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Read by the Author6 cassettes / 9 hours
Edmund Morris has been absorbed in the life of Ronald Reagan for the last thirteen years, with unparalleled access to his papers, his friends, and his family.This audiobook will inform, engross, and even astonish those who believe they already know Ronald Reagan--as well as those who do not know him at all.
When Ronald Reagan moved into the White House in 1981, one of his first literary guests was Edmund Morris, the Pulitzer-Prize winning biographer of Theodore Roosevelt.An extraordinary relationship--genial yet mysterious on the President's side, admiring yet unsentimental on Morris's--developed between the two men.Reagan granted Morris monthly interviews in the Oval Office, plus unrestricted access to his papers and family and friends.
The result, after fourteen years of obsessive research, is a biography that is as much a memoir as narrative--a pilgrimage to the heart of Ronald Reagan's mystery.It begins with his birth in 1911 in the heart of rural Illinois (where he is still remembered as "Dutch"), and progresses through the way stations of an amazingly varied career: young lifeguard, aspirant writer, ace sportscaster, film star, soldier, union leader, corporate spokesman, Governor, and President.
Here, recreated with participatory vividness (and some original historic audio clips) are the early achievements of the Reagan Era: a restoration of American optimism and patriotism, a re-powering of the national economy, and a massive arms buildup deliberately forcing the "Evil Empire" of Soviet Communism to come to terms.Here, too, is the septuagenarian President who came to grips with some of the most fundamental moral issues of the late twentieth century--at Bitburg and Bergen-Belsen, in Geneva and Reykjavik and Berlin.This audiobook closes with an achingly tender account of Reagan's pst-presidential decline into dementia.
Why did Pulitzer-winning Theodore Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris controversially choose to write his authorized biography of Ronald Reagan in the form of a historical novel? There's a clue in a quote the book attributes to Jane Wyman, Reagan's first wife. As Ronnie speechified about the Red Menace at a 1940s Hollywood party, Wyman allegedly whispered to a friend, "I'm so bored with him, I'll either kill him or kill myself." This anecdote, if true, is more revealing than Nancy Reagan's charge in the book that Jane had attempted suicide to get Ronnie to marry her in the first place. Jane was no intellectual--Morris cracks that "If Jane had ever heard of Finland, she probably thought it was an aquarium"--but he found to his horror, after years of research, that he felt much the same as Wyman. Reagan was as boring as a box of rocks, as elusive as a ghost.
Decades before Alzheimer's clouded Reagan's mind, he showed a terrifying lack of human presence. "I was real proud when Dad came to my high school commencement," reports his son, Michael Reagan. After posing for photos with Michael and his classmates, the future president came up to him, looked right in his eyes, and said, "Hi, my name's Ronald Reagan. What's yours?" Poor Michael replied, "Dad, it's me. Your son. Mike."
Despite deep research and unprecedented access--no previous biography has ever been authorized by a sitting president--Morris could get no closer to Reagan's elusive soul than Reagan's own kids could. So Morris decided to dramatize Reagan's life with several invented characters--including a fictionalized version of himself and an imaginary gossip columnist who makes wicked comments on Reagan's career. This is one weird tactic, forcing the reader constantly to consult the footnotes at the back of the book to sort things out, and Morris makes it tougher by presenting his invented characters as real, even in the footnotes.
Ultimately, the hubbub over Morris's odd method is beside the point. His speculative entry into Reagan's life and mind is plausible, dramatic, literary, and lit by dazzling flashes of insight. The narrator watches the young Reagan as a lifeguard (years before the real Morris was born):
One tunnels along in a shroud of silvery bubbles, insulated from any sight or sound.... Others may swim alongside for a while, but their individuality tends to refract away, through the bubbles and the blur. Often I have marveled at Reagan's cool, unhurried progress through crises of politics and personnel, and thought to myself, He sees the world as a swimmer sees it.
We cannot verify Morris's notion that Reagan probably approved the illegal Iran-Contra funding without having a clue it was illegal, or that the "Star Wars" program sprang from his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs's first novel, A Princess of Mars, which featured glass-domed cities. But however bizarre and ignorant his thoughts were, however cold his heart, Morris believes, the guy did crush the Evil Empire and achieve greatness. Morris achieves a kind of greatness, too, but one wishes he had written a more straightforward dramatization of history. --Tim Appelo
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