An American Life: The Autobiography
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Ronald Reagan’s autobiography is a work of major historical importance. Here, in his own words, is the story of his life—public and private—told in a book both frank and compellingly readable.
Few presidents have accomplished more, or been so effective in changing the direction of government in ways that are both fundamental and lasting, than Ronald Reagan. Certainly no president has more dramatically raised the American spirit, or done so much to restore national strength and self-confidence.
Here, then, is a truly American success story—a great and inspiring one. From modest beginnings as the son of a shoe salesman in Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Reagan achieved first a distinguished career in Hollywood and then, as governor of California and as president of the most powerful nation in the world, a career of public service unique in our history.
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.
With absolute authority and a keen eye for the details and the anecdotes that humanize history, Ronald Reagan takes the reader behind the scenes of his extraordinary career, from his first political experiences as president of the Screen Actors Guild (including his first meeting with a beautiful young actress who was later to become Nancy Reagan) to such high points of his presidency as the November 1985 Geneva meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, during which Reagan invited the Soviet leader outside for a breath of fresh air and then took him off for a walk and a man-to-man chat, without aides, that set the course for arms reduction and charted the end of the Cold War.
Here he reveals what went on behind his decision to enter politics and run for the governorship of California, the speech nominating Barry Goldwater that first made Reagan a national political figure, his race for the presidency, his relations with the members of his own cabinet, and his frustrations with Congress.
He gives us the details of the great themes and dramatic crises of his eight years in office, from Lebanon to Grenada, from the struggle to achieve arms control to tax reform, from Iran-Contra to the visits abroad that did so much to reestablish the United States in the eyes of the world as a friendly and peaceful power. His narrative is full of insights, from the unseen dangers of Gorbachev’s first visit to the United States to Reagan’s own personal correspondence with major foreign leaders, as well as his innermost feelings about life in the White House, the assassination attempt, his family—and the enduring love between himself and Mrs. Reagan.
An American Life is a warm, richly detailed, and deeply human book, a brilliant self-portrait, a significant work of history.
Nancy and I made trips overseas that left us with memories that will never leave us. In the spring of 1984 it was China. Subsequent events in Tiananmen Square have tempered the enthusiasm generated in us by that trip, but when we went there during that beautiful spring, it seemed events were occurring in China and Poland that were heralding the demise of Communism. In March of that year, Treasury Secretary Don Regan had come back from a trip to Beijing with an intriguing report: The People’s
don’t mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other.’ It’s fine that the two of us and our people are talking about arms reductions, but isn’t it also important that you and I should be talking about how we could reduce the mistrust between us?” In the preceding months I’d thought many times about this first meeting with Gorbachev. Nothing was more important to mankind than assuring its survival and the survival of our planet. Yet for forty years nuclear
was at stake. After appealing to the American people to tell their congressmen they were behind the military modernization program, I revealed my dream for the Strategic Defense Initiative: Let me share with you a vision of the future which offers hope. It is that we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we
working together to widen it. A stream cannot be slowed down, it can only be blocked or diverted. But that would not be in our interests. Politics, of course, is the art of the possible. But it is only by working and maintaining a dynamic dialogue that we will put into effect what we have made possible, and will make possible tomorrow what is yet impossible today. Sincerely, Mikhail Gorbachev September 20, 1988 A year later, Gorbachev announced that the Krasnoyarsk radar station would be
As we drove up Pennsylvania Avenue, the limousine was very quiet. The president and I were seated side by side. Although he was polite, he said hardly a word to me as we moved slowly toward the Capitol, and I think he hesitated to look me in the face. Perhaps he felt drained after having been up most of the previous night trying to complete negotiations to free the hostages in Iran. Whatever the reason, the atmosphere in the limousine was as chilly as it had been at the White House a few days