How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life

How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life

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by Peter Robinson

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As a young speechwriter in the Reagan White House, Peter Robinson was responsible for the celebrated "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech. He was also one of a core group of writers who became informal experts on Reagan — watching his every move, absorbing not just his political positions, but his personality, manner, and the way he carried himself. In


As a young speechwriter in the Reagan White House, Peter Robinson was responsible for the celebrated "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech. He was also one of a core group of writers who became informal experts on Reagan — watching his every move, absorbing not just his political positions, but his personality, manner, and the way he carried himself. In How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, Robinson draws on journal entries from his days at the White House, as well as interviews with those who knew the president best, to reveal ten life lessons he learned from the fortieth president — a great yet ordinary man who touched the individuals around him as surely as he did his millions of admirers around the world.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Conservatives, exult! Robinson's self-help/memoir/Reagan hagiography is an All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten for right-wingers. The former White House speechwriter and author of It's My Party: A Republican's Messy Love Affair with the GOP and Snapshots from Hell: The Making of an MBA illuminates 10 life lessons in a love letter to the Gipper ("How," Robinson asks, "did such a nice guy get to be President?"). By looking at both the historical (supply-side economics, the Cold War, Iran-contra) and the personal (Reagan's beliefs, his relationship with his family), Robinson unearths maxims such as "Do your work" and "Say your prayers." The stories are engaging, and he tosses in dashes of philosophy, such as the nature of good and evil, based on Reagan's ideas. The writing style, though, is repetitive, and occasionally Robinson makes leaps in his assumptions of Reagan's motivations; none of this, however, dilutes the message. Each lesson is related to Robinson's own life either in contrast or to show how he's made Reagan's lessons "scalable" for his own use. Interviews with and stories about many of the major players of the Reagan administration, like Ed Meese and Colin Powell, lend an insider's feel. Behind-the-scenes details, such as how the famous "Tear Down the Wall" speech was composed, give a fresh perspective. And while Robinson's respect for the former president verges on deification, especially as he glosses over Reagan's shortcomings ("Now, I myself was never able to get worked up over the deficits," Robinson says), this book provides solid, if somewhat obvious, lessons that will appeal to the legions of Reagan fans. (Aug. 5) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Robinson (It's My Party: A Republican's Messy Love Affair with the GOP) began as a speechwriter for the Regan administration in 1982, when he was an impressionable 25 year old just home from Oxford. He relies on journal entries from those years to summarize his observations of the President's character, work style, interpersonal relations, and personal commitment to marriage and to show how he was influenced by the President. The book is anecdotally rich and enhanced by interviews with family members and Reagan administration figures. Robinson wrote the famous "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech, and his description of the speech's evolution is fascinating and entertaining. The author admires Reagan and makes no effort to discredit him or his administration, but he admits that a few events, such as the Iran-Contra scandal, tarnished the nearly perfect polish on Reagan's White House. Peggy Noonan's When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan is a more comprehensive memoir and tribute to Reagan's influence and character, but readers who admire the former President will find Robinson's book inspiring. For larger public libraries.-Jill Ortner, SUNY at Buffalo Libs. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Read an Excerpt

How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life

By Peter Robinson

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Peter Robinson All right reserved. ISBN: 0060523999

Chapter One

The Pony In the Dung Heap

When Life Buries You, Dig

Journal Entry, June 2002:

Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan's favorite jokes. "The pony joke?" Meese replied. "Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times."

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities - one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist - their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. "What's the matter?" the psychiatrist asked, baffled. "Don't you want to play with any of the toys?" "Yes," the little boy bawled, "but if I did I'd only break them."

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of thepile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. "What do you think you're doing?" the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. "With all this manure," the little boy replied, beaming, "there must be a pony in here somewhere!"

"Reagan told the joke so often," Meese said, chuckling, "that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, 'There must be a pony in here somewhere.'"

