Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

An American Life

Rate this book
The former president relates the story of his public and private life from his modest beginnings in the Midwest, through a distinguished film career, to a second career in politics.
Ronald Reagan’s account of that rise is told here with all the uncompromising candor, modesty, and wit that made him perhaps the most able communicator ever to occupy the White House, and also with the sense of drama of a gifted natural storyteller.

He tells us, with warmth and pride, of his early years and of the elements that made him, in later life, a leader of such stubborn integrity, courage, and clear-minded optimism. Reading the account of this childhood, we understand how his parents, struggling to make ends meet despite family problems and the rigors of the Depression, shaped his belief in the virtues of American life—the need to help others, the desire to get ahead and to get things done, the deep trust in the basic goodness, values, and sense of justice of the American people—virtues that few presidents have expressed more eloquently than Ronald Reagan.

752 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1990

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Ronald Reagan

174 books261 followers
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States (1981–1989) and the 33rd Governor of California (1967–1975). Born in Illinois, Reagan moved to Los Angeles in the 1930s, where he became an actor, president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and a spokesman for General Electric. Reagan became involved in politics during his work for G.E. and switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party in 1962. After delivering a rousing speech in support of Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy in 1964, he was persuaded to seek the California Governorship, winning two years later and again in 1970. He was defeated in his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 as well as 1976, but won both the nomination and election in 1980.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,543 (49%)
4 stars
1,013 (32%)
3 stars
416 (13%)
2 stars
85 (2%)
1 star
40 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 180 reviews
Author 5 books546 followers
November 13, 2016
Great book detailing the life of one of America's greatest Presidents!
Profile Image for Jerry.
4,631 reviews56 followers
April 28, 2021
As someone who wasn't born until the late eighties, I am too young to remember the Reagan presidency, or even that of the elder Bush. The first Commander in Chief I remember with any clarity was Bill Clinton, and I still learned a lot more about the office of United States President as I got older, especially when "W" was in the White House. So, though I'd heard a lot about Ronald Reagan from my parents and other significantly older individuals, reading about his life and times from his own perspective was an eye-opening experience.

President Reagan and I had some things in common: We were raised in Christian homes, and we were early readers. An early memory he shared of being able to read the newspaper easily at only five years old reminds me of how surprised everyone was I could read pretty much anything--even a high school science textbook--when I was a mere kindergartener. As someone who has always loved entertainment, reading of President Reagan's time in Hollywood was fun. I could see why people often say that movies aren't what they used to be.

Where the book really got crazy was after Reagan was elected as leader of the free world. Between an assassination attempt, health scares, death in the family, and especially the tensions with the U.S.S.R., his time in the White House was tough...but, he and the former First Lady showed admirable strength and courage despite adverse circumstances.

As great as this book is--and it's the longest one other than the Bible that I've read in a while...but I loved it--I do have to issue one complaint: Some profanity--not all of which is censored--is included; though I know this is a true story, it's still a bit unfortunate, and may bother some discerning readers.
Profile Image for Matthew.
7 reviews1 follower
August 13, 2008
This book almost brings a tear to my eye. In his own words, one of Americas greatest presidents describes how his love for his country and his fellow man led him to run for the California Governorship and later the Presidency.

If you are a patriot, a conservative, or just all around sensible, this book will sadden you. To see how quickly the progress made by the Reagan administration has been trampled over and discarded is painful. The America Ronald Reagan once helped shape is quickly being replaced by the tumorous growth of a beaurocracy that can not possibly sustain itself lest the American people continue to vote their freedom away - squandering any chance that their grandchildren will live free.

Kinda makes you want to run outside and punch a hippie.
Profile Image for Julie.
38 reviews
May 19, 2015
Reagan is a great storyteller so this book is easy to read. I was a little annoyed in the first part of the book by how he just dismissed various Democratic leaders as "just another tax and spend liberal." I find these kinds of labels (from both parties) to be unhelpful and would have appreciated his unique insight into people's personalities. The discussion of foreign leaders, particularly the different Soviet leaders, and the thinking and strategy as it related to the growing terrorist threat and nuclear disarmament was very interesting.
Profile Image for Tim.
589 reviews
March 30, 2009
Big 752 page book- Reagan's autobiography written after two terms as California Governor, and two as US President (plus sports caster and actor). I never understood people writing autobiographies in mid life... One reason I read this is that I've always felt bad about dissing Ron and Nancy in an essay I wrote while living in Africa - some insipid little comment about Nancy consulting a horoscope... So part of my reason was to approach this President's book as a mea culpa exercise. I'm glad I did - I find that I typically regret making what appeared to be "sharp, witty" ascerbic comments about leaders at a given time, only to regret them later, while any time I've been able to express mercy, understanding, tolerance, and openness, I've not regretted those stances even if disappointed later.

