Tag Archives: History

She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed the World, by Chelsea Clinton

“Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy. At some point, someone will probably tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them. These thirteen American women certainly did not take no for an answer. They persisted.” 

So begins She Persisted: 13 Women Who Changed the World, written by Chelsea Clinton and illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, a picture book for readers of all ages.

The book was inspired by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s impassioned, vocal opposition to Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation for Attorney General in February 2017 — and the resulting backlash and instant meme from Senator Mitch McConnell’s response to her. (“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”)

For each of the 13 women highlighted in She Persisted, there’s a brief biography (“she persisted” is included in every description) and a poignant quote accompanied by soft, inviting illustrations. While some of the most famous names in history are included (Harriet Tubman, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey), there are others whose accomplishments might not be as well known (Clara Lemlich, Maria Tallchief, Claudette Colvin). All represent diverse individuals who have made groundbreaking achievements and discoveries in fields such as medicine (Virginia Apgar), journalism (Nellie Bly), politics (Margaret Chase Smith), sports (Florence Griffith Joyner), education (Ruby Bridges), science (Sally Ride), the legal profession (Sonia Sotomayer) and more.

There are, of course, countless more women whose tenacity and dedication resulted in remarkable, life-changing contributions to our world — which is exactly the point of this book that celebrates “all women who persist every day.” For young people, She Persisted serves as both women’s history lesson as well as motivation for dreaming big dreams and staying determined when those ambitions seem difficult or are met with backlash from others.

For grown ups, it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come — especially when current events seem otherwise.

Click image below to purchase She Persisted for yourself or to encourage a young person to dream big and never give up. (As an Amazon Associate, I will receive a very small commission from your purchase to help to support this blog and its content.) 

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Two New Reviews: House of Silence, by Sarah Barthel and Nowhere Else I Want to Be, by Carol D. Marsh

Two new books to share with you, via my reviews in the 1/13/2017 issue of Shelf Awareness.

House of Silence by Sarah Barthel is “an engaging, fast-paced blend of historical fiction and suspense.” Before reading this, I didn’t know much about Mary Todd Lincoln’s stay at Bellevue Place, a sanitarium where her son Robert had her committed 10 years after President Lincoln’s assassination. This novel weaves Mary Todd Lincoln’s story with the fictional Isabelle Larkin, a socialite whose fiancé Gregory is a political hopeful and one of Chicago’s most eligible and attractive bachelors. When Isabelle catches Gregory committing a crime, she’s trapped … until being sent to Bellevue where she befriends — you guessed it, Mary Todd Lincoln. You can read more under the Fiction section in the Shelf Awareness issue.

Nowhere Else I Want to Be is Carol D. Marsh’s memoir of her 14 years as executive director of Miriam’s House, a community of women who are addicted to drugs and dying of AIDS. She lived on the premises with her husband Tim and together with their staff, provided the women with a home and cared for those forgotten by their families and society.  Along with the many heartbreaking stories of the women she came to know at Miriam’s House, Marsh shares her own story of growth in this role as she learned to confront her naiveté and false assumptions.

Although I didn’t work in a direct service capacity, a lot of this reminded me of my time working at a domestic violence shelter. More of my review in the Shelf Awareness issue, under the Social Science heading, as well as a review with Carol Marsh by my writing colleague Katie Noah Gibson, who blogs at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

 

 

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In Memoriam: Dabney Montgomery (1923-2016), Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr.

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Dabney Montgomery’s name is probably unknown to most Americans. His life, one spent on the front lines of history serving as a bodyguard to Martin Luther King Jr. during the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965, is one that deserves to be remembered and honored.

Six years ago, my girl and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman who died on Saturday at age 93. He spoke at our church and I blogged about it afterwards because his words made such an impression on me. It was exactly what I needed to hear on that particular day when I went to church for the first time in months, shaken to the core by the news of the murder of a woman with disabilities and in need of some semblance of solace and comfort.

Dabney Montgomery’s words and his commitment to justice resonated and stayed with me. Since meeting him in 2010.  I’ve thought about him on quite a few occasions since, especially during recent racial incidents in this country, and I’ll continue to think about him while being so glad our paths crossed.

With much gratitude for his life, I extend my condolences to Dabney Montgomery’s family, friends and loved ones.

Here’s a portion of my post from February 16, 2010:


“And I stood in the corner and thought, how can I change this situation peacefully? And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and year.”

~ Dabney Montgomery, Tuskegee Airman and bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr., 2/14/2010

Walking into church on Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day, was like taking a walk back in time.

A walk alongside Martin Luther King Jr., en route from Selma to Montgomery.

A walk along the tarmac with the Tuskegee Airmen.

And so it was that I found myself in the presence of greatness.

Dabney Montgomery, a Tuskegee Airman and former bodyguard of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, was the guest speaker on Sunday at our Unitarian Universalist congregation.

We listened, a rapt audience of nearly 200, as Dabney Montgomery told us about a time where people believed African Americans were incapable of flying a plane, that because the arteries in their brains were shorter than others, they could not be taught such skills.

We walked with him down the tarmac, as he recalled Mrs. Roosevelt (“you remember Mrs. Roosevelt, don’t you?”) demanding to be flown by an African American pilot.

He received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1945, and upon returning home to his hometown of Selma, Alabama, he only had one thing on his mind.

Registering to vote.

We walked with Dabney Montgomery as he went to register to vote, and was told to go around back and enter through the back entrance, as he was handed three separate applications to vote. The applications needed to be filled out by three separate white men who could vouch for his character.

Not only was I black, Mr. Montgomery said by way of explanation, but I “didn’t have enough money in the bank [to vote], didn’t have a house.”