The other day Josh Gilder, one of my colleagues on the Reagan speechwriting staff, reminded me of Mr. Cho, the barber Josh and I discovered a couple of blocks from the White House. Mr. Cho had come to the United States from somewhere in Southeast Asia - Thailand, as I recall - where it was the custom for a barber to massage each customer's scalp before cutting his hair. When you sat in his chair, Mr. Cho would rub your scalp with the palms of his hands, then knead it with his fingertips. He'd work his way slowly up both sides of your head to your crown, then forward to your eyebrows, then backward to the base of your skull. When Mr. Cho finally finished the massage and began cutting your hair, you'd feel so relaxed that you'd have to grip both arms of the barber chair to keep from sliding onto the floor.

For the six or seven months from the time we discovered him to the time Mr. Cho moved to a new barbershop in the suburbs, Josh and I found ourselves getting our hair cut almost once a week. Soon we stopped thinking of Mr. Cho as our barber and began thinking of him as our therapist. Our visits to the barbershop amounted to our own modest exercises in stress management. Mr. Cho helped us cope.

On a typical afternoon, for instance, Josh and I might have drafts of two or three speeches spread across our desks. The telephones would be ringing. Members of the National Security Council or the Office of Management and Budget would be pestering us for rewrites. Our boss, Tony Dolan, the chief speechwriter, would be clomping down the marble-tiled hallway in his cowboy boots to ask us whether in writing certain passages we had actually intended to cause pointless trouble with the senior staff or had simply gone out of our minds. When it got to be too much, Josh or I would telephone the other.


"Thought you'd never ask."

Josh and I have agreed ever since that only one other event could compare with a visit to Mr. Cho. That was a visit to the Oval Office.

"Reagan's presence was just - I don't know, remarkable," Josh says. "We'd go in there, all worked up over staff wars or the way the researchers weren't doing their work. We might even have been worked up over something important for a change, like the Sandinistas or the situation in the Middle East. Then Reagan would calm us right down. He was just so sweet and serene. A few minutes with the guy were just as good as one of Mr. Cho's massages. Remember?"

Would I ever forget? Ronald Reagan's serenity taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.

The Un-Sheen

For a long time, though, I just couldn't figure it out. I made a mistake about Reagan that you'll understand immediately if you've ever watched the television program The West Wing. The program does a good job of portraying the intensity in the White House - people who work there really do look serious, speak earnestly, and spend half their days taking urgent telephone calls and the other half hurrying to vital meetings. My mistake lay in assuming that the intensity must reach a peak or climax in the person of the President. If the people who worked for him were driven and harried, it stood to reason that the President himself must be the most driven and harried of all. The West Wing makes the same assumption. Just look at the way Martin Sheen plays the role of chief executive. The man's anguished soul searching never lets up.

Yet in the Reagan White House, the intensity didn't peak in the person of the President. It evaporated. Where Sheen often appears rumpled, Reagan always appeared immaculate, his shirt unwrinkled, his tie snugly knotted, a knife-edge crease in his trousers, his shoes gleaming ...


Excerpted from How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson
Copyright © 2003 by Peter Robinson
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Peter Robinson spent six years as a speechwriter in the Reagan White House. Among his speeches was the celebrated "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" speech, which Reagan delivered in Berlin in 1987. Robinson is the host of the PBS television program, Uncommon Knowledge, and the author of two previous books, It's My Party: A Republican's Messy Love Affair with the GOP and Snapshots from Hell: The Making of an MBA. A fellow at the Hoover Institution, he lives in Stanford, California.