Right off the bat, I found Reagan's style of speaking coming through again in his writing. No doubt, he had much help writing or editing, but I can clearly hear his voice from TV and radio back in the 80's contained within his writing: warm, inviting, with conviction, yet conversational.

Second, I was struck how humbly he wrote of his many, many, many experiences, and contented or philosophically content perhaps as he looked back. He wrote from this contented standpoint in that he tried as hard as he could to act consistently with his principles. And even when he failed, he could write honestly of disappointment and with apologies. In either case, success or failure or more often he repeatedly talked about shades of success and failure mixed in various proportions, it was always in such a way that the reader could tell Reagan did not believe that the whole world rose or fell according to his actions - more realistically that he was a player on a much larger journey that continues as actors come and go.

Surprises: He came across with much more Christian views of faith than I remember publicly, and that in his most forceful criticism of the book, he was still angry with the actions of Israel led by Begin, and General Ariel Sharon back in the early 80s when he believed there was opportunity for middle east peace. Indeed, his recurring encounters with middle east conflicts and turmoil left him with a broad sorrow that more could not be accomplished - Anwar Sadat of Egypt was one he greatly admired. Reagan gave an honest, or at least coherent accounting of the Iran Contra affair - helpful for me to get the details more clear at any rate. And of course, Reagan provided his thoughts on many controversial aspects of his administration - especially those involving Central America conflicts and US support or resistance...

Reagan spent several chapters on the rearming of America, and its subsequent economic pressure put on the Soviet Union, his negotiations with at least three, if not 4 Soviet leaders - they kept dying on him, - ending with Gorbachev, and arms reductions. This really seemed like Reagan's most important contribution in his mind, was the path he helped create to reduce nuclear arms significantly, and the complexity and sensitive negotiation dynamics we probably under-appreciate 20 years later. SDI, star wars defenses, cruise missile deployment in Europe, etc - all were in Reagan's mind part of a chess match to move away from an even great idiocy - Mutual Assured Destruction - as a strategic foundation.

I'm the first to realize Reagan was and is a controversial President and public figure, in that he was both effective and very clear on his perspective of government vs private enterprise, of good and evil, and personal responsibility vs social oppression, all of which were affronts to sizable segments of America and the world. But that is the point, I suspect, of why he looms large still - a leader whether one agreed with him or not!

The book is another of those, "I thought I knew him/the issue, but I found that I didn't know or remember nearly as much as I thought."

Profile Image for Jerome Otte.
1,740 reviews
May 8, 2012
The Great Communicator has done it again! "An American Life" takes the reader from his birth in Tampico, Illinois to the return to California with mission accomplished. Ronald Reagan earned the moniker "The Great Communicator" for his ability to reach an audience. "An American Life" proves that he could do it in ink too. His writing is direct, easy to follow and engaging. The theme of the book is the optimistic world view of the Reagan we knew. There is little introspection. Reagan knew what he believed and told it with gusto! Many of the stories are ones with which we are familiar. This book is the Gipper's exposition of his belief in family values and the individual. The readers are drawn into the issues which defined the Reagan Administration.

As a frequent traveler in Reagan's native region in Northern Illinois, I found the narratives of his youth in Galesburg and Dixon and his years at Eureka College to be particularly interesting. The reader follows Reagan to Iowa and on to California. The sections on Reagan's years in Hollywood give the reader an insight into the movie world. The chapters on Reagan's involvement with the Screen Actors' Guild focus on his opposition to Communist domination of the industry.

Reagan's years in California politics are related with may of the stories we have heard, such as the student protesters who entered his office to tell him that his generation could not understand them because he did not grow up with the modern conveniences, to which he replied that his generation had invented them.

Reagan tells of his conversion, which began with the General Electric tour in the 1950s, from a liberal Democrat to a conservative Republican and from a reluctant candidate to an enthusiastic agent of destiny. From a reluctant governor, Reagan matured to a candidate who sought the presidency, not to be somebody, but to do something.

In the sections on his presidential years, Reagan goes through the issues, such as tax reductions, the military buildup, Supreme Court appointments, Middle Eastern diplomacy and Soviet relations. The exhilaration of the return of hostages contrasts with the pain of the return of bodies and disasters, such as the Challenger. Reagan's dealings with the Soviets pulled his car up and down the roller coaster of emotions.

