In The Age of Reagan (Reviews, Feb. 25), Bancroft Prize—winner Sean Wilentz considers Ronald Reagan’s political legacy up to the present day.

Did writing this book change your overall assessment of Reagan?

It’s probably more positive because I began to appreciate what a world historic event the ending of the Cold War was. I think that’s an achievement that only grows larger with time. In other ways, the administration was racked with all sorts of hijinks and corruptions, including the Pentagon scandal. It’s only when I plunged into them [that] I realized how systemic it was and what happens when we take deregulation a little bit too seriously. But one of the points of the book, in fact, is to try and understand the age of Reagan as not simply the ideas of Reagan’s presidency—which has a long prelude and a long postlude—but to understand the entire political age.

How hard is it to write about history you’ve lived through, and is it very different from writing about earlier periods?

Yes, it’s very different for all kinds of reasons. I don’t remember the Bank War [of the 1830s], and that requires a different kind of scholarly imagination than what I was doing here. Before, I was trying to get myself into the events, and now I’m trying to get myself out of the events and look at them a little bit more closely and try to remove my own memories. You can’t do it entirely.... Readers will judge how well I did.

You say we’re still in the age of Reagan. Is George W. Bush his political descendant?

The current administration is politically similar, but temperamentally different. Reagan knew how to compromise. Reagan backed off from his hard-and-fast anti-Sovietism. He knew he could deal with Gorbachev and work toward arms reduction. And in some ways the current administration is turbo-Reaganism in its adoption of the idea that the solution to any economic problem is to cut taxes. It had been Reagan’s idea, but didn’t work. In the ’80s Regan had to raise taxes. This president is much more stubborn.

Does your book have a lesson for this year’s election?

Ed Rollins, Reagan’s political consultant, said the old Reagan coalition is gone. There’s a lot of talk about change, much of it very vague, these days. I do get the sense that people have a feeling that it’s time for a very new direction. I think that no matter who wins, including the Republicans, it’s certainly not going to be the same Republicans we’ve had for the past eight years. Something new is going to come. I’m not sure what that is going to be, but it will be interesting to find out.