think we can even divide the lit into books about (or by, at least nominally) Ronald Reagan and those about his administration.

    Here are some of my recs….

    On Ronald Reagan:

    An American Life: The Autobiography

    Reagan: In His Own Hand

    The Reagan Diaries

    I like starting a subject by looking closely at what they had to say for themselves. Reagan’s diaries and private correspondence put the lie to the “amiable dunce” smear made by Clark Clifford (a decidedly nasty-edged and corrupt dotard).

    On the Reagan Administration:

    Inside The National Security Council by Constantine Menges

    Unfortunately, I believe this one is out of print. Dr. “Constant Menace” details the intrigue at the NSC and State by officials who were less than committed to Reagan’s foreign policy initiatives, in particular the Contras and SDI. Menges, a brilliant old-style neoconservative gets a thumbs up from me for his capacity to infuriate State Department officials and his geostrategically incompetent and socially inept boss, NSC Adviser Bud McFarlane

    Casey by Joseph Persico

    Liberal biographer Joe Persico paints a complicated but at times hagiographic picture of his close friend, CIA spymaster and Reagan political adviser, William Casey. Strong emphasis on Casey’s crusade against the USSR, his unprecedented role for a CIA chief in foreign policy and the ideological struggle over the control over Regan’s foreign policy. I have a great deal of admiration for Bill Casey and wish someone like him were running the IC today. We’d all be a lot better off.

    The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed by David Stockman

    The mendacious, arrogant and disloyal David Stockman nevertheless manages to have an array of interesting, amusing, if unflattering, anecdotes and opinions about key players in the early Reagan White House and in the Democratic leadership in Congress, whom Stockman called “the politburo of the welfare state”. While it was Stockman who failed Reagan rather than the reverse, this book is the most interesting memoir by far of the “dissenters” who left the administration under a cloud.

    Turmoil & Triumph by George Schultz

    This is not an interesting memoir. It is a ponderous, dull tome, which is surprising given Shultz’s critically acclaimed intellect and forceful persona. The reason for inclusion here is that Schultz obviously felt a duty to “set the record straight” about his battles over foreign policy with Cap Weinberger, Bill Casey and several NSC advisers and his memoir contains a wealth of minute detail about US foreign policy and national security. An invaluable resource.

  3. I almost put Persico’s Casey biography down as my top pick. A terrific book. Casey comes off as determined to destroy the Soviet Union, a very worthy course. He and Reagan agreed: We win, they lose — not detente, not perpetual coexistence with the tyrants.

    The Schultz book, I found, can only be read in bits, almost as an encyclopedia of important events in the Reagan administration. His assessment of Reagan is balanced, and convincing.

    I have not read the Stockman, though I have it here.

  4. I have and recommend the two volume history of Reagan and the administration by Steven Hayward. My son is reading them now.

    Another is the book about Reagan’s relationship with a woman who spent a lot of time in the USSR and was somewhat of an expert on it. He got a lot of information from her. It’s called The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan, kind of a sensationalist title. It shows how actively he was involved in the end of the cold war.

    I have a bunch of other Reagan books but they are in boxes and I don’t have access to them all.

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