I read the same author’s NIXONLAND a few years back and absolutely loved it. An incredible tour of America: trying to work out how the country travelled from The Great Society in 1965 – a seemingly new liberal age – to 49 of the 50 states electing Richard Nixon in 1972. There is obviously a disconnect there, and in telling it Perlstein was lucky to have such a fascinating character as Richard Milhouse Nixon to work with. A man who still feels hard done by and as if the Kennedys of the world are stopping him reach his full potential, even as he is literally the most powerful person on the planet.
There are similar themes in play in this follow-up. How does a country that has gone through defeat in the Vietnam war and the shame of Watergate – a country which seems to be accepting a diminished place in the world – then a few short years later elect a President who proudly claims that America is the greatest country on Earth and never has to apologise for anything?
The problem in this telling though is that Reagan is not as interesting a presence as Nixon. There is so much façade to the former Hollywood star that sometimes he just seems to be all front and nothing else. Everything was calculated by him to give the right impression, so much so that he’s frequently able to get away with spouting utter nonsense with no one questioning him as he says it all in just the right tone.
This then is a less gripping book than its predecessor, more concerned in internal Republican Party machinations than events on the world’s stage. It ends at The GOP Convention in 1976 (rather than the election in 1980), which does sound like a bonkers event, but is still quite dry and dull to read about it. And dry and dull are not words I’d have used about the former book.
Still it did lead me to re-watch SPITTING IMAGE’s tribute to Ronald Reagan for the first time since 1988, and you know, I laughed from start to finish.
My debut novel, THE WANNABES – which has been out of print for a little while – is now available for free. A supernatural thriller of beautiful actresses and deadly ambition in London town, it’s well worth your time. You can get your copy here!