Killing Reagan, Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard
O’Reilly has written a series of books with his co-author that are informative and entertaining, while also being non-fiction, a genre that is not often at the top of the best-seller list for many authors. His consistently are. His concise style of presenting the facts, without fanfare but with interesting details, has captured a huge audience, young and old.
Killing Reagan is no exception. With a clear and descriptive vocabulary, he manages to put forth a story about a man that has been extolled as a hero by some and a demon by others, in a way that makes him rather more human than renowned.
Nancy Reagan is portrayed as the woman behind the throne, especially when Reagan’s mental faculties begin to fail. She fiercely protects this husband she loves and always puts him before any other concern. Although her behavior sometimes left a great deal to desire when it came to others, her loyalty to him was unconditional and beyond question. He always came first. At the same time, she also showed preference to their children over his from his first marriage to Jane Wyman, and she never hid her feelings of dislike toward various government officials, even going so far as engineering their dismissals.
There are no great revelations in the book, but certain events occurring during Reagan’s life and Presidency are dealt with in greater detail and with far more depth. According to O’Reilly, the book has been well researched and is a presentation of the facts. Historic events that occurred during his productive years are covered, and even Reagan’s mental decline is discussed at length, as is his distaste for Communism and the Soviet Empire. Nothing was off the table. The hostage release immediately after he was inaugurated, the Iran/Contra scandal, the acts of terror in Lebanon and elsewhere are covered as well as his own betrayal of fellow performers to Senator McCarthy followers in their anti-Communist campaign of terror. Equally expressed on the more positive side is his patriotism and love of country along with his eventual total support and love of his wife, after years of womanizing.
The book feels a bit disorganized as it jumps back and forth in time, repeating the mention of certain events when referring to people he was involved with during his time as an actor and then during the time of his rise in politics which led from the Governor’s Mansion in California to the White House. He attributes the successful road he traveled to his wife, Nancy Reagan, and in the end, she seemed much more like a mother, than a spouse, as she told him what to do on many occasions. She was the ultimate caretaker of Ronald Reagan, especially as his health deteriorated.
At times I felt the book overly concerned itself with certain characters like John Hinckley, but then O’Reilly’s premise appears to be that he was the beginning of the end for Ronald Reagan. The injuries he suffered the day of the attempted assassination may have begun his eventual mental decline. Reagan’s life and career involved many famous people, by the very nature of his occupations. He mixed with the media, famous Hollywood stars and famous politicians. Their names are sprinkled throughout the book, some more heavily than others. In some ways he shows how the media can assassinate someone by putting out information, right or wrong, as with the headline that James Brady had died although he was very much alive. Gossip also takes the center stage with the media, then and now. There are tidbits of information presented that I had not known before and the information was given in a very easy to read approach.
No matter what you think of the President or the First Lady, no one will dispute the fact that the Reagans were lovebirds. What I learned from the book was this: they were not the darlings that I grew up thinking they were. They were, at times, very competitive, vindictive and jealous of the achievements of others if those achievements stood in their way. They held grudges and took revenge, perhaps Nancy did more than Ronald, but nevertheless, it was obvious that they had clay feet as well as strength in office. In the end, Nancy, most assuredly, was the strength behind the man.
There was an interesting quote from Maureen Reagan who succumbed at a young age to Cancer. Referring to the fact that she was sent to boarding school, she remarked about the difference between the parenting skills of a caregiver and a parent, implying that the parent might do a better job. However, today, it would seem that most parents rely on caregivers and the remark gave me pause, leading me to wonder about the generations of adults to come who are raised primarily by caregivers, with parents having the minor role, preferring to preoccupy themselves with earning money and their purchase power.
Also, Jane Wyman was not the woman I remember from the screen. She could be crude and coarse and at the end of her life actually reversed herself into a devout follower of Catholicism.
O’Reilly takes Reagan from his first career as a baseball journalist to an actor, from an actor to an activist and then ultimately to a politician who set his sights on the White House, and with the very able help of his wife, he winds up right smack in the Oval Office!