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This is possibly the single best book available on the Reagan presidency. Lou Cannon began reporting on Ronald Reagan as a journalist when Reagan first ran for governor of California in 1966, and then covered him again in Washington after his 1980 presidential election. In short, there is probably no man or woman who has spent more years writing about the Gipper than Cannon. The result is a magisterial account of Reagan's two terms in the White House. Cannon is broadly sympathetic to his subject, but also coolly detached. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime pulled off the remarkable feat of winning praise from both Reagan's admirers and detractors when it was first published in 1991. This reissued edition, which includes a new preface describing Reagan's postpresidential descent into the abyss of Alzheimer's disease, must now be considered the standard text on the subject--especially in light of the controversy surrounding the book that aspired to Cannon's mantle, Edmund Morris's quasi biography Dutch.
Cannon's book is full of wise analysis and sound observation. He explains Reagan's success convincingly: "Optimism was not a trivial or peripheral quality. It was the essential ingredient of an approach to life.... [Reagan] had a knack of converting others to his optimism, almost as if he drew upon some private reservoir of self-esteem. People who listened to Reagan tended to feel good about him and better about themselves." Though the book bursts with detail, it's never so cumbersome that it bogs down Cannon's narrative. And these pages give only cursory attention to Reagan's life before the White House; this is more a biography of President Reagan than of Ronald Reagan. Conservatives who are defensive about Reagan's legacy may bristle at certain points; Cannon's portrait is not always a flattering one. Yet it's a compelling biography of a compelling man's most important years. It's possible to imagine that a fuller biography of Reagan will be written some day. Right now, however, this is the best there is--and it's very, very good. --John J. Miller [via]