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Reagan: A Life in Letters

by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson

Retail Price: $18.95
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Format: Paperback, 960pp.
ISBN: 9780743219679
Publisher: Free Press
Pub. Date: October 2004

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Description and Reviews
From The Publisher:

Ronald Reagan may have been the most prolific correspondent of any American president since Thomas Jefferson. The total number of letters written over his lifetime probably exceeds 10,000. Their breadth is equally astonishing -- with friends and family, with politicians, children, and other private citizens, Reagan was as dazzling a communicator in letters as he was in person. Collectively, his letters reveal his character and thinking like no other source. He made candid, considerate, and tough statements that he rarely made in a public speech or open forum. He enjoyed responding to citizens, and comforting or giving advice or encouragement to friends. Now, the most astonishing of his writings, culled in Reagan: A Portrait in Letters, finally and fully reveal the true Ronald Reagan.

Many of Reagan's handwritten letters are among the most thoughtful, charming, and moving documents he produced. Long letters to his daughter Patti, applauding her honesty, and son Ron Jr., urging him to be the best student he can be, reveal Reagan as a caring parent. Long-running correspondence with old friends, carried on for many decades, reveals the importance of his hometown and college networks. Heartfelt advice on love and marriage, fond memories of famous friends from Hollywood, and rare letters about his early career allow Reagan to tell his own full biography as never before. Running correspondence with young African-American student Ruddy Hines reveals a little-known presidential pen pal. The editors also reveal that another long-running pen-pal relationship, with fan club leader Lorraine Wagner, was initially ghostwritten by his mother, until Reagan began to write to Wagner himself some years later.

Reagan's letters are a political and historical treasure trove. Revealed here for the first time is a running correspondence with Richard Nixon, begun in 1959 and continuing until shortly before Nixon's death. Letters to key supporters reveal that Reagan was thinking of the presidency from the mid-1960s; that missile defense was of interest to him as early as the 1970s; and that few details of his campaigns or policies escaped his notice. Dozens of letters to constituents reveal Reagan to have been most comfortable and natural with pen in hand, a man who reached out to friend and foe alike throughout his life. Reagan: A Life in Letters is as important as it is astonishing and moving.


Hoover Institution fellows Skinner and the Andersons (all editors of the bestselling Reagan, in His Own Hand) use a carefully arranged and astutely annotated sampling from Reagan's lifetime of correspondence to narrate the arc of "the great communicator" 's life. Always charming, always unassuming, always genuine, Reagan's letters tell the story of his family, his health, his Hollywood and political careers, and his evolution as a political thinker with an authority (and a charm) no other documents can. Reagan regularly corresponded with friends, movie business colleagues, fellow politicians and conservative allies, as well as with simple fans. To William Buckley in 1984: "the Middle East is a complicated place-well not really a place, it's more a state of mind." To Mickey Rooney, from the Oval Office, in 1985: "I'll bet you don't remember the first time we met. The year was 1937... I was new in Hollywood living in the Montecito apartments. Someone had run over a dog in the street outside. You came in to look for a phone book so you could find the nearest veterinarian and take the dog.... I figured this had to be a nice guy." The book includes more than 1,000 letters (some to unknowns, others to the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, George Bush Sr., Dr. Spock, Joseph Coors, Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher), fewer than 25 of them previously published. Taken together, they provide remarkable and otherwise unobtainable insight into a singularly important and fascinating American life: "Dutch" up close and personal.
Publishers Weekly Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Reagan: A Life in Letters shows that he was a born proselytizer. Decades before he entered politics, his compulsion to seize and hold attention, whether by script or speech or merely looking splendid, was phenomenal.
The Washington Post Edmund Morris

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About the Author

Kiron K. Skinner is an assistant professor of political science at Carnegie Mellon University, and a Hoover Institution research fellow. Her articles have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and National Interest. She earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Annelise Anderson has been a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution since 1983. In 1980 she was a senior policy adviser to the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan, and from 1981 to 1983 she served as associate director for economics and government with the Office of Management and Budget. She earned her Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University. Martin Anderson is the Keith and Jan Hurlbut Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. After serving as a special assistant to Richard Nixon, he was a senior policy adviser to the 1976 and 1980 presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and served as chief domestic and economic policy adviser under President Reagan. He is the author of six previous books, including Revolution (1988) and Imposters in the Temple (1992). He earned his Ph.D. in industrial management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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