Other than that, this was a slow and tediuos read.
Profile Image for Alex MacMillan.
141 reviews50 followers
May 13, 2013
"Mr. Reagan, then, is a somewhat different political leader from the bumbling idiot of liberal myth — in private a kind and gentle man, in politics a charming Machiavellian, economical in his use of power, manipulative in his use of people, and modest when it comes to sharing out the credit. In short, a master politician.

The problem of this book is that memoirs are a form of taking the credit and Mr. Reagan simply can't do it. A lifetime of not fully showing his hand has bred in him a style of amiable discretion that he simply can't shake. His talented ghostwriter, Mr. Robert Lindsey, captures his tone of voice perfectly. But the effect is a kind of literary muzak in which the harsh edges of the last decade's political battles are softened in recollection."

- John O'Sullivan's book review reflects my thoughts exactly. I think reading Steven F. Hayward's two part "Age of Reagan" series will provide me the friendly but fair introspection on a monumental political career that I hoped for from this memoir but failed to receive.
6 reviews
September 27, 2014
A strong 3 stars with points off due to the length of the book and some repetition. Overall a good primer on historic events which I was too young to follow as they were happening. The direct excerpts from letters and notes does help extend the credibility. Reagan Smash!
8 reviews3 followers
July 2, 2009
This was a good laugh. It was required college reading.
Profile Image for Robert Vincent.
187 reviews2 followers
October 21, 2015
This reading of Ronald Reagan’s autobiography is the second time for me. I read it the first time in 2009 when I was very disappointed in the political climate. This time I was prompted to read it again when I had become even more discouraged and wanted to think back to a better time and way.

As one might guess I am an advocate of a more conservative direction for America moving forward in a nation deteriorating morally and economically. And seeing our nation falling into a very vulnerable position with Islamic terror threatening us at home and even in the now not so distant Middle East, I am concerned. As I read An American Life, I above all, observed the patriotism and love of freedom that Ron Reagan brought to the highest office and advocated for all Americans. I never see that in our leadership today.

Anyone who lived during the era or who have studied history knows well that Ronald Reagan was against big government and an advocate for what Thomas Jefferson proclaimed: “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned—this is the sum of good government.” Reagan early in his move from being a Democrat to being convinced that he held Republican ideals summed it up this way, “By 1960, I realized the real enemy wasn’t big business, it was big government.”

Contrast Reagan’s thoughts on national health care to what has happened to health care today in America. Here is an early quote: “When a lot of the nation’s most prominent Democrats got behind socialized medicine, I started speaking out against it. If we didn’t head it off, I said, ‘one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Ronald Reagan did not only speak about economic recovery in the time the nation was experiencing one of the greatest recessions, he propelled one of the greatest recoveries in history, even with Democrat majorities in both houses. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 while not having all that he had proposed gave way to more prosperity for all. The tax cuts proved beneficial to middle income and lower income citizens. Here is a quote to show that realization:

“Knowing they could now keep seventy percent of what they earned instead of paying seventy percent of it to the government, the most affluent Americans invested in new projects and new ideas; but contrary to what some of the tax-and-spend liberals have said, tax reform didn’t create a windfall for the rich at the expense of the poor; instead, it was the other way around.” This recovery, by and large, created jobs during the expansion that were “good” jobs; more than ninety percent were full-time jobs and paid well. Today the government is looking to raise minimum wages so that people employed in these entry positions, often times with work hours below securing benefits, can be counted as career jobs so they could be added to the workforce numbers. Now we know that today the economic and political climate is different, however the principle is the same. Private sector job creation encouraged by lower taxation creates prosperity. That is what Ronald Reagan believed. I know that there are perhaps reasonable arguments contrary to these conservative principles, but for Reagan and his economic expansion it all worked until torn apart by a persistence of liberal big government pressures.

Concerning international affairs and in particular those of the Middle East, Reagan faced much of the same threats as we do today, albeit at a much smaller scope. Just think of the Syria, Russia and Iranian alliance forming now. Hear this from Reagan from his book:

“Under President Hafez el-Assad, Syria had become virtually a Soviet satellite in the Middle East, its army supplied and trained by the Soviets, Russian money, arms, and influence were showing up throughout the region.” Does this all sound familiar? Well it goes further: “During the 1970s and early 1980s, the rapid spread in Iran and elsewhere of the most fanatical varieties of Islamic fundamentalism, with their goal of toppling secular governments and replacing them with theocracies modeled after Iran’s, made the Middle East even more unpredictable, giving the Soviets new opportunities to exploit the instability there. In a region whose oil exports were essential to the West, Soviet meddling was something the United States could not tolerate, and all our presidents since World War II, including me, felt an obligation to help reduce the instability and bring about peace.” It doesn’t seem that we have the same priorities today and have learned little from history. I don’t believe that our present administration even know this history; certainly Vladimir Putin does.