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How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He Was The Most Wonderful President Wish he was Still
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book extremely easy to read. Although I have read other books on the 40th president by authors who by their relationship with him should have been more engrossing this author captured what the others did not. I believe Mr. Robinson saw President Reagan as he was: simply because his career was tied to the president far different than his closest confidants, he Mr.Robinson, matured while watching the President. I highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have only one complaint about this book: It ended!! I wish the fabulous author of this book made it 2 times as long. This book helped me learn more about the life lessons Reagan taught all of us through his words, actions, and personal life. I always admired Reagan as a hero -- destroying the USSR by driving it bankrupt, vastly lowering taxes, & dramatically decreasing regulations. Now, through Peter Robinson's thoroughly delightful book, I also view Reagan as someone from whom I learned fantastic lessons to improve me life, optimism, and relationships.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
For a great Reagan book, try reading something else. This one is really about the author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The contrast between Ronald Reagan and other 20th Century Presidents with respect to vision and leadership are sharply drawn by Peter Robinson. Reagan is shown by the author to be a common man with a grand vision of what America has been and what America can be. Robinson shows how Reagan applied optimism and a healthy work ethic to daily life and to governing. This book is inspiring and a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an outstanding insight into the character of our greatest president in my lifetime. It is hard to imagine how incredible our highest office declined in such a short time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reminded me of my only personal experience with Ronald Reagan at age 13. My class was touring the State Capitol in Sacremento. We were all a bunch of rowdy Jr.Highers just going down the hallway when Gov. Reagan came walking down the hallway without the entourage most politicians usually have. Just his lonesome. No reporters, and only one voter, (my teacher) gave little outside motivation other than love of the people he served. He shook all of our hands, brought us into his office, and shared with us his jelly beans. He was a true leader who has since proved his worth a thousand times over. But he had me at 13.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great book for anyone who sometimes feels overwhelmed with life's challenges and could use a pep talk/recipe for handling it all. Read it. You won't regret it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Give me a break, any bafoons out there who give this book a low rating. This book gives great insight into the Great One, Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book as thoroughly as the previous reviewer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The first reviewer and I do have one thing in common: Neither of us read the book. However, it's a testament to the sucessfulness of Reagan as a politician and shaper of policy that such a 'review' exists; the Leftists have devoted themselves to mindlessly attacking the man, and they've done so because Reagan put them on the defensive for the first time since FDR rose to power. I can give the book twice as many stars as the first review does, just based on that fact. Hopefully, the book will do him justice. Also, hopefully all following reviews will be by people who've actually read the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book just continues what a lot of us already knew. That Ronald Reagan was not only a great president, but a great human being also. Lots of good stuff. Pick it up!
Guest More than 1 year ago
A nice break, from such as, 'Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great stories & insights about the greatest President of the 20th century.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is a great behind the scenes look at the Man and his life during his Hollywood career and His political career. It exposes the depth of the Man that seldom gets told through our 'media' and the Democratic party, that on the very mention of the mans name muster the best of their intellect to describe Him and this book with silly words like 'GADS!' and 'Give me a break!'
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book tells you the truth about the great man; Reagan. Extremely Recommended
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a teacher I am often looking for books depicting heroes in an everyday simple light. The lesson being that heroism is not out of the reach of anyone, no matter where you are in life. This fits that bill perfectly... all teachers should keep this in their library!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's a book you'll enjoy, nevermind the lefties.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rush Limbaugh writes: 'Peter Robinson is a Reagan authority. He has a new book called 'How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life,' and I'll tell you, if you at all like me are interested in the preservation of the man Ronald Reagan as he was, president he was, the politician he was, the leader that he was rather than what the mainstream press and the American left has tried to redefine with history revisionism what Reagan was, this is a book for you, 'How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.' Peter Robinson is the author. He took over, in essence, the Firing Line slot on PBS for William F. Buckley, Jr. And I couldn't recommend this book any more highly than I am. It is a source authority on Reagan, from the context of how it changed Peter's life, it will reflect and relate to you in the same way.' Dittos.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reinforces all the virtues of Reagan that the other books about Reagan portrayed. He is an honest, principaled, man of integrity who was a great leader.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Finally, a solid account of a remarkable man, and one of our nations greatest presidents. A liberal history revisionists nemesis. Excellent :)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thought I'd even the scales a little.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read many, many Reagan biographies and was, honestly, dubious about what another could bring to the table. Boy, was I wrong. I plowed through this thing in like two days and enjoyed in a way I haven't enjoyed any book in a long time. Peter Robinson should be very proud, and you should buy his book! (Of course, this got me all curious about his other books, as well. God bless capitalism!)