Essential Books on Ronald Reagan
There are countless books on Ronald Reagan, and it comes with good reason, after being elected America’s fortieth President, he brought about a restoration of prosperity at home, with the goal of achieving “peace through strength” abroad.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free,” he remarked.
In order to get to the bottom of what inspired one of history’s most consequential figures to the height of political power, we’ve compiled a list of the 15 best books on Ronald Reagan.
Reagan: The Life by H. W. Brands
In his magisterial new biography, H. W. Brands brilliantly establishes Ronald Reagan as one of the two great presidents of the twentieth century, a true peer to Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan conveys with sweep and vigor how the confident force of Reagan’s personality and the unwavering nature of his beliefs enabled him to engineer a conservative revolution in American politics and play a crucial role in ending communism in the Soviet Union. Reagan shut down the age of liberalism, Brands shows, and ushered in the age of Reagan, whose defining principles are still powerfully felt today.
Employing archival sources not available to previous biographers and drawing on dozens of interviews with surviving members of Reagan’s administration, Brands has crafted a richly detailed and fascinating narrative of the presidential years. He offers new insights into Reagan’s remote management style and fractious West Wing staff, his deft handling of public sentiment to transform the tax code, and his deeply misunderstood relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on which nothing less than the fate of the world turned.
When Character Was King by Peggy Noonan
No one has ever captured Ronald Reagan like Peggy Noonan. In When Character Was King, Noonan brings her own reflections on Reagan to bear as well as new stories – from Presidents George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, his Secret Service men and White House colleagues, his wife, his daughter Patti Davis, and his close friends – to reveal the true nature of a man even his opponents now view as a maker of big history. One of the best books on Ronald Reagan, When Character Was King will both enlighten and move readers.
Dutch by Edmund Morris
The only biography ever authorized by a sitting President – yet written with complete interpretive freedom – Dutch is as revolutionary in method as it is formidable in scholarship. Thirteen years of exhaustive research in the archives of Washington and Hollywood, and thousands of hours of interviews with the President and his family, friends, allies, and enemies, equipped Morris with an unmatched knowledge of one of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders.
This monumental work offers the most insightful and elegant portrait to date of Ronald Reagan: the young “Dutch,” the middle-aged Cold Warrior, and the septuagenarian Chief Executive. Written with imagination, yet always anchored by the weight of research and fact, Dutch stands as both a landmark in the form of biography and an unparalleled historical account of the rise and rule of Ronald Reagan.
Three Days in Moscow by Brett Baier
On May 31, 1988, Reagan stood on Russian soil and addressed a packed audience at Moscow State University, delivering a remarkable – yet now largely forgotten – speech that capped his first visit to the Soviet capital. This fourth in a series of summits between Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, was a dramatic coda to their tireless efforts to reduce the nuclear threat. More than that, Reagan viewed it as “a grand historical moment:” an opportunity to light a path for the Soviet people – toward freedom, human rights, and a future he told them they could embrace if they chose.
Using Reagan’s three days in Moscow to tell the larger story of the president’s critical and often misunderstood role in orchestrating a successful, peaceful ending to the Cold War, Baier illuminates the character of one of our nation’s most venerated leaders – and reveals the unique qualities that allowed him to succeed in forming an alliance for peace with the Soviet Union, when his predecessors had fallen short.
The Greatest Communicator by Dick Wirthlin
The outpouring of grief and heartfelt tributes following Ronald Reagan’s death demonstrated the love and admiration people still have for our nation’s 40th president. Now, in this affectionate memoir, Reagan’s chief political strategist and friend for 36 years offers a fascinating close-up portrait of the Great Communicator.
Taking us inside the 1980 and 1984 presidential campaigns and beyond, Dick Wirthlin shares illuminating anecdotes, off-the-record remarks, and private moments that reveal the true Ronald Reagan. Through it all, Wirthlin points out the unique qualities and talents that made Reagan such a strong leader – and such a great communicator. For anyone who has fond memories of the late president, this admiring reminiscence brilliantly conjures up the strong values, gregarious charm, and all-American optimism that made Ronald Reagan great.
