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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Book Review- The Reagan I Knew

David Pitt at Booklist tackles William F. Buckley's last book, The Reagan I Knew.
Buckley’s final book—he died while writing it—is quite deceptive. It appears to be a slight, even inconsequential chronicle of the author’s long friendship with Ronald Reagan, told through correspondence between the two men and also between the author and Reagan’s wife, Nancy. The correspondence, which spans the period 1965–98 (with one final letter, written in 2005), seems on the surface to be concerned almost entirely with mundane matters: thank-you letters written after a get-together, apologies for missed birthdays, etc. But look beneath the surface, and you’ll find a revealing portrait of two men: Reagan, a driven political contender who never gave up his decency or his sense of family, and Buckley, a tireless Reagan booster who used his many public forums to promote Reagan’s political agenda. It is also deeply fascinating to observe these two friends disagree vehemently over issues of great political import—for example, the future of the Panama Canal treaties—but they do so with civility and respect. That may have been one of Reagan’s greatest gifts: his ability to separate political and personal matters, to disagree with someone while remaining respectful and friendly. It would be easy, if you were skimming this book, to miss most of its subtleties. But it is, in truth, a deeply subtle account, full of insights not only into Ronald Reagan but also into William Buckley, his longtime friend, supporter, and (occasional) critic.
Publisher's Weekly provides a less positive review of the audio edition.
Buckley worked on this book—commemorating his 30-relationship with Ronald Reagan—up to his final days. He struggles to paint a picture of a more private Reagan, but the book sheds little fresh insight; instead, it is a scattershot compilation of Buckley's reminiscences and reprinted correspondence between the author and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Malcolm Hillgartner performs a good balancing act, shifting from the essays to the letters with subtle changes that clearly indicate whose letter is being read. His most impressive feat is creating a clear yet subdued voice within the reading to indicate when footnotes or asides for clarification are being made.

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