One word concerning our relationship with Israel during Ronald Reagan’s administration is given in this quote from his book: “I’ve believed many things in my life, but no conviction I’ve ever held has been stronger than my belief that the United States must ensure the survival of Israel.” And concerning the Palestinian situation Reagan had a right understanding that, “any long-term solution must require, first of all, that the Arab world acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, and must provide adequate guarantees of Israel’s security and the integrity of its borders.” Do you think that President Reagan would enter into a nuclear deal with the Iranians who vow “death to America” and “death to Israel”? Do you think that Benjamin Netanyahu would be pleased to have President Reagan as a trusted ally?

It would take much writing to give a complete accounting of the life of Ronald Reagan in a review such as this. He appears to have been an honest man with the best interests of others in mind at every stage of his life. As a young man in college, as an actor and president of the actor’s union, as Governor of California and as President of the United States he has made good decisions affecting the lives of those entrusted to him. Of course, I read about the man from his own perspective in his autobiography. There were indeed troubles including the Iran-Contra Affair in which he denied any wrongdoing. I know there was also much on the dark side of his life in which I have been told is chronicled in Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Reagan”. I intend to read Bill’s book soon. But Ronald Reagan’s accomplishments are numerous and very much significant. He made things happen and will be remembered for great achievements. To name a few, he was instrumental in ending the cold war, in his “peace through strength” policy he kept the US safe, he gave momentum to the tearing down of the Berlin wall, he lead in bringing about one of the most effective economic recoveries America has ever experienced and on and on…It would be good for present day leaders to emulate him.

I admire a leader as was Ronald Reagan who acknowledges God, was bold to say he prays to God and loves Jesus Christ. That is refreshing and would be welcomed by many today in spite of the political correctness so pervasive in Washington today. And finally Reagan’s national security advisor, Colin Powell in his last national security briefing commended the outgoing president when he said, “Mr. President, the world is quiet today.”
Profile Image for Brian Katz.
244 reviews9 followers
December 18, 2021
I’ve not read many autobiographies, so this was a chance to learn the story from the person who was the subject itself. I’m glad I did it this way. As I’m certain another author would not have captured what was important to the story from Reagan’s perspective.

The early days were important, to understand his childhood, how he lived and what he learned from an early age. The Hollywood days were very interesting as I did not know just how amerced in Hollywood he was. President of SAG was a big honor and taught him a lot. The California Governor days were also interesting.

His time in the White House was very well documented. His story about the economy and rescuing it from Carter was a lesson for any leader. He accomplished economic success by doing three simple things: (1) reducing government spending, (2) reducing government regulation, and (3) reducing taxes. Simple.

The story he told about he and Gorbachev negotiating the nuclear arms reduction was fascinating. It was clear from the story that a deep personal relationship had been built between these two leaders, which is the reason why they were able to achieve some successes in their negotiations.

A great deal was accomplished by Reagan in just 8 short years and his presidency stands out as a great example of how to lead.
Profile Image for Kevin Findley.
Author 12 books9 followers
May 17, 2018
A solid autobiography, but I do wish President Reagan had used additional sources to show exactly what was going on around him and how the press and his political enemies were shading the truth and even out and out lying.

For the most part, I believe he was being truthful, but when it came to the Middle East, he was bordering on being willfully naïve when it came to dealing with Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. Still, it is a very interesting story, and one that everybody with an interest in the office of the President should read.
February 5, 2015
Ronald Reagan's An American life inspired me with its in depth details of all the challenges President Reagan had to over come. This book will take you through the whole life of this incredible man. You will go through the struggles he had in his teen life. Along with the struggles he had in his presidency. All the while making you feel like all the decisions he had too make, whether being teen or president, one of the most important decisions of his life. I see this as one of the best books I have read, because of how well President Reagan was able to embody the incredibly strenuous job of being President.

