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Reagan: A Life in Letters


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Kiron Skinner is an assistant professor of history and political science at Carnegie Mellon University. Her articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Annelise Anderson was an advisor to Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign and associate director of the Budget Office, 1981-1983. Martin Anderson served as a special assistant under Richard Nixon and as chief domestic and economic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan.


Hoover Institution fellows Skinner and the Andersons (all editors of the bestselling Reagan, n His Own Hand) use a carefully arranged and astutely annotated sampling from Reagan's lifetime of correspondence to narrate the arc of "the great communicator" 's life. Always charming, always unassuming, always genuine, Reagan's letters tell the story of his family, his health, his Hollywood and political careers, and his evolution as a political thinker with an authority (and a charm) no other documents can. Reagan regularly corresponded with friends, movie business colleagues, fellow politicians and conservative allies, as well as with simple fans. To William Buckley in 1984: "the Middle East is a complicated place-well not really a place, it's more a state of mind." To Mickey Rooney, from the Oval Office, in 1985: "I'll bet you don't remember the first time we met. The year was 1937... I was new in Hollywood living in the Montecito apartments. Someone had run over a dog in the street outside. You came in to look for a phone book so you could find the nearest veterinarian and take the dog.... I figured this had to be a nice guy." The book includes more than 1,000 letters (some to unknowns, others to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, George Bush Sr., Dr. Spock, Joseph Coors, Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher), fewer than 25 of them previously published. Taken together, they provide remarkable and otherwise unobtainable insight into a singularly important and fascinating American life: "Dutch" up close and personal. (Sept. 23) Forecast: This is a potential bestseller, along with the shorter Dear Americans: Letters from the Desk of Ronald Reagan (Forecasts, Aug. 11). Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

As additional material in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library becomes available, it is likely that many books claiming to present the "real" man will be published. But few things reveal more about an individual's thoughts, values, and character than his letters, and Ronald Reagan wrote more than 10,000, some as short as a single paragraph, others as long as several pages. Thousands are printed in these two books, many for the first time. Both communicate the former President's delight at having the opportunity to correspond with people from all walks of life, as well as demonstrate the same humor, optimism, and concern for people's feelings that the public saw on a daily basis. Close readings also expose Reagan's sometimes simplistic understanding and selective memory of significant domestic and foreign policy issues. For Reagan, the larger as well as the stronger collection, Skinner, Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson (editors, Reagan, In His Own Hand: The Writings of Ronald Reagan) arranged more than 1000 letters topically with headings such as "Home and Family," "Governorship," "Economic Policy," "Core Beliefs," and "Foreign Leaders." Most letters are accompanied by brief notes that place the letter in context, and several are footnoted. Spelling errors are retained. [Conservative Book Club main selection.] Weber (military history, emeritus, Marquette Univ.) has organized Dear Americans chronologically and includes only personally handwritten letters to constituents during Reagan's eight years in office. Brief introductory notes identifying the recipient and the purpose of the letter precede most of the correspondence. Misspellings have been corrected. Reagan is recommended for all libraries, while Dear Americans for libraries with limited budgets.-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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