The Reagan Diaries; Edited by Douglas Brinkley
During his two terms as the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan kept a daily diary in which he recorded his innermost thoughts and observations on the extraordinary, the historic, and the routine occurrences of his presidency. To read these diaries – now compiled into one volume by noted historian Douglas Brinkley and filled with Reagan’s trademark wit, sharp intelligence, and humor – is to gain a unique understanding of one of our nation’s most fascinating leaders.
Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber
On March 30, 1981, President Reagan walked out of a hotel in Washington, D.C., and was shot by a would-be assassin. For years, few people knew the truth about how close the president came to dying, and no one has ever written a detailed narrative of that harrowing day. Now, drawing on exclusive new interviews, Del Quentin Wilber tells the electrifying story of a moment when the nation faced a terrifying crisis.
With cinematic clarity, we see the Secret Service agent whose fast reflexes saved the president’s life; the brilliant surgeons who operated on Reagan as he was losing half his blood; and the small group of White House officials frantically trying to determine whether the country was under attack. Most especially, we encounter the man code-named Rawhide, a leader of uncommon grace who inspired affection and awe in everyone who worked with him.
Ronald Reagan was the only serving U.S. president to survive being shot in an assassination attempt. In Rawhide Down, the story of that perilous day – a day of chaos, crisis, prayer, heroism, and hope – is brought to life as never before.
President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon
Ronald Wilson Reagan, the first actor to be elected president, turned in the performance of a lifetime. But that performance concealed the complexities of the man, baffling most who came in contact with him. Who was the man behind the makeup? Only Lou Cannon, who covered Reagan through his political career, can tell us. The keenest Reagan-watcher of them all, he has been the only author to reveal the nature of a man both shrewd and oblivious.
Based on hundreds of interviews with the president, the First Lady, and hundreds of the administration’s major figures, President Reagan takes us behind the scenes of the Oval Office. Cannon leads us through all of Reagan’s roles, from the affable cowboy to the self-styled family man; from the politician who denounced big government to the president who created the largest peace-time deficit; from the statesman who reviled the Soviet government to the Great Communicator who helped end the cold war.
Reagan by Bob Spitz
It is the quintessential American triumph, brought to life with cinematic vividness: a young man is born into poverty and raised in a series of flyspeck towns in the Midwest by a pious mother and a reckless, alcoholic, largely absent father. Severely near-sighted, the boy lives in his own world, a world of the popular books of the day, and finds his first brush with popularity, even fame, as a young lifeguard.
Thanks to his first great love, he imagines a way out, and makes the extraordinary leap to go to college, a modest school by national standards, but an audacious presumption in the context of his family’s station. From there, the path is only very dimly lit, but it leads him, thanks to his great charm and greater luck, to a solid career as a radio sportscaster, and then, astonishingly, fatefully, to Hollywood. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Bob Spitz’s masterful addition to the ever-growing index of books on Ronald Reagan is an absorbing, richly detailed, even revelatory chronicle of the full arc of the man’s epic life – giving full weight to the Hollywood years, his transition to politics and rocky but ultimately successful run as California governor, and ultimately, of course, his iconic presidency, filled with storm and stress but climaxing with his peace talks with the Soviet Union that would serve as his greatest legacy.
Ronald Reagan: An American Life by Ronald Reagan
Few presidents have accomplished more, or been so effective in changing the direction of government in ways that are both fundamental and lasting, than Ronald Reagan. Certainly no president has more dramatically raised the American spirit, or done so much to restore national strength and self-confidence.
Here, then, is a truly American success story – a great and inspiring one. From modest beginnings as the son of a shoe salesman in Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Reagan achieved first a distinguished career in Hollywood and then, as governor of California and as president of the most powerful nation in the world, a career of public service unique in our history.
Ronald Reagan’s account of that rise is told here with all the uncompromising candor, modesty, and wit that made him perhaps the most able communicator ever to occupy the White House, and also with the sense of drama of a gifted natural storyteller.
