cover image The Essential Ronald Reagan: A Profile in Courage Justice & Wisdom

The Essential Ronald Reagan: A Profile in Courage Justice & Wisdom

Lee Edwards. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., $19.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-7425-4375-1

Sometimes a chance moment can change history and, in Reagan's case, that moment involved a question. ""Do ye perhaps know football?"" asked Iowa radioman Pete MacArthur of a young Ronald Reagan, who was headed out the door after being rebuffed for a news announcer's job. Reagan's mellifluous voice and his knowledge of the gridiron opened the door to a career captured by the author of this flattering chronicle. Edwards, adjunct professor of politics at Catholic University of America and author of Goldwater: The Man Who Made a Revolution, recounts Reagan's best moments and glosses over some of his worst, such as the Iran-contra scandal (which, he writes, ""will be no more than an historical footnote""). According to this slim hagiography, a Midwestern Depression-era childhood fraught with hardships did little to quash Reagan's optimism and shaped the man who helped thaw the Cold War by initially making it colder. Edwards takes historians to task for condescending to Reagan by merely acknowledging him as a ""great communicator,"" and counters by comparing the actor-turned-statesman to FDR and JFK. He asserts that Reagan embodied the ""four essential qualities of leadership--courage, prudence, justice, and wisdom,"" and he even chastises Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner for unfairly creating a caricature of the ""Reagan revolution."" Light on analysis but full of illustrative anecdotes and stories that add color to Reagan's persona, including his cheery youthful poetry, this book reveals a man whose amiable facade guarded a more thoughtful and knowledgeable interior. When Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as ""an evil empire,"" former Czech president Vaclav Havel says he demonstrated the ""power of words to change history."" Edwards argues throughout that Reagan understood and endeavored to use that power from an early age--his talent was making it look easy.