The overall theme I would take from this book is that no matter where you start you can become something great if you work as hard as you can. I say this because off with him in a low income family and struggling with money. Often times their dinner would not be considered a dinner by normal standards, along with that his father had an alcohol addiction. You can really see all this happening because his writing style is so detail and realistic. Everything he says is generally very serious. When he finds his dad passed out in front of his house because he was drunk you can see him struggle to help his dad inside and make sure that he is alright. He is also able to make every character so connected to you. When he talks about his high school lover you feel as if you know who she was, and when she left him you felt just as bad as him. Even when you only meet a character for short time you become attached. When he brought his cousin to California to become his assistant you felt like you could see him. When he died I was actually quite sad because President Reagan was helping him out with his addictions and President Reagan was able to make me feel like I was there along with the ride helping him too. He also managed to do the same with settings. When he got his ranch I could see this little ranch at the top of the hill. When he was working for the military in WW2 I could imagine him at his station doing voice overs for films to teach bomber pilots. All of this does not come close to the plot of the story. This is by far the strong point of the story. This is the first book that I had no questions about and kept me compelled to read more. If you want to know about his childhood then you will enjoy this book. You will learn about his first jobs that payed almost nothing. If you want to know about his college years you will also enjoy it. He walks you through the struggles of trying to make the first string of the football team and stay there. If you want to know about his acting career. Again you will love it. You are shown the inner politics of the actors guild and how everything works along with having to fight communism in Hollywood and nearly getting killed by acid. You get to see him have to work through all his B-movies to finally get into the big budget films that he always dreams about being in. If you wanted to know about his difficult presidency then you will be in love with this book. You get to know about all of the domestic and international struggles he had to go through. You get to see him try to struggle with the democrats about trying pass a tax reform. Also you go through the struggles he had with negotiating a peace deal to stop nuclear warheads from being produced in the U.S.A and Russia.

Overall I would give this book a 4.5/5. I would give it this high of a rating because it does everything you want from an autobiography. I was left asking no questions about what happened in his life. Although very few there were shorts bursts of the book that were boring and turned me off. Overall this has been one of my favorite books I have read and would recommend it to anybody who is interested in learning about the life of Ronald Reagan.
Profile Image for Ru.
271 reviews
January 14, 2015
The amazing life and autobiography of Ronald Reagan, detailing eight prosperous years as President of the United States, but also his life from childhood and careers embarked upon long before politics were a glimmer in his eye. The tenure of President Reagan represents some of the most remarkable times of any generation, and as lengthy as this book is, I found myself captivated by this first-person account.

As President Reagan was the oldest president to take office, there tends to be a memory perpetuated of him as this charismatic grandfatherly figure, of weathered appearance, and later afflicted by Alzheimer's disease long after his second term had ended. While these are representations of him, his youth as an athlete in small-town humble beginnings gives you more of the measure of the man to come. He is often remembered as an unlikely actor who was thought to be an even unlikelier candidate for the highest office in the land, but before he was either of those things, he was a sportscaster simply working hard to make a living. You get a strong sense of his work ethic and it was genuinely exciting to follow the rise of this young man.

Once politics enters into this book, it is as relentless as the passion exhibited by Ronald Reagan to become Governor of California. Reagan actually started out his career as a Democrat, which may surprise people, and it wasn't until his examination of Democratic policies and the influence of his older brother did he change his allegiances. As reluctant as Reagan was to embrace politics, officially, at first, he takes the bull by the horns to enact changes he believes in that are for the betterment of his constituency.

Family plays a strong role in Reagan's life, and his devotion to Nancy is beautiful and admirable. Strangely, his first marriage to Jane Wyman is barely mentioned by him - no more than a sentence, I believe, despite producing two children. I believe President Reagan remains the only man to hold that office as a divorcee, if I'm not mistaken. Regardless, it is comforting to hear him discuss his family and the bond they all share as his incredible career unfolds.

Two areas of this autobiography gripped me like something out of a spy thriller. The first being the 1981 attempted assassination by the deranged John Hinckley Jr. I recall fairly vividly the news accounts of this occurring, but to actually read in his own words what it was like was positively chilling. Reagan's relationship with the Soviet Union is also fascinating, particularly as it pertains to nuclear disarmament, and programs such as the Strategic Defense Initiative, a.k.a. the "Star Wars" program. The Cold War was in full swing during the Reagan Presidency and there are so many great letters exchanged between Reagan, and Andropov and Gorbachev. There is a palpable sense of frustration on the part of all leaders.

President Reagan, essentially, defeated Communism. "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" will never, ever be forgotten. Reagan in his own words in this book represents a form of outstanding leadership the likes of which has never been seen since he left office, and is particularly relevant today, in lieu of the utter lack of leadership and questionable motives of the current administration. Furthermore, this book is a terrific lesson in leadership in general. President Reagan has a tenacity and admirable fervor that allowed him to get things done. While this is largely a treatise on the life and politics of the 40th President of the United States, it is so much more than that overall, and is more of the measure of a great man. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Panda Incognito.
2,897 reviews53 followers
October 9, 2019
It's not every day that you reach the end of a 752-page book assigned for school and think, "I don't want this to end!" However, that is exactly how I felt when I hit the epilogue of this presidential autobiography.

