The best book of the summer won’t arrive on shelves for a couple of months yet, but I want to be the first to tell you about, “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life,” by Peter Robinson.
Robinson is the host of the PBS series “Uncommon Knowledge,” and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. Two decades ago, however, he was a young speechwriter for the Gipper. Those years in the Reagan White House – and in close proximity to the most successful president of the second half of the 20th century – have now yielded a magnificent book that is part memoir, part biography, and part inspirational guidebook on how to live a complete life.
Robinson already owns his share of history: He penned the famous line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and he defended it against a hundred attempts to delete it until the president issued the edict that the thrilling appeal would remain in the speech.
But his half-dozen years as a scribbler, first for Vice President Bush and then on Reagan’s A-team of writers, formed Robinson in ways it has taken him many years to fully appreciate. Robinson arrived in the White House as an inexperienced recent graduate of Dartmouth and Oxford, and left as a seasoned traveler of the globe in the company of the mighty, and as an observer of the titanic struggles against communism abroad and defeatism at home. Reagan’s steady pursuit of his agenda, his unfailing good humor, remarkable courage and, yes, incredible optimism, formed Robinson in ways that only a great man can impact an understudy.
Robinson’s television program has long been recognized as among the best products that PBS puts out (though, sadly, ideology seems to keep it out of some major markets – note to Tom Delay: Ask PBS-CPB execs why Moyers gets so much time and Robinson so little), but this book will have far greater impact than even a hundred shows. The book, as Robinson confesses, is a primer on how to wage politics and, even more, how to live life – even in the face of the considerable hardship that Ronald Reagan met and mastered.
Conventional biographies of Reagan spend far too much time on the details of chronology and far too little time on the personality that powered the career of the most improbable of presidents. Robinson sketches Reagan’s many traits, in a memorable way that draws on the knowledge that only a half-dozen years inside the gates of the White House complex can provide.
Robinson supplemented his own journals and memories with diligent research and interviews with Reagan’s closest and longest-serving aides, but the sparkle comes from the genuine affection that the author has for a president that shaped not only history, but the writer’s life as well.
This is a book for those who want to celebrate Reagan’s life and legacy, but it is also a book for those who want to extend that legacy, especially for a younger generation that know Reagan only by reputation and have little if any direct memory of his grace and his charisma.
Do yourself a favor and stop by a local bookstore with a request that they put your order in early. And be sure to pick up a copy for any collegian you know, and recent graduates as well. History has provided few examples as great as Reagan’s, and Robinson’s book reminds all readers just how inspiring that example can be.