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President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  1,084 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Hailed by the New Yorker as "a superlative study of a president and his presidency," Lou Cannon's President Reagan remains the definitive account of our most significant presidency in the last fifty years. Ronald Wilson Reagan, the first actor to be elected president, turned in the performance of a lifetime. But that performance concealed the complexities of the man, baffl ...more
Paperback, 920 pages
Published March 31st 2000 by PublicAffairs (first published 1991)
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May 12, 2014 Daniel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Lou Cannon's PRESIDENT REAGAN is probably my favorite of its kind: the insider-y, journalist's post-mortem on a recent presidency (a la THE SURVIVOR by John Harris and DAYS OF FIRE by Peter Baker). Originally published in 1991, it's very much worth reading today. Reagan is still very much present in the public imagination, and he is often distorted as Republicans seek in his legacy the precedent for whatever position they want to hold next. For example, Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher ...more
Dec 30, 2014 LawyersGunsAndMoney rated it did not like it
Cannon spends the first 150 pages trying his hardest to paint Reagan as a lazy, unintelligent, uninterested doofus, and embarrasses himself over the remaining 600 pages as he tries to maintain that image of Reagan while reporting about his many and monumental triumphs in office. Of course Cannon does his best to avoid this by laboring far too long on Lebanon and Iran, while breezing through the Cold War and the greatest economic boom in our nation’s history.

This book says far more about Cannon
Brian Schwartz
Oct 21, 2014 Brian Schwartz rated it it was amazing
I have more historical insight now than Cannon had 20 years ago when he wrote this book. Iran-Contra had very little effect on American foreins in the Middle East heated up. It was a policy blunder of the highest magnitude. But its effect on the nation and the world was negligible.

As I stated earlier, Reagan started his presidency with a strong team within his executive office that balanced out what was a weak cabinet. Baker was a masterful chief of staff who ran the White House staff with effi
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Cannon covers Ronald Reagan in his last starring role in this heavy biography of the man and survey history of his time as President. It is an effective followup (though written earlier!) to "Governor Reagan", which I also review here.

Cannon has a great feel for the man, spending the first third of the book laying out Reagan's personality, psyche, and personal history before turning to application of what we learned about Reagan the man into how he performed his greatest role. And Cannon is most
James Korsmo
Aug 03, 2011 James Korsmo rated it really liked it
Ronald Reagan is well known as the "Great Communicator." And there has never been any doubt that he could deliver a great speech. From his rise to national prominence with a speech for Barry Goldwater in 1968 to his debate performances against George Bush and later Jimmy Carter to his oval office speeches and Presidential addresses abroad, Reagan had a clear stage presence. And he appreciated the "role" and pageantry of the office of the President. Lou Cannon, in President Reagan: The Role of a ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Terence rated it it was ok
Honestly at points I wondered if Lou Cannon had been personally insulted by Reagan. His comments and assessments were that one-sided at times. Referring to him as a child among other things.

Generally I found 5 phases to the book:

1. Reagan is nothing more than an actor with a script. The first 20% of the book makes this point over and over, and many different ways. Portraying Reagan as a two-dimensional character that was a spokesman for his team more than a president.

2. Explaining the landslide
Fred Kohn
When a frustrated reader came across the line, "Mondale carefully mingled praise of Reagan with his attack, giving the impression that he was being fair to the president even while he was saying that he was not up to the job," he or she couldn't resist underlining it and scribbling in the margin: "Just like Lou Cannon in writing this book." Normally I get quite annoyed when people write in library books, but I'll make an exception in this case. I, too was shocked at the negative portrayal of ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Jimyanni rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
If you truly despise Ronald Reagan, or if you believe that he is one of the greatest presidents in our country's history, you will probably be dissatisfied with this book. In either case, it will not provide support for your preconceived notions. But if you want a good, balanced, fair biography of Ronald Reagan, one that goes into his life and especially his presidency in great depth, gives credit where credit is due and does not restrain itself from offering blame where that is due, this is a ...more
Sep 01, 2010 John rated it it was amazing
Amazing and shocking bio by a reporter who followed Reagan throughout his political career. Amazing because it is an excellent, rigorous examination of Reagan and his political philosophy. Shocking because Cannon exposes him as shallow, ignorant and devious as many suspected and as world leaders knew. The title truly says it all; according to Cannon Reagan thought of politics as acting. And why not? Reagan found great popularity in presenting a Fantasist America where if not perfect, could be ...more
Tom Auclair
Sep 30, 2014 Tom Auclair rated it really liked it
Interesting portrait of Reagan, showing his strengths (personality and being able to tell a good anecdote) and weaknesses (facts and details). People who like Reagan will certainly find much to like in this exhaustive biography, while those who doubted the "Reagan Miracle" will also find plenty of ammunition. Most disturbing: Reagan's inability, at times, to know the difference between movie parts/stories he heard and things that actually happened.