This book is incredibly entertaining, and even though it covers a lot of political and social issues in great depth and with appropriate seriousness, I laughed out loud countless times because of Reagan's shining personality and humor. He shares lots of hilarious anecdotes from his life, covering the types of details that no academic biographer would ever bother to include, and I have added a wealth of new historical stories to my repertoire. Recently, I had my whole family in stitches as I talked about how in one chapter, Reagan transitions directly from reflections about the first summit with Gorbachev to an anecdote about the death of a goldfish that he was responsible for feeding at the house where he was staying.

"The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES was responsible for feeding their goldfish?!" my mom cried.

"Yes! And he was like, 'I don't know if I fed it too much, or if I fed it too little, but it died on my watch, and I felt terrible!'"

During my class, in addition to reading this, I also read selected chapters from scholarly works that complemented it and provided an academic perspective on the different stages and issues of Reagan's political career. They were great sources, and they went to show how accurate Reagan was in his portrayals of events, but none of them would have ever mentioned the goldfish! I LOVED getting to read Reagan's personal, entertaining take on his life and presidency, and now understand why people of my parents' generation still love him so much. Sure, he had his faults and tripled the federal deficit, but he was basically the equivalent of a Fred Rogers in the White House. This book puts all of his charm, humor, humility, and kindness on display, and it also serves to fact-check the obnoxious myths that circulate about him.

For example, even though Reagan was sometimes tone-deaf to racial issues, he assigned more blacks and Hispanics to significant positions during his tenure as California's governor than all of the state's previous governors combined, and also promoted women's careers. Soundbite histories that try to paint Reagan as a horrible Eighties White Male don't bother to mention these things, and it was interesting to learn that despite Reagan's occasional policy missteps, he cared passionately about racial equality and was raised to believe that racial and religious prejudice were the worst sins someone could commit. The further I got into this book, the more disgusted I became with narrative-over-facts assessments of Reagan's presidency that I have come across in the past several years. This is why I'm a history major! I don't trust people to represent the past accurately, so I study it myself.

This book is one of my favorites that I have read this year, and I am very glad that I decided to take the history elective that required it. Even though this book requires a significant time commitment, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in studying this period of American history or shares my affection for hilarious historical anecdotes.
Profile Image for Kerry.
677 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2013
This was a great book. As one might imagine, it was A LOT of politics. I've read at least one biography before on Reagan, but have wanted to read his autobiography for a long time and glad I finally did. It's 85 chapters and 726 pages and most of it is politics, so not necessarily a "pool side" read. But I found it fascinating. The focus of the book is much more regarding politics than his personal life and I would have liked him to recount a little more on his personal life. Nevertheless, it was so insightful to read so much of his communication with Gorbachev during the Cold War and such. Here are a few excerpts that I loved:

"There probably isn't any undertaking on earth short of assuring the national security that can't be handled more efficiently by the forces of private enterprise than by the federal government."

In regards to Nancy... "If ever God gave me evidence that He had a plan for me, it was the night He brought Nanacy into my life. I have spent many hours of my life giving speeches and expressing my opinions. But it is almost impossible for me to express fully how deeply I love Nancy and how much she has filled my life....Coming home to her is like coming out of the cold into a warm, firelit room. I miss her if she just steps out of the room."

In regards to socialized medicine.... (and he said this when he was still a registered Democrat) "When a lot of the nation's most prominent Democrats got behind socialized medicine, I started speaking out against it. If we didn't head it off, I said, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like when men were free."

"Spending for government "entitlement" programs accounts for 48% of federal spending. To many members of Congress, this money is off-limits forever: Once a program gets started, it's virtually impossible to reduce or stop it. Every one of these programs develops a powerful constituency in Congress, and a bureaucracy that is dedicated to preserving it. The tendency of government and its programs to grow are about the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth."

And finally.... he outlines 3 things he feels most strongly about for our government to be successful. 1) "We need more discipline on spending in Congress. 2) We need a constitutional amendment REQUIRING Congress to balance the budget. And 3) we need to give our presidents a line-item veto in order to cut unnecessary spending. He also said that Congressional redistricting (which is done to basically secure the re-election of a particular Congressman/woman) "has becomes a national disgrace and needs to be cleaned up."

Anyway, I learned a ton and would highly recommend this book. Wish we had a President like him today....

Profile Image for Jim Bowen.
801 reviews8 followers
February 7, 2022
I grew up in the 1980s. My teenage years cover most of Reagan's presidency, and I was brought up in a family that was instinctively against Reagan's agenda.

This said, I actually enjoyed the book. It looks at all aspects of this life (with a good chunk focusing on his pre-Presidential life, which was quite interesting), and after I read the book, I can see why they called Reagan the "Great Communicator." In short, the book was an interesting read.

Having said I found it a good read, It didn't necessarily change my view of Reagan's policies. I found myself thinking "Ah yes but have you thought about..." a fair bit, but he was more effective at explaining his views (compared to a lot of other politicians I've read in their autobiographies), which suggests I have have underestimated the man.

One thing Reagan did get me to think about, as I read the book, was the need to invest in the military. I'm aware there's a military-industrial complex, but the way his predecessors as President funded the armed forces, and the consequent level of morale made me think I'd have been a more "war-hawk" President, had I been in his position.

My biggest complaints about the book focus on his avoidance of Iran-Contra affair, which could have been handled more fully, and his insistence on the need for a "Balanced Budget" amendment to the constitution. The former made me feel like he was unwilling to take the blame for things, while the latter is just wrong economically. A little bit of debt to fund things that help the economy grow are effective, and have been proven to be so, time and again. That he doesn't acknowledge this, makes me wonder if Reagan really grasps that issue.
Profile Image for Phillip.
410 reviews6 followers
November 29, 2015
This "autobiograpy" was both telling and challenging - for one, given what we now know about President Reagan's "health" following his presidency, I have a hard time believing he wrote much of it, or how helpful he was in its creation. There are several moments throughout the book where the author strains to color the president's history, whether in his childhood, Hollywood career, or life in politics, with a political point that seems unnecessary -- Reagan's accomplishments speak for themselves, any "lampshading" of an ideological point often detracts from it. However, the doesn't happen often enough to be distracting -- this tome does a great job of exploring all points of the president's life, devoting about 3/4ths of the book to his two terms in the White House. The book begins in a chronological telling, but once it hits the White House, it begins to skip into a thematic telling, which was jarring -- especially given the resignations of Cabinet officials, it's weird for them to pop up in the next chapter. Also, I think there are "blindsides" to this telling -- the most gross example is that Jane Wyman is LITERALLY given two sentences in this book. If you skip your entire first marriage, what else are you skipping? So all in all, I like other Reagan books, but you will certainly learn new things with this one -- including letters from the various Soviet leaders of the 1980s.
265 reviews
April 12, 2020
Written shortly after the end of his presidency, Ronald Reagan tells the story of his life before and during it. Forget what the pundits have said; Reagan tells how things were for him and what his family and political views were really like, and he explodes a lot of myths about himself.

His father was an alcoholic but not a bum; Ronald had a poor childhood but not more miserable than most peoples'. He was strong and athletic, a necessity for him to keep working to survive, and he talks about his hardships and political education during the Great Depression, as well as what his family went through, and what he dreamed of and how he had to change his goals as necessity demanded. He mentions his ten-year marriage to Jane Wyman and its surprise breakup (nothing to do with politics), his romance with Nancy, and how his political views changed as he saw how government actually worked (not always well) and how Soviet infiltration in America was no paranoid myth.

His movie career declining (partly because of his having been head of the Screen Actors' Guild), he moved to television, and decided (at first reluctantly) to become governor of California, and his path to becoming elected President. He describes how he interacted both with Congress and other nations and why he made the decisions he made, and is not shy about admitting his failures as well as his successes. No ego trip this, just straight talk.
Profile Image for Jeri Vick.
86 reviews2 followers
August 16, 2016
I picked up this book while joining my son's class field trip to the Reagan Library, I believe that the sorry state of U.S. politics prompted me to read this and yearn for a time that was filled with hope and promise.

Although his story is a remarkable one set at a pivotal moment in modern history, autobiographies tend to ask the reader to overlook amateur writing in favor of catching a glimpse into the mind of an interesting person. The latter made 726 pages tough to get through, but some may enjoy the very intimate view he offers into his life story.

I was most struck by how many themes and challenges remain so in 2016. Threats of terrorism, immigration & trade issues, taxes & entitlements, etc. In many respects, the conversation was incredibly similar, but with a leader who genuinely believed in and loved his country. I wish we had such an option today. Perhaps the words of Imagine Dragons sum it up best.

