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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ronald Reagan: Our 40th President by Winston Groom

Published by Regnery Publishing, Inc. in 2012.

Winston Groom, forever to be known as the author of Forrest Gump , has busied himself with a series of non-fiction books as of late. His latest is this short biography, Ronald Reagan: Our 40th President. The publisher lists this book as "juvenile nonfiction" but this adult also enjoyed this 148 page biography.

This is not a controversial "let's set the record straight" book. I detected no political bias except for the fact that is a generally friendly book towards Reagan. That being said, Groom covers the lows of Reagan's personal (strained relationships with his children, for example) and political life (Iran Contra - it gets more attention than almost any aspect of his presidency) and covers them as thoroughly as a book of this size should.

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004)
This is a great book for high school students because it is easy to read, does not dwell on topics for too long and covers all parts of Reagan's life well, not just his eight years as President.  It tells the basics of an extraordinary life (Reagan's more than most, but all presidential lives are extraordinary since there have only been 44 of them). I particularly enjoyed the stories of his days as a sportscaster and his early days in Hollywood. Groom also explains that Reagan's transition from Hollywood actor to politician was not abrupt or even an unnatural move, although I did find it interesting to note that his first response was, "I'm an actor, not a politician." (p. 82)

In my real job, when I am not blogging, I am a secondary social studies teacher and I can easily say that if Groom wanted to busy himself writing biographies of all of the recent presidents I would be glad to put them all in my classroom library. This one tells the basics of Reagan's life. Let the student learn that and later on, when they know more, they can start to put value judgments on his actions and choices.

That being said, there is a problem with the book. While Groom may know how to tell someone's life story in an interesting way, he seems to have no head for figures. On page 4 he discusses the impact of a horrific 12% inflation rate (the rate when Reagan assumed the presidency) and he incorrectly asserts that a 12% interest rate means that in 8 years the value of a dollar saved 8 years earlier "would be worth exactly zero." That is not correct. A 12% inflation rate means that in 6 years the prices of everything would be double (following the "rule of 72") and that saved dollar would only buy half as much, but it would still have value. On page 144 he states the United States spent $8 trillion dollars on the Cold War. He states that equals spending $1 billion per day for 8,000 years. Considering that 1 trillion equals 1,000 billion, it would really equal $1 billion per day for 8,000 days (about 22 years).

So, read this book for what it is - a story well told. And, as always, check the other guy's math. Or, as Reagan noted: "Trust, but verify."

I rate this biography 4 out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Ronald Reagan Our 40th President.

Reviewed on February 25, 2012.

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