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From master storyteller and New York Times bestselling biographer H. W. Brands, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, comes the first full life of Ronald Reagan since his death.

Ronald Reagan today is a conservative icon, celebrated for transforming the American domestic agenda and playing a crucial part in ending communism in the Soviet Union. In his masterful new biography, H. W. Brands argues that Reagan, along with FDR, was the most consequential president of the twentieth century. Reagan took office at a time when the public sector, after a half century of New Deal liberalism, was widely perceived as bloated and inefficient, an impediment to personal liberty. Reagan sought to restore democracy by bolstering capitalism. In Brands’s telling, how Reagan, who voted four times for FDR, engineered a conservative transformation of American politics is both a riveting personal journey and the story of America in the modern era.

Brands follows Reagan as his ambition for ever larger stages compelled him from a troubled childhood in small-town Illinois to become a radio announcer and then the quintessential public figure of modern America, a movie star. In Hollywood, Reagan edged closer to public service as the president of the Screen Actors’ Guild, before a stalled film career led to his unlikely reinvention as the voice of General Electric and a spokesman for corporate America. Reagan follows its subject on his improbable political rise, from the 1960s, when he was first elected governor of California, to his triumphant election in 1980 as president of the United States. Brands employs archival sources not available to previous biographers and dozens of interviews with surviving members of the administration.

The result is an exciting narrative and a fresh understanding of a crucially important president and his era.

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Quotes & Awards

  • No one loved a good story better than Ronald Reagan. His own story—synonymous with the American Century and reflected in his political evolution from New Deal Democrat to Washington-phobic conservative—has never been told better. Studded with fresh insights, empathetic and yet constructively critical, it may well be H. W. Brands’s finest book. Certainly it confirms Reagan’s place as the conservative FDR, a transforming leader whose influence on his country’s politics and governance is arguably greater than the day he left the White House. Richard Norton Smith, author of On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller
  • National treasure H. W. Brands, who gave us the definitive single-volume biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, completes his biographical tour d'horizon of twentieth-century politics with this superb life of Ronald Reagan. In doing so, Brands tracks the paths we wandered through the depression and the Second World War, the battle against communism, and the conservative revolution. How did we get to today’s angry, polarized nation? Read Brands’s life of Reagan, and find out. John A. Farrell, author of Clarence Darrow and Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century
  • Brands is an immensely talented writer ... [Reagan] is a pleasurable read. The Daily Beast 
  • “H. W. Brands has produced an extraordinary body of historical and biographical works. This is his masterpiece.”

    Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

  • H.W. Brands’ new biography tells the [Reagan] story as well as you could ask for in a single volume. A lucid and witty writer, Mr. Brands lays out the facts in short chapters that bounce along like one of the ‘bare-fisted walloping action’ films that Reagan once starred in. He has a talent for letting his sources speak for themselves ... Illuminating. Mr. Brands recounts Reagan’s triumphs and the scandals even-handedly. The Economist
  • Reagan is an engaging study of a man who Brands says defeated Soviet communism and achieved a halfway economic revolution. Drawing on Reagan’s diary, speeches, statements, letters and memoirs, and on interviews with the president’s aides, Brands tells a briskly paced story ... Reagan’s legacy continues to fuel the ideas and frame the choices facing his would-be successors, and this astute biography is further evidence that the 40th president continues to cast a long shadow over a still largely conservative political order. Washington Post
  • Brands is the rare academic historian who can write like a best-selling novelist. Through meticulous research, he recreates decades-old dialogue and puts the reader inside the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room and the house in Reykjavík, Iceland where Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev debated the fate of the world and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War. USA Today
  • Superb ... it is hard to imagine a biography of Ronald Reagan that could be more thorough, evenhanded and insightful. Dallas Morning News
  • A lively and lucid narrative of the life of America’s 40th president ... Brands is surely right that Reagan was the most persuasive political communicator since Roosevelt. San Francisco Chronicle 
  • Brands’ judicious biography of Ronald Reagan is as much about the art of governing as about the man himself ... Reagan emerges as a great but terribly flawed president who managed to reorient government priorities after the exhaustion of liberal administrations and ideas, but one who also burdened the country with enormous debts that his successors had to pay down. Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • Brands' work draws richly from Reagan's presidential diaries and other recently released sources that earlier biographers couldn't tap ... His history of the important meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is detailed and balanced, with the views of both sides given equal weight. These chapters are Brands' best writing, reinforcing the significance of those arms-reduction efforts and both men's insistence on ending the threat of nuclear weapons. Philadelphia Inquirer 
  • Brands’ book stands out in the canon of works on Reagan ... With an expert’s talent for synthesizing earlier works, access to previously unavailable sources and new interviews, Brands creates a riveting narrative. His prose flows as smoothly as his subject’s speeches, and his insights provide a fresh look at a transformative president that celebrates his accomplishments but never ignores his blunders. A brilliant example of the biographer’s craft, Reagan deftly and boldly provides a balanced portrait of a man whose personality remains elusive but whose legacy continues to resonate. Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • Readers will be greatly attracted to Brands' skills as a narrative historian ... [he] delivers high drama in treating Reagan's handling of diplomatic affairs, tensions with the press corps and squabbles with Congress. Few American historians and biographers can compete with Brands as a powerful historical storyteller. Make no mistake, this is a first-rate presidential biography ... The definitive biography of Reagan. The Oregonian
  • A keenly researched book, filled with fascinating stories about a young man who escaped Illinois and an alcoholic father to pursue a dream of fame in Hollywood, eventually playing the role of his life as the leader of the free world. Tampa Bay Times
  • Monumental life of the president whom some worship and some despise—with Brands providing plenty of justification for both reactions ... An exemplary work of history. Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • A superb biographer writing at the top of his game has found the perfect subject for his narrative skills and profound understanding of the American presidency. Over the years H. W. Brands has produced an extraordinary body of historical and biographical works. This is his masterpiece. Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Bully Pulpit  
  • With characteristic skill and insight, H. W. Brands has painted a compelling portrait of a ubiquitous yet still-misunderstood American. From the Midwest to Hollywood to the pinnacle of power, Reagan was at once enigmatic and effective. Read this great new book to see why. Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson
  • A superb American historian has brought us a fascinating, judicious, original, and concise biography of one of the most important presidents in American history. It is impossible to understand the late twentieth century without understanding Ronald Reagan, and H. W. Brands here addresses an impressive range of the key mysteries of the fortieth president's epoch and life. Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage
     
  • Ronald Reagan understood what was best about America, and expected the best for it—which is why he led it so successfully. In Reagan, H. W. Brands expresses, with deep, deft, strokes, what will become the accepted view of a great man. Richard Brookhiser, author of Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln
  • “With characteristic skill and insight, H. W. Brands has painted a compelling portrait of a ubiquitous yet still-misunderstood American.”

    Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author

  • “The first major look at the fortieth president since his death in 2004…Effectively reveals the man without strained armchair psychology.”

    AARP, The Magazine

  • “Puts the reader inside the Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, and the house in Reykjavík, Iceland, where Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev debated the fate of the world and laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War.”

    USA Today

  • “A lucid and witty writer, Mr. Brands…has a talent for letting his sources speak for themselves…[and] recounts Reagan’s triumphs and the scandals evenhandedly.”

    Economist

  • “Brands tells a briskly paced story…This astute biography is further evidence that the fortieth president continues to cast a long shadow over a still largely conservative political order.”

    Washington Post

  • “Thorough, evenhanded, and insightful.”

    Dallas Morning News

  • “[A] monumental life of the president whom some worship and some despise—with Brands providing plenty of justification for both reactions…An exemplary work of history.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “A superb American historian has brought us a fascinating, judicious, original, and concise biography of one of the most important presidents in American history.”

    Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage

  • “Ronald Reagan understood what was best about America, and expected the best for it—which is why he led it so successfully. In Reagan, H. W. Brands expresses, with deep, deft strokes, what will become the accepted view of a great man.”

    Richard Brookhiser, author of Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln

  • “Studded with fresh insights, empathetic and yet constructively critical, it may well be H. W. Brands’s finest book. Certainly it confirms Reagan’s place as the conservative FDR, a transforming leader whose influence on his country’s politics and governance is arguably greater than the day he left the White House.”

    Richard Norton Smith, author of On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller

  • “National treasure H. W. Brands…completes his biographical tour d’horizon of twentieth-century politics with this superb life of Ronald Reagan.…How did we get to today’s angry, polarized nation? Read Brands’s life of Reagan, and find out.”

    John A. Farrell, author of Clarence Darrow

  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • An AARP Magazine Editors’ Pick for June 2015
  • A Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015 for Nonfiction
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