The Triumph of Nancy Reagan

Karen Tumulty. Simon & Schuster, $32.50 (656p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6519-1
Washington Post columnist Tumulty debuts with an astute reassessment of former first lady Nancy Reagan (1921–2016), a woman who “America never quite figured out.” Born Anne Frances Robbins in New York City, Nancy “was the product of a broken marriage” who spent ages two to eight in the care of relatives while her actor mother traveled for work. After her mother’s remarriage to neurosurgeon Loyal Davis, Nancy took her stepfather’s last name and trained as a nurse’s aide before landing her first stage acting role thanks to a family friend. She moved to Hollywood in 1949 and, according to Tumulty, quickly set her sights on newly divorced actor Ronald Reagan as a future husband. Adopting an episodic approach to Nancy’s White House years, Tumulty highlights the “ghastly scene” that awaited the first lady at the hospital after the president was shot in 1981, and her role in running the “rescue operation” that prevented the Iran-Contra scandal from upending Reagan’s second term. Tumulty touches on dark family dynamics, including the impact of Nancy’s “anxiety and insecurity” on her children, but the book’s greatest strength is the nuanced, in-depth portrayal of the Reagans’ relationship and Nancy’s fierce stewardship of her husband’s political goals. The result is a complex and engrossing portrait of one of the 20th century’s most quietly influential political figures. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Literary. (Apr.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misstated the year of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. It also misspelled Nancy Reagan's middle name.

Reviewed on : 01/05/2021
Release date: 04/13/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-7971-1914-4
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