"And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You've been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?"
-Pompeii Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Maybe I'll keep 'em closed until 2020.
Profile Image for Amelia.
7 reviews
April 2, 2017
"A lot has been written about college students and other young people who rebelled against society during the 1960s. But there was another, quieter revolution sweeping across the land during the same decade. It was a rebellion of ordinary people. A generation of middle-class Americans who had worked hard to make something of their lives was growing mistrustful of a government that took an average of thirty-seven cents of every dollar they earned and still plunged deeper into debt every day. There was a growing sense of helplessness and frustration across the country over a government that was becoming a separate force of its own, a master of the people, not the other way around. People were growing resentful of bureaucrats whose first mission in life seemed to be protecting their own jobs by keeping expensive programs alive long after their usefulness had expired. They were losing respect for politicians who kept voting for open-ended welfare programs riddled with fraud and inefficiency that kept generation after generation of families dependent on the dole. And they were growing mistrustful of the self-appointed intellectual elite back in Washington who claimed to know better than the people of America did how to run their lives, their businesses, and their communities. There was unrest in the country and it was spreading across the land like a prairie fire." Pos. 2257
Profile Image for Brian.
296 reviews6 followers
June 24, 2014
This was a terrific book, and one that came very close to 5 stars. Why? While the first third of the book was a customary "introduction" to Ronald Reagan, the last third of the book was a fascinating discourse of foreign policy with failures - Iran/Contra, and successes - ending the cold war.

Reagan's defense of his Iran/Contra policy as not trading guns for hostages rings hollow, but his continued defense of his strategy as sound is fascinating to read. His admittance of continuing to pursue the policy even against his staff's recommendations is pure political drama and stubbornness.

Likewise his dealings with the Soviet Union leadership was fascinating and his single minded approach of dealing with the Soviets with strength is the key factor to ending the cold war. The exchanges documented between him and Gorbachev are stuff of legend and fascinating to read.

On second thought, I'm giving this 5 stars, a book that describes the monumental shift in geopolitics in the 80s through correspondence with the main parties involved is a great read.
Profile Image for Bekah.
46 reviews
November 23, 2015
Although this book took me WAY longer than necessary to finish I throughly enjoyed this autobiography by President Regan. I agree that at times I struggled with a lot of the political details and his reasoning behind the different laws and political movements that Regan did during his office-and with all the names of his staff it was kind of hard to keep everyone straight; however, it was such a great eye opener into the life of this president. It is the first presidential autobiography that I have read and I hope to read more the future. What I truly loved about this book was the passion, love, and dedication that President Regan had for this country was clearly shown through his writing. He really really loved this country and he loved the people who live here. Loved the personal stories that he wrote about and there was quit a few humous stories as well. And I love the way he ended the book referring to his work not being completely over yet. That is a true president.
94 reviews
August 23, 2011
I may disagree with much of what he did, but when looked at in a modern light other than his policies on many social issues Reagan is a solid pragmatist and bears more similarities to modern democrats than to modern republicans. His attitude of the 9-5 rivalry is absolutely excellent to read about, and it is interesting to hear why he did many of the things that he did. It was particularly amusing to read his own words about the debt ceiling during a time when the US was struggling with the same issues he had! His statement that the debt ceiling had to be raised, and that anyone who said otherwise was simply a fool playing for their own political gain was what I'd have liked to have heard from Obama early on in the crisis.

A book by a man I disagree with about many things, but whose attitude and ability to compromise I can respect. He also lived a very interesting life.
Profile Image for Shelley.
1,147 reviews
January 10, 2012
After doing lots of family history, it felt a little weird to read about someone not related to me. The section where he's just starting to get politically active is fascinating.

I would recommend the first half of this book to any American, especially those who weren't adults during the 80's. There were some fascinating facts about the state of our government and economy. It also made me appreciate how hard it would be to be President of the United States. I don't see how anyone could be prepared or qualified to do a job as varied and as important as this one.
The second half of the book is pretty boring for someone not terribly interested in Iran Contra or nuclear arms reduction. It was still informative, but not exactly a page-turner.
Profile Image for George.
1,493 reviews6 followers
January 18, 2016
Reagan's autobiography reads a little like his journals, its just cleaned up a little and moves pretty fast. Written just after he left the White House, there are a few glaring omissions--his movie career is glossed over, including the wild child portion, the first wife isn't even mentioned and his kids receive no coverage. So, this is mostly about his political career and the reader can understand it's the man seeking his legacy. He does talk about his successes and political failures and spends a lot of time on Russia and little on Iran-Contra. Good primer on the political man and nicely supplemented a visit to the Reagan Library and Museum.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 180 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.