Ronald Reagan is trending. Everyone from Ted Cruz to Barack Obama sings his praises. Why is Reagan so popular? Was it his movie-star looks? His cowboy swagger? His “America first” doctrine? H.W. Brands covers it all in his thorough biography, Reagan.
Don’t look for any new ground to be broken here. But if you admire the 40th president as much as many politicians do, you’ll enjoy Brands’ telling of familiar stories.
The author takes us on a journey from Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois, to Hollywood, where he became a reliable B-movie actor. Reagan got his footing in politics as president of the Screen Actors Guild, where he cooperated with the FBI during the Red Scare. During his two-term presidency, he was credited with being tough on Russia and cutting the size of the federal government.
Brands, who has written five previous presidential biographies, argues that Reagan rivals FDR as the greatest president of the 20th century. While his detailed biography is thorough, there is a shortage of arguments to help Brands make his case. Reagan’s two terms in office ended in 1989, and there is a longing for Brands to add perspective in a postscript. Having had 25 years to ponder, surely this accomplished writer could help us understand why Reagan remains so beloved.
No matter. Despite its flaws, there’s little doubt this book will be as popular as the former president.
CORRECTION: This review has been updated to reflect the fact that Reagan left office in 1989.