Reagan Book Summary - Reagan Book explained in key points

Reagan summary

H. W. Brands

The Life

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What is Reagan about?

Reagan (2015) is the definitive account of the life of a towering figure in American history. Starting with his childhood in Illinois, the narrative follows the course of Ronald Reagan’s life, from his charmed days in Hollywood to his time as governor of California and, finally, from the White House to the world stage of the Cold War.

About the Author

H. W. Brands is the author of more than 30 books on American history. He is currently the chair of the History Department at the University of Texas, Austin, and has twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. 

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The Crowd Pleaser

There were three things Reagan remembered from his childhood: His father was drunk, his mother was an angel, and making people laugh was an antidote to all his insecurities and embarrassments. 

During those years, Reagan was no stranger to insecurity and embarrassment. His family moved around Illinois a lot during his boyhood, and they never had much money. His mother would put oatmeal in the stew pot and make a big show of it, as though cereal were the finest delicacy. Reagan also struggled to make friends. He was always the new kid in school, and wasn’t very good at sports. 

But he did excel at one thing: performing speeches at his mother’s church. As soon as he earned his first laughter and applause, he was hooked and wanted more. And soon enough he found a skill that would propel him to the heights of his first career: theater. 

Reagan attended college in southern Illinois. He was a mediocre student. But his good looks and prowess on the stage led to a career in student politics. He was mostly in it for the attention. Attention felt good. 

In college, Reagan also fell in love – with movies. He’d spend hours watching both westerns and sappy silent films. His secret dream was to be an actor, but he didn’t dare tell anyone. Ascending to the silver screen seemed about as likely as ascending to the moon.

Radio, however, seemed like a reasonable alternative. So he applied for and landed a job as a sportscaster. It was 1933. Franklin Roosevelt had just been elected president, and Reagan was electrified by Roosevelt’s radio addresses – the Fireside Chats. All across the country, people huddled around their radios, uplifted and comforted by the confidence, candor, and strength of the president. Reagan listened, too. He listened and learned.

But he wasn’t satisfied with radio. He wanted more. So he talked his bosses into sending him to Southern California on a work trip. While there, he reached out to a former colleague he knew from the radio station, a woman who was trying to make it in Hollywood. After asking to see how he looked without his glasses, she introduced him to her agent.

Things moved quickly from there. The agent got Reagan a screen test with Warner Bros., but, before the results came in, Reagan decided to take the train back out east, returning to his regular job. In Des Moines, he got a telegram: Warner was offering a seven-year contract. Reagan’s reaction was instantaneous: “Sign before they change their minds.”

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Who should read Reagan

  • All those who think they know what Reagan was all about
  • History buffs
  • People looking to understand modern American conservatism

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