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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Life Through Letters, 20 Dec 2012
T. T. Rogers - See all my reviews
The letter is a declining medium. That's sad. Although I think the digital world is a great boon to humanity, most of us would readily concede that e-mail, skype and instant message are no substitute for a handwritten letter. The dying craft of letter-writing is perhaps all the more important today as we submit to the strictly utilitarian modes and values around us, arguably sacrificing personal warmth and quiet feeling for a simulacrum in which interaction is reduced to considerations of convenience and utility.

In this volume, the letters of Ronald Reagan are collected and presented thematically, covering the full spectrum of Reagan's life: personal relationships, politics and electioneering, government matters - and, interestingly, pen pals: including a school boy, Ruddy Hines, who Reagan corresponded with regularly during his presidential term. Whatever one might think about Reagan the politician, this is a pleasant and informative read. In his personal correspondence, Reagan presents as, variously, a good-natured, inquisitive boy, a vivacious social climber, an earnest and sincere ideologue, a concerned citizen, and a pleasant grandfatherly figure. There are no poison pen letters, as such, though there are kindly remonstrations and paternal rebukes. The editor has done a good job in putting this together while allowing Reagan to take centre-stage. There is a well-written narrative introducing each section, copious notes and referencing, an index of letters and a list of sources and collections; there is a general index at the back, and the footnotes throughout the book are excellent.

Unfortunately my praise for the editor is not unalloyed. An important aspect of Reagan's early life is not covered adequately. In a way, Reagan's early political career was as important as his later service, successively, as a state governor then President. He was once a Democrat and identified himself with the liberal New Deal wing of that party.

It is the editor's role that is crucial. It is made clear in the introduction that there are some 5,000 letters in the archive. It would be churlish to pretend that any conscientious editor could possibly give a fully-accurate representation of Reagan at all stages of his life. A certain amount of bias and selectivity on the part of the editor is inevitably going to enter the picture. Nevertheless, all the evidence suggests that Reagan was a frequent and enthusiastic letter-writer throughout his life, and so I do find it odd that arguably the juiciest period of Reagan's career - the late 1940s and early 1950s - has, in effect, been whitewashed. There is a clear editorial preference here towards the more reflective letters of Reagan's late life: particularly the late 1970s and early 1980s when he was President and looking back on these episodes. Of course, it's important we read and know what Reagan thought by then, but what I really wanted to read were the words of the young man looking forwards.

Is this selectivity a clever means of concealing a deeper bias, or is it just a reflection of research issues? Whatever, it just goes to show the potential power of the quiet, unassuming archivist. We do not really gain a full appraisal here of Reagan in his formative political years writing as a Democrat, nor do we see how the Dutch Reagan of the Depression became a liberal Hollywood actor, nor how he metamorphosed into a sort of conservative, first nominally Democrat, then Republican. Of course, the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' have to be used advisedly here: in a real sense, Reagan faced both ways and was always a conservative and always a liberal, both at the same time - but a liberal in the more traditional sense.

If you are going to buy this, I recommend the hardback edition. It's beautifully put together and seems durable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reagan: A Life in Letters, 16 Sep 2011
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I've had the printed edition of this for several years (since soon after it was published), but recently purchased the Kindle edition as well. It's one of those books that can be picked up and dipped into from time to time. I really enjoy reading it in snippets and whilst I am in the mood, and expect I will continue to do this for many, many years. Reagan wrote in a refreshing, open way and always wrote in proper sentences. On one of my first visits to the US in the early 1980s I was lucky enough to have visited his childhood home in Dixon, Illinois, soon after he became President - he has certainly been one of the best (and probably in fact the best) US Presidents of my lifetime. Having it on Kindle means I never have to be without it, even when travelling - the printed edition is one of three or four books which are more or less permanently at my bedside.
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Reagan: A Life in Letters
Reagan: A Life in Letters by Martin Anderson (Hardcover - 20 Oct 2003)
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