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In 1987, Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and said, “General Secretary Gorbechev, if you seek peace, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Tear down this wall.” Soon after that, the wall came tumbling down, and the regime that Reagan called the “Evil Empire” was no more.
Looking back, we now recognize the 1980s as a remarkable decade: one that saw the spread of freedom and democracy around the world, the revival of the American economy, and the restoration of national spirit and pride after years of indefinable malaise.
Yet, oddly, the man who occupied the white house is not credited with the changes that occurred during those tumultuous years. His critics and even many of his aides and allies are reluctant to celebrate Reagan as a great president.
It’s not hard to see why. He was a most unusual leader: a former actor who seemed disengaged from the daily operations of government. He was said to nap at cabinet meetings. he spent much of his time telling stories and cracking jokes, sometimes reinforcing critics’ perceptions. “The doctors say hard work never killed anyone,” Reagan once observed, “but why take the chance?”
How, then, can we square Reagan the man with the astonishing events of the Reagan era? The mystery of Reagan is best summarized in the remark that National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane made to Secretary of State George Schultz: “He knows so little, and accomplishes so much.”
In Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader, Dinesh D’Souza solves the mystery of Reagan by showing how this “ordinary” man was able to transform the political landscape in a way that made a permanent impact on America and the world. Through firsthand reporting and interviews, D’Souza portrays the private side of Reagan—the man behind the mask—and reveals the moral sources of his vision and leadership.
Indeed, D’Souza argues that Reagan deserves to be considered one of the most important presidents in American history and, with Franklin Roosevelt, one of the two most influential of the 20th centry. He concludes that, if Reagan does not fit our preconceptions of what makes a great leader, then we must rethink our understanding of both greatness and leadership.
Move over, President Clinton, and make room for a real leader! Wake up, fellow Republicans and conservatives! D’Souza has given us an unforgettable portrait of Reagan the man, and an exposé of his critics from which they will never recover. It is moving, hilarious and insightful at the same time. Most important, it reveals what we can all learn from Reagan’s successful leadership. This is the book we’ve been waiting for.
This shrewd and provocative book, by one of conservatism’s stars, makes a powerful argument for the greatness of Reagan. It’s also a meditation on the nature of leadership, and whether our definition is big enough to encompass the gifts of the young midwestern lifeguard who went on to tear down a wall and rebuild an economy. This is not just a contribution to the debate; it is a book that will kick off the debate. And about time.
—PEGGY NOONAN, author of What I Saw at the Revolution
Paperback. 292 pages.
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