“And I stood in the corner and thought, ‘how I can change this situation peacefully?’ And that thought stayed in the back of my mind for many a month and a year,” he said.

Dabney Montgomery volunteered to be one of Martin Luther King’s bodyguards on the historic Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. We felt the spit from onlookers as the marchers walked by.

meeting-dabney-montgomery“After the march, I took the soles off the shoes I wore,” Dabney Montgomery explained. “You can see them for yourself in the back, there.”

Several months after that march, The Voter Rights Act of 1965 was signed.

We walked back into the room with Dabney Montgomery as he registered to vote.

“And this time, there was a black woman behind the desk,” he laughed.

And then he turned serious again.

Whatever the situation is, “it can be changed through nonviolence, but you must stand and never give in. Don’t compromise. [We need] nonviolence not only in the schools, but in the home,” he said, referencing recent bullying attacks and the shooting by a professor in Alabama.

“Nonviolence is a must if we are to survive,” Dabney Montgomery concluded.

We’ll walk hand in hand someday …” we sang, as the closing hymn, and as we joined hands and I reached for the African-American man’s hand next to me, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. (I hate crying in public, but in this case, I wasn’t alone.)

Afterward, I was chatting with people I hadn’t seen in months as my girl rushed through the door.

“Look, Mommy, they have cake!” she exclaimed, pointing to the refreshments.

“We can have cake,” I said, “But first, there’s somebody who I want you to meet.”

I told my girl that I wanted her to shake this man’s hand and thank him for his service to our country. That she would understand why when she was older.

We approached the throng of people surrounding Dabney Montgomery, taking photos with him as if he was a movie star. He welcomed all of this, even basked in the attention.

What does one say to such a hero? I thought.

“Your words were so inspiring,” I said. “Thank you for your service to our country. It is a real pleasure and honor to meet you.”

“Thank you,” Mr. Montgomery replied. A former ballet student, he bent down and shook my girl’s outstretched hand. And then, we all ate cake.

I went to church on Sunday seeking a spiritual boost.

But what I got was so much more.

“Hey, so many things I never thought I’d see
Happening right in front of me
I had a friend in school
Running back on a football team
They burned a cross in his front yard
For asking out the home coming queen
I thought about him today
And everybody who’s seen what he’s seen
From a woman on a bus
To a man with a dream
Hey, wake up Martin Luther
Welcome to the future
Hey, glory, glory, hallelujah
Welcome to the future …”
“Welcome to the Future” ~ Brad Paisley

 

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Book Review (by The Husband): Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick

While real life history is being made tonight at the Republican National Convention (this country really didn’t just nominate one of its most obnoxious citizens as a candidate for President of the United States, right?)  I’m choosing to tune out the shenanigans.  I watched last night and quite frankly, I’ve seen more than enough.

Instead, we’re watching Parks & Recreation this evening (“The Debate” from Season 4, which is actually rather apropos) and I’m sharing The Husband’s book review of Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick(Who grew up here in Pittsburgh!)

Valiant Ambition

While many believe they know the story of Benedict Arnold and his treasonous betrayal of his ‘country’, in Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick, the many nuances and details that led Arnold – considered by some at the time to be an even greater commander of men than George Washington – to do what he did are deeply explored.  Philbrick, at the same time, uses Washington’s story as a parallel to Arnold’s, making the book not only a great read, but one that greatly contributes to American Revolution historiography.

Philbrick argues that – in the end – a Benedict Arnold was needed to save the American colonies from losing the Revolutionary War. The story many of us ‘know’ is not how it really was during the fighting between 1775-1781.  As Philbrick writes, “The real Revolution was so troubling and strange that once the struggle was over, a generation did its best to remove all traces of the truth. No one wanted to remember how, after boldly declaring their independence, they had so quickly lost their way; how patriotic zeal had lapsed into cynicism and self-interest; and how, just when all seemed lost, a traitor had saved them from themselves.”  

Continue reading here

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #51 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

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Sunday Salon/Currently: Remembering Elie Wiesel (35/99)

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For today’s Salon, I wanted to take a few moments of remembrance in honor of Holocaust survivor, author, teacher, Nobel Prize winner and humanitarian Elie Wiesel, who died yesterday at age 87. As the New York Times wrote, Mr. Wiesel’s work “seared the memory of the Holocaust on the world’s conscience.” (New York Times, 7/2/2016) He gave voice to those whose voices were silenced through his eloquent words and prolific writing, including 60 books, according to his foundation’s website.

The best known of his writings, of course, is Night, his first book and an autobiographical account of the horrors of the Holocaust.  Translated from French in 1960, Night was published after many rejections. As is the case with many courageous voices who dare to break the silence of things we don’t want to acknowledge or speak of, the world was not ready to hear what Elie Wiesel had to say about millions of people killed.

I am embarrassed to say I haven’t read Night. I’m thinking I need to remedy that, and soon.

Open HeartToday I want to highlight Open Heart, Elie Wiesel’s last book — published in 2012 — and a gorgeous reflection on mortality and the end of life. Written when he was 82 and facing open heart surgery (hence the title, which has more than one meaning here) Elie Wiesel is fully aware of the ironies of facing death as a teenager in the concentration camps and, much later, as an octogenarian. (“Long ago, over there, death lay in wait for us at every moment, but it is now, eternities later, that it shall have its way. I feel it.”)

As I wrote in my review of Open Heart, this short memoir (you can read it in one sitting; it took me about an hour) ends optimistically.  This from a man who has seen firsthand the worst atrocities of this world. Who knows of loss from the deaths of loved ones and of the resilience demanded from personal betrayal and theft