An American Life has been listed for quite a while. Today I finished it -- all 700+ pages! I have to admit that this is the first presidential autobiography I've ever read. Honestly, growing up, history was not my favorite subject and politics was never a topic of conversation in our home that I can recall. It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an interest in both. This year I'm also following my new resolve to read about subjects that interest me from other books I've read. Sarah Palin referenced President Reagan's autobiography and praised his politics numerous times in her recent book, Going Rogue, thus prompting me to put this book on my To-Read list.
I was 11-years-old and not interested in politics or news when Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. I do remember that time because I was home sick and watched the hostages that had been released arrive in Washington. Eight years later when George H. W. Bush became president, I remember thinking how weird it was to see a new president on TV because most of my growing up years it had been President Reagan. As I watched all the funeral ceremonies in 2004 when President Reagan passed away, I remember thinking that I truly didn't know much about him or his presidency.
Ok, back to the book. The book is exceptionally well-written and easy to follow despite the fact that it addresses numerous historical and political topics in depth. I found the book to be informative and inspiring and thoroughly enjoyed President Reagan's first person account of his life and his years in the White House.
The first section of the book follows President Reagan from birth through his first election as president in 1981. It also details how his economic and political views were formed. President Reagan grew up in Dixon, Illinois, where he states he observed "how the love and common sense of purpose that unites families is one of the most powerful glues on earth and that it can help them overcome the greatest of adversities. . . that hard work is an essential part of life . . . and that America was a place that offered unlimited opportunity to those who did work hard."
He attended college at Eureka College in Illinois, however because of the Great Depression he had a difficult time finding employment. He spent his first summer after college as a life guard, a job he had each summer throughout most of his high school and college years. Of his years at Eureka College, he said he would definitely go there again (or to another small college like it) because "at big universities, relatively few students get involved in extra-curricular activities" and that the "tremendous influence that participating in student activities can have during the years from adolescent to adulthood" is often undervalued.
Throughout the book, President Reagan discusses his faith in God and how prayer was a vital part of his life. In addition, early in life his mother taught him to pay tithes on any money he earned, and he faithfully gave this money to the church. At one point during the depression, after he had graduated from college and gotten his first position as a radio announcer, he learned that his brother had run out of money and was going to have to leave college before graduating. President Reagan went to the minister at his church and asked if the "Lord would consider it a tithe if I sent (my brother) the $10 a month instead of putting it in the collection plate?" The minister agreed that the Lord would be fine with it and his brother was able to remain at college.
President Reagan then spent several years as a radio announcer in which some assignments led him to California. He then followed his dream of becoming an actor, served our country in World War II as a liason officer, married Nancy Davis (his love and admiration of her are apparent throughout the book which he dedicated to her), was convinced to run for governor of California where he then served two terms, and eventually became our 40th president.
Growing up in a Democratic family, President Reagan began his voting life as a Democrat. Over the years as some of the original ideas that the Democratic Party was built on began to change, President Reagan realized that his views more closely aligned with the Republican party. Some of these views included the belief that "there probably isn't any undertaking on earth short of assuring the national security that can't be handled more efficiently by the forces of private enterprise than by the federal government," that the US had to negotiate with the Soviet Union from a position of military strength, that nuclear weapons should be eliminated, and that the government should be required by constitutional amendment to have a balanced budget. Unlike the first section of the book which is written chronologically, the years of his presidency are detailed in five sections based on the major issues during his presidency: the first year and domestic economic recovery from the recession; the Middle East, Lebanon, and Grenada; Iran-Contra; and Arms Control negotiations with the Soviet Union. These sections are a great history lesson and give insight into President Reagan's reasoning and thoughts on each of these major issues.
Reading this book has given me a much better understanding of the issues that surrounded President Reagan's presidency and the every day life of the president. It has also sparked my interest in reading other presidential autobiographies. In addition, this book reinforced my belief that the president needs our prayers every day.