This is a truer picture of a man who has become
John Harder
Though he goes beyond this narrow perspective Lou Cannon largely takes the perspective that Reagan’s worldview was shaped by his movie roles and personal experiences. Further, he confused reality with the movies. Essentially Reagan was a bumbling oaf. As the book progresses Cannon becomes a bit more balanced, perhaps this was by necessity since this oaf kept on succeeding in everything he focused on (except for Iran-Contra).

This is not a biography of a life, rather a chronicling of a presidency.
Feb 11, 2016 Jill rated it really liked it
Cannon's account of the Reagan presidency is quite thorough and quite compelling. At times the larger narrative gets swallowed up in somewhat procedural minutia, but that is really my only complaint about the book. Cannon does a nice job of moving from the concerns surrounding a particular issue to addressing the larger effect on Reagan's legacy. I particularly enjoyed the final chapter, which focuses exclusively on the (contradictory) legacy of Reagan's presidency.

Read this book if you're inter
Feb 15, 2015 Peter rated it liked it
My favorite line of the book is in the Preface to the 2000 Edition, when Lou Cannon tells the reader "This revised version" of the mainstream media's favorite Reagan biography addresses "aspects of Reagan's legacy that were not apparent when the book was published in 1991." Like, for instance, the fact that Reagan turned out to be the best president of my lifetime. Every addition is positive, all the Reagan-as-putz descriptions are in the original. It's a shame Cannon couldn't rewrite "President ...more
Jul 21, 2013 Petero rated it it was ok
Shelves: presidents
I am surprised this biography has received so much praise. Yes, the author had unsurpassed access to RR. But, the book is quite cluttered. He repeats the same points over and over while viewing Reagan's presidency through different lens. I wonder if I would have appreciated the book more had I read it much closer to the events.
It is amazing that Reagan is seen by many people as one of the greatest presidents the U.S. has had.
What little success he had, he stumbled into. Had he stumbled into anot
David Simonetti
Nov 21, 2007 David Simonetti rated it really liked it
This is a well done biography about one of the 20th Centuries most significant presidencies. Cannon does not sugercoat his dialogue about Reagan. As a consequence, this provides an objective view of this President, who the far radical left tried to demonize since he was so successful in reversing the New Deal and Great Society Policies they championed for 60 years. If any one is interested in getting the real story about Reagan (both his flaws and merits), this is a useful book.
Oct 08, 2007 Chris rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Sara Lee Schnur, Russell Epstein, Tatiana Schnur
If you want to feel optimistic about surviving the Bush era, read this book. It is a miracle that America survived the Reagan years! It covers everything from Reagan's cluelessness to the conflicts between James Baker and the California cabal, from Donald Regan's attempt to be co-President to of course Nancy's astrology fixation.
Andrew Jones
Jul 11, 2015 Andrew Jones rated it it was ok
Well written, if a bit overlong, Cannon's account of Reagan lacks the benefit of 25 years of hindsight and overemphasizes certain events (such as Iran-Contra) that, with that hindsight, appear less important than the Gipper's significant achievements. Given the diversity and quality of more recent Reagan biographies, I cannot recommend this one.
Rich Deleo
Jun 06, 2012 Rich Deleo rated it liked it
I admired President Reagan and think he was the greatest President in the past 75 years. This book was overly influenced by Lou Cannon 's media pals. That said, he did provide some great " inside baseball" stories and perspectives.
Chad Lamb
A very comprehensive study of Reagan's presidency and leadership style. Cannon really understands his subject having covered him for years as a journalist when Reagan was governor of California and President of the United States. A long book but well-written and entertaining.
Jun 19, 2007 Jack rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All
Best book on Reagan's presidency by a long stretch. In fact, best book on a modern presidency. Cannon, unlike Reagan haters and conservative revisionists, is fair and thorough. Those who love and hate Reagan will find plenty to support their beliefs, and plenty to make them unhappy.
Jul 19, 2009 Dale rated it it was amazing
Lou Cannon knew & followed Ronald Reagan politically for thirty years. There was substantially more depth to Reagan than what you read in the newspapers and saw reported on TV.
Apr 03, 2015 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about the Reagan, his history and presidency. It also has a good critique of the Carter Administration.
Interesting, but not the chronological account of his two terms that I was looking for and much too redundant with the information that was included.
Sep 29, 2008 louisa rated it it was amazing
A beast of a biography. A testament to Cannon's work and access: both Reagan apologists and polemicists consider this the true measure of the man.
Melissa Mcnatt
Melissa Mcnatt rated it it was amazing
Aug 16, 2015
على rated it it was amazing
Feb 20, 2014
Ralph Douglas
Ralph Douglas rated it it was amazing
Jul 11, 2014
Bryan Mullican
Bryan Mullican rated it really liked it
Jan 13, 2014
Doron Malka
Doron Malka rated it did not like it
Sep 18, 2016
Gina Conners
Gina Conners rated it it was amazing
May 22, 2015
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Louis Cannon (born 1933) is an American journalist, non-fiction author, and biographer. He was state bureau chief for the San Jose Mercury News in the late 1960s and later senior White House correspondent of the Washington Post during the Ronald Reagan administration. He is a prolific biographer of US President Ronald Reagan and has written five books about him.
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