The Triumph of Nancy Reagan by Karen Tumulty
The made-in-Hollywood marriage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan is more than a love story – it’s the partnership that made him president. Of the pair, Nancy was the one with the sharper instincts about people, the superior radar for trouble, and the keen sense of how to secure his place in history. The only person in the world to whom Ronald Reagan felt truly close, Nancy understood how to foster his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses. Neither timid nor apologetic about wielding her power, Nancy Reagan made herself a place in history.
But that confidence took years to develop. Nancy’s traumatic early childhood instilled in her a lifelong anxiety and a craving for security. Born into a broken marriage, she spent seven years yearning for the absent mother who abandoned her to pursue an acting career. When she met Ronnie, who had a difficult upbringing of his own, the two fractured halves became whole. And as Ronnie turned from acting to politics, she did too, helping build the scaffolding of his rise and cultivating the wealthy and powerful figures who would help pave his way.
Not only was Nancy crucial in shaping Ronald’s White House team and in softening her husband’s rhetoric, she became an unseen force pushing her husband toward what she saw as his grandest purpose – to shake his image as a warmonger and leave behind a more peaceful world.
God and Ronald Reagan by Paul Kengor
In this groundbreaking gem among books on Ronald Reagan, political historian Paul Kengor draws upon the President’s legacy of speeches and correspondence, and the memories of those who knew him well, to reveal a man whose Christian faith remained deep and consistent throughout his more than six decades in public life. Raised in the Disciples of Christ Church by a devout mother with a passionate missionary streak, Reagan embraced the church after reading a Christian novel at the age of eleven. A devoted Sunday-school teacher, he absorbed the church’s model of “practical Christianity” and strived to achieve it in every stage of his life.
But it was in his lifelong battle against communism – first in Hollywood, then on the political stage – that Reagan’s Christian beliefs had their most profound effect. Appalled by the religious repression and state-mandated atheism of Bolshevik Marxism, Reagan felt called by a sense of personal mission to confront the USSR.
Inspired by influences as diverse as C.S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he waged an openly spiritual campaign against communism, insisting that religious freedom was the bedrock of personal liberty. “The source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual,” he said in his Evil Empire address. “And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man.”
The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order by Steven F. Hayward
The Age of Reagan brings to life the tumultuous decade and a half that preceded Ronald Reagan’s ascent to the White House. Drawing on scores of interviews and years of research, Steven F. Hayward takes us on an engrossing journey through the most politically divisive years the United States has had to endure since the decade before the Civil War.
Hayward captures an America at war with itself – and an era whose reverberations we feel to this very day. He brings new insight into the profound failure of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the oddly liberal nature of Richard Nixon’s administration, the significance of Reagan’s years as California’s governor, the sudden-death drama of his near defeat of Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican primary, the listlessness of Jimmy Carter’s leadership, and the political earthquake that was Reagan’s victorious presidential campaign in 1980.
Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader by Dinesh D’Souza
Bestselling author and former Reagan aide Dinesh D’Souza shows how this “ordinary” man was able to transform the political landscape in a way that made a permanent impact on America and the world. This inspiring read among books on Ronald Reagan is a thoughtful and honest assessment of how this underestimated president became a truly extraordinary leader.
Governor Reagan by Lou Cannon
At first, Reagan suffered from political amateurism, an inexperienced staff, and ideological blind spots. But he quickly learned to take the measure of the Democrats who controlled the State Legislature and surprised friends and foes alike by agreeing to a huge tax increase, which made it possible for him to govern for eight years without additional tax hikes.
He developed an environmental policy that preserved the state’s scenic valleys and wild rivers, and he signed into law what was then the nation’s most progressive declaration on abortion rights. His quixotic 1968 presidential campaign revealed his higher ambitions to the world and taught him how much he had to learn about big-league politics.
Written by the definitive biographer of Ronald Reagan, this new biography is a classic study of a fascinating individual’s evolution from a conservative hero to a national figure whose call for renewal stirred Republicans, working-class Democrats, and independents alike.
If you enjoyed this guide to essential books on Ronald Reagan, check out our list of The 15 Best Books on President John F. Kennedy!