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The Reagan I Knew

Publisher: Basic Books • 2008 • 312 pages
4.4 out of 5 • View Ratings Details • 10 Ratings

It is fitting, perhaps, that when William F. Buckley Jr. was struck down at his desk in February 2008 he was putting the finishing touches on this memoir of Ronald Reagan. No two men were more important to the rise and triumph of conservatism in America than Buckley and Reagan; and though each was a titan in his own right, neither could have stood as tall without the other. Each, too, had a great capacity for humor, conversation, and most of all lasting and loyal friendship.

“The Reagan I Knew,” then, is much more than a memoir, more than a political biography — it is a highly personal, often hilarious, and finally deeply moving chronicle of the friendship between the two great figures of the modern American Right. “This book is about Ronald Reagan,” writes Buckley in his Prologue. “The public Reagan, obviously, but almost always, in this book, simply the Ronald Reagan I came to know. Except that he was a great public figure who moved mountains, there would be scant curiosity about him. But he became, for a while, the most prominent politician on earth. I would not, otherwise, be undertaking a book about him. However, this book is one in which the large scale of things is quite intentionally diminished or, better, maneuvered around, to make way for the cultivation of personal curiosity about someone who became a good friend.”

  • Tracing the arc of Reagan’s political career through the prism of Buckley’s contacts with him, “The Reagan I Knew” reveals:
  • How Buckley and Reagan met while Reagan was still a Democrat, and Buckley an already-renowned conservative commentator, a phenomenon of the new right
  • How, in the years after this first encounter, as Reagan’s own star rose, his political philosophy crystallized and his embrace of the conservative outlook became as complete as one can expect from a public leader
  • Why, although Reagan was never a theorist within the conservative movement, he did become the greatest expositor of the conservative cause in American politics
  • How Reagan shied from drawing back the curtain on his private life — the intimate glimpses we get here may surprise even his most knowledgeable admirers
  • Reproduced in full: Buckley’s compelling speech, delivered in Reagan’s presence, about confronting the Soviet Union in the nuclear age
  • Buckley on Reaganomics: a reconstruction of some of the most significant debates over the taxes, spending, and the size and scope of government

The analysis of Reagan’s basic positions and policies falls under three thematic headings: foreign policy (nuclear deterrence vis-a-vis the Soviet Union), the economy (and bloated federal government), and federalism (the issue of states’ rights, or separation of powers, as Buckley often preferred to phrase it). Thus the leading issues of the day are limned through an account of the friendship of “Bill” and “Ron” over nearly three decades. William F. Buckley Jr. knew Ronald Reagan perhaps better than anyone outside his family. The Reagan I Knew is the most personally and politically revealing portrait of Ronald Reagan the world is likely to have.

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