Exit with Honorby William E Pemberton
Few presidents have sparked as much interest in recent years as Ronald Reagan, already the subject of a large number of biographies and specialized subjects. This biography, based on recent research into the Reagan archives and synthesis of the large memoir literature, explores the shaping of his values and beliefs during his childhood in the American heartland, his leadership of the American conservative movement, and his successful political career culminating in the first two-term presidency since Dwight Eisenhower. Pemberton finds Reagan's personal career and ability to understand and communicate with the American people admirable, but finds many of the long-term effects of his presidency harmful.
To be fair, this could serve as a reasonable introduction to Reagan's presidency for readers not already familiar with the basic events. But essentially, Pemberton (History/Univ. of Wisconsin, La Crosse) has produced an abridged encyclopedia of Ronald Reagan. On one hand there is an apparently Herculean effort to use every available written source, from unpublished papers to first-person accounts to scholarly secondary works, in a brief yet comprehensive survey of the major events of Reagan's adult life. On the other hand, there is the predictable result that not a single event receives satisfactory attention. Pemberton's perspective is balanced and serious throughout, but even objective description can be misleading when it is too brief. Devoting less than a single page to such complex events as the origins of the savings-and-loan fiasco or the evolution of the 1986 Tax Reform Act can create the impression that a topic has been addressed even though essential information is missing. Even where details are added to the narration, the presentation is unsatisfying. For example, Pemberton describes Reagan's post-inaugural signing of an order to freeze hiring of governmental employees as evidence of his mastery of symbolic politics. However, throughout the book we are told that Reagan himself rarely made decisions, and never about details. Was he the author of this action, then, or simply a performer? Without addressing this question, the description has little depth.
In an arena already crowded with juicy first-person exposés and academic diatribes, a detached, surface-level survey isn't going to generate much interest.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews