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From New York Times bestselling biographer Bob Spitz, a full and rich biography of an epic American life, capturing what made Ronald Reagan both so beloved and so transformational.
More than five years in the making, based on hundreds of interviews and access to previously unavailable documents, and infused with irresistible storytelling charm, Bob Spitz's REAGAN stands fair to be the first truly post-partisan biography of our 40th President, and thus a balm for our own bitterly divided times.
It is the quintessential American triumph, brought to life with cinematic vividness: a young man is born into poverty and raised in a series of flyspeck towns in the Midwest by a pious mother and a reckless, alcoholic, largely absent father. Severely near-sighted, the boy lives in his own world, a world of the popular books of the day, and finds his first brush with popularity, even fame, as a young lifeguard. Thanks to his first great love, he imagines a way out, and makes the extraordinary leap to go to college, a modest school by national standards, but an audacious presumption in the context of his family's station. From there, the path is only very dimly lit, but it leads him, thanks to his great charm and greater luck, to a solid career as a radio sportscaster, and then, astonishingly, fatefully, to Hollywood. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bob Spitz's REAGAN is an absorbing, richly detailed, even revelatory chronicle of the full arc of Ronald Reagan's epic life - giving full weight to the Hollywood years, his transition to politics and rocky but ultimately successful run as California governor, and ultimately, of course, his iconic presidency, filled with storm and stress but climaxing with his peace talks with the Soviet Union that would serve as his greatest legacy. It is filled with fresh assessments and shrewd judgments, and doesn't flinch from a full reckoning with the man's strengths and limitations. This is no hagiography: Reagan was never a brilliant student, of anything, and his disinterest in hard-nosed political scheming, while admirable, meant that this side of things was left to the other people in his orbit, not least his wife Nancy; sometimes this delegation could lead to chaos, and worse. But what emerges as a powerful signal through all the noise is an honest inherent sweetness, a gentleness of nature and willingness to see the good in people and in this country, that proved to be a tonic for America in his time, and still is in ours. It was famously said that FDR had a first-rate disposition and a second-rate intellect. Perhaps it is no accident that only FDR had as high a public approval rating leaving office as Reagan did, or that in the years since Reagan has been closing in on FDR on rankings of Presidential greatness. Written with love and irony, which in a great biography is arguably the same thing, Bob Spitz's masterpiece will give no comfort to partisans at either extreme; for the rest of us, it is cause for celebration.
About the Author
Bob Spitz is the award-winning author of the biographies Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child and The Beatles, both New York Times bestsellers, as well as six other nonfiction books and a screenplay. He has represented Bruce Springsteen and Elton John in several capacities. His articles appear regularly in magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post, among others.
Named one of the Top 10 Books of 2018 by Publishers Weekly
“A significant contribution to the Reagan literature.” - The National Review
“This comprehensive examination of America’s 40th president represents presidential biography at its best. Noted biographer Bob Spitz (previous subjects have included The Beatles and Julia Child) researches like a historian, writes like a novelist, does the hard work of providing ample and intelligent context, and remains able to take an evenhanded approach to his subject.” – Christian Science Monitor, 10 Best Books of October
“Publication of Bob Spitz’s massive biography of Ronald Reagan couldn’t have been more timely… a significant marker against which to measure our current politics and political leadership.” – LA Times
“Reagan: An American Journey is a handsome, handy introduction to the 20th century’s last hero.” — Wall Street Journal
“Bob Spitz, whose previous biographical subjects include Bob Dylan, Julia Child and The Beatles, has written a solid, sweeping narration of Reagan’s life, sympathetic but not sycophantic.” — USA Today
“No biographer has dug as deeply or with such verve into the making of Reagan the star. . . Energetic and engaging." — Washington Post Review
“This is a book admirers and critics of Reagan will enjoy. The roots of the conservative movement that gave life to both the party and Trumpism can be found here, and on an even broader level Reagan's life story is a story of America, and all its promise.” —Dallas Morning News
“A balanced, comprehensive view of Reagan and his legacy . . . Spitz manages to evoke Reagan’s heyday in the 1980s with compelling clarity – and to suggest how The Gipper’s legacy continues to shape 21st-century politics. . . . one marvels at the telling details that Spitz manages to get in.” – Christian Science Monitor
“If you find yourself longing for the golden age of the Republican Party, brush up on the humble story and folksy charm of our previous celebrity president, whose legacy — for better and worse — still animates politics today.” – Vulture’s Best New Books For Fall
“Bob Spitz's nearly 800-page book paints a spectacular, sometimes-thorny portrait of President Ronald Reagan, the man who is credited with ending the Cold War (and appointing the first woman to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor) while, as Spitz writes, struggling to show empathy for victims of AIDS and Americans with great financial burdens.” — oprahmag.com
“Readers of all political stripes will find much to enjoy in this evenhanded intelligently written biography of our 40th President.” — People
“This captivating and evenhanded biography of America’s first celebrity president, Ronald Reagan, reads like a novel but doesn’t skimp on the scholarship… Impressive research, including numerous interviews with a wide array of Reagan cohorts, from 1930s movie star Olivia de Havilland to national security adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane, undergirds the exceptional writing. Spitz synthesizes other scholars’ analyses, the firsthand memoirs of key players, original press coverage, and archival holdings. Readers need not be Reagan fans or Republicans to enjoy this outstanding biography.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review
“The strictly chronological approach is easy to track, and because the author is such a skilled stylist, the narrative flows smoothly. The major strength of this version is Spitz's consistently diligent effort to provide context beyond just his main subject… Spitz also skillfully portrays numerous supporting characters, especially Reagan wives Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis. A solid entry in the realm of presidential biography.” — Kirkus
“This is the book so many of us have been waiting for: an epic life of one of the most significant presidents in the history of the Republic. In Bob Spitz’s graceful and absorbing narrative, Ronald Reagan emerges in all his complexity and charm, a warm yet enigmatic man who did so much to shape the way we live now.” — Jon Meacham, #1 New York Times bestselling Presidential historian, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of The Soul of America
“Bob Spitz's Reagan is a masterfully written and well-researched biography of America's 40th President. All the crescendos and diminuendos of Reagan's vibrant Hollywood and political careers are judiciously investigated. Truly engrossing and monumental!” —Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and editor of The Reagan Diaries