Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan

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9780002177092: Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan

The authorized life of Ronald Reagan written by America’s most innovative and Pulitzer Prize-winning political biographer. This book breaks through all conventional definitions of biography. It is quite unprecedented.

‘Poor dear. There’s nothing between his ears.’ So Margaret Thatcher described Ronald Reagan. But the Iron Lady, when in the ‘poor dear’s’ presence, giggled like a schoolgirl. ‘One could not talk to him for more than a few minutes without being aware of the ordinariness of his mind,’ says Helmut Schmidt. And Mikhail Gorbachev, deconstructor of communism, is now despised by his people, while the most popular new boys’ name in the former USSR is Ronald.

Indisputably Ronald Reagan the everyday person was opaque, pedestrian, ignorant, a hollow man – now he is incapacitated by Alzheimers. Yet, as President–Governor–Actor–Announcer–Lifeguard Ronald Reagan became a creature of the American folk imagination with the power to tap into vast resources of nostalgia in the American people. He is a myth; the sum total of all American fantasies. It is this Reagan that is the subject of Edmund Morris’s book.

Morris has been working on the authorized biography of Ronald Reagan since 1985. He has become intimate with Reagan himself, Nancy and their children, and has had unrestricted access to all Reagan’s private papers. This would be enough to ensure a significant and lasting biography of this extraordinary American. However, Morris combines these benefits with enormous powers of scholarship and a literary imagination beyond compare.

Dutch takes Richard Holmes’s technique – of tracking his biographical subjects through space and time – one step further. The result is a book truly revolutionary in form. Reagan’s biography is written with a biographical doppelganger following Reagan through each phase of his life, showing how the life of Reagan integrates with his times, and explaining the great and so-far elusive mystery of the extraordinarily potent link between Reagan and the American people. This book succeeds in making literature out of the life of America’s Actor-President. There has been nothing like it before.

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Product Description:

Edition HarperCollins Publishers, First Impression, 1999. ISBN: 0-00-217709-9. HARDBACK. 894 pages, size: 16 x 24 x 5.4 cm. Just light tan to paper edges. Other than that, the new and unread book remains in excellent condition: dust cover intact; black cloth hard cover bright with gilt lettering on spine; text all clean, neat and tight. Prompt dispatch from UK.

Review:

Why did Pulitzer Prize-winning Theodore Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris controversially choose to write his authorised biography of Ronald Reagan in the form of an 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 Morris found to his horror, after years of research, that he felt much the same as Jane. Reagan was as boring as a box of rocks and 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, looking 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 authorised by a sitting president--Morris could get no closer to Reagan's elusive soul than his children could. So he decided to dramatise Reagan's life with several invented characters--including a fictionalised version of himself witnessing scenes in Reagan's life that happened before Morris was born and an imaginary gossip columnist who makes wicked comments on Reagan's career. This is a strange tactic, forcing one constantly to consult the footnotes at the back 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 fictionalising is rooted in Bob Woodward-like research, and his speculative entry into Reagan's life and mind is plausible, dramatic, literary and lit by dazzling flashes of insight. 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 Reagan's role as Brass Bancroft, who used an Inertia Projector to zap bad guys, and his love of Edgar Rice Burroughs' first novel Princess of Mars, which featured glass-domed cities. But however bizarre and ignorant his thoughts were, however cold his heart, the man did crush the "Evil Empire" and, in Morris' opinion, achieve greatness. Morris's book is as bizarre as its subject but he achieves greatness too. --Tim Appelo

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