By the Book: Ronald Reagan
Nearly 30 years since Ronald Reagan left the Oval Office, interest in the 40th president remains exceedingly high. He sits near or at the top of countless “best president” lists, and politicians from both political parties frequently seek attachment to the Reagan mantle as a means of strengthening their position. It naturally follows that the number of books on Reagan is high, and seemingly growing each week.
Those interested in Reagan have also benefitted from the release of a treasure trove of material authored by Reagan himself.
Of the countless manuscripts on Reagan—both the man and his presidency—Lou Cannon’s 1991 biography, President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime, remains the standard. As the Washington Post’s White House Correspondent during the Reagan presidency, Cannon had an intimate window into the president and the inner workings of his administration. Cannon had also covered Reagan during the early phase of his political career in California, which, while not covered in this book, provides a unique depth to the author’s analysis. Praised by both supporters and critics of Reagan, Role of a Lifetime is the best account of the Reagan presidency.
Those interested in Reagan have also benefitted from the release of a treasure trove of material authored by Reagan himself. There is, of course, the customary post-presidential autobiography, An American Life. But in 2001, former Reagan officials Martin and Annelise Anderson and presidential scholar Kiron Skinner released Reagan In His Own Hand, a collection of writings by Reagan, mostly from his 1970s radio broadcasts. Three years later, Skinner and the Andersons published Reagan: A Life in Letters, which offered an astounding cache of letters written throughout Reagan’s lifetime. Together, these volumes, along with The Reagan Diaries, edited and released by Douglas Brinkley in 2009, changed perceptions about Reagan as a person, thinker, and political leader.
Some of the most insightful books on Reagan came from those with whom he worked most closely. This list is quite long, but several stand out, including former personal aide Jim Kuhn’s Ronald Reagan in Private, speechwriter Peter Robinson’s How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, and longtime adviser Michael Deaver’s A Different Drummer. I would add to that list the exceptional collection of oral history interviews conducted by the Miller Center with nearly 50 of the key members of his presidency as part of the Ronald Reagan Oral History Project.
Many other books on Reagan are also worthy of attention. While some are certainly more favorable to Reagan than others, HW Brands’ Reagan: The Life, Peggy Noonan’s When Character Was King, and—shameless plug—At Reagan’s Side, by Stephen Knott and me, are enjoyable reads. For more specific aspects of Reagan and his presidency, I commend Paul Kengor’s God and Ronald Reagan (on Reagan’s faith), Lou Cannon’s Governor Reagan (on the gubernatorial years), and Chris Matthews’ Tip and the Gipper (on Reagan and Tip O’Neill). In short, if you’re interested in Ronald Reagan, seek and ye shall find.