Ronald Reagan The American Presidents Series: The 40th President, 1981-1989

The American Presidents

Jacob Weisberg; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

Times Books




208 Pages



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In the second half of the twentieth century, no American president defined his political era as did Ronald Reagan. He ushered in an age that extolled smaller government, tax cuts, and strong defense, and to this day politicians of both political parties operate within the parameters of the world he made. His eight years in office from 1981 to 1989 were a time of economic crisis and recovery, a new American assertiveness abroad, and an engagement with the Soviet Union that began in conflict but moved in surprising new directions.

Jacob Weisberg provides a bracing portrait of America's fortieth president and the ideas that animated his political career, offering a fresh psychological interpretation and showing that there was more to Reagan than the usual stereotypes. Reagan, he observes, was a staunch conservative but was also unafraid to compromise and cut deals where necessary. And Reagan espoused a firm belief, just as firm as his belief in small government and strong defense, that nuclear weapons were immoral and ought to be eliminated. Weisberg argues that these facets of Reagan were too often ignored in his time but reveal why his presidency turned out to be so consequential.

In the years since Reagan left office, he has been cast in marble by the Republican Party and dismissed by the Democrats. Weisberg shows why we need to move past these responses if we wish truly to appreciate his accomplishments and his legacy.


Praise for Ronald Reagan

"As Jacob Weisberg shows in Ronald Reagan, his elegant, insightful biography, Reagan’s actual record diverges significantly from the way he presented himself—and from the posthumous conservative mythology about him . . . Weisberg’s most valuable contribution is not simply to point to the gap between Reagan’s rhetoric and performance, but to explain that his ability to reconcile opposites was at the heart of what made the Gipper tick."—Jacob Heilbrunn, The Washington Monthly

"Weisberg takes his historical duties seriously, laying out Reagan's actions with an admirable lack of pop psychology . . . This concise biography makes a good case that Reagan was the second most important president of the 20th century after Franklin Roosevelt."—Kirkus Reviews

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Read an Excerpt


Surrounded by a Wall of Light

Most of Newsweek’s Washington Bureau was on vacation in late July 1987. That meant an opportunity for the summer intern to cover the president on an out-of-town trip....

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  • Jacob Weisberg discusses 'Ronald Reagan: The 40th President, 1981-1989' on the Brian Lehrer Show.

    Jacob Weisberg discusses 'Ronald Reagan: The 40th President, 1981-1989' on the Brian Lehrer Show.



  • Jacob Weisberg; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

  • Jacob Weisberg is chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group and the former editor of Slate magazine. Weisberg is the author of The Bush Tragedy and is the creator of the "Bushisms" book series. He previously worked for The New Republic and was a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and a columnist for the Financial Times. He lives in New York City.

  • Jacob Weisberg Kathleen Kincaid
    Jacob Weisberg
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov