Ronald Reagan: Champion of Conservative America. By James H. Broussard. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2015. 224 pp.
The latest volume in the publisher's Historical Americans series (Routledge/Taylor & Francis, editor, Paul Finkelman), Ronald Reagan, expertly fulfills the brief of that series. James H. Broussard offers a concise, well-written, and engaging biography of the fortieth U.S. president that portrays Reagan's personal and political lives and conveys his historical significance.
The book is divided into two halves. The first half covers Reagan's youth, early adulthood, and careers in Hollywood film and California politics, including the governorship from 1967 to 1975, and creates a compelling portrait of Reagan, the man and president-to-be. In this half of the book, Broussard effectively foreshadows how a younger Ronald Reagan's personal traits, experiences, and values will shape his presidential politics. His father's alcoholism, his mother's Christian faith, and his family's peripatetic lifestyle certainly affected him. But Broussard also is careful to avoid any psychological determinism, "to see the Ronald Reagan of history as inflexibly formed by his early circumstances" (p. 11), as have earlier biographers.
The second half of the book details Reagan's presidential campaigns, two terms in office from 1981 to 1989, and legacies. Despite the necessary brevity, Broussard advances a convincing argument that Reagan's years in the White House changed America: the Cold War ended, the size of the U.S. government shrank, and the economy prospered. Reagan's role in bringing about these changes, and whether they can be seen as positive, are much debated, as Broussard makes clear. But, without a doubt, in the 1980s, Reagan changed the dominant political discourse about the United States at home and abroad. His rhetoric presented the country as a land of possibilities and success, a return to the historic image of America as the "shining city on a hill" (p. 94). This image transformed that of a country of limitations and failure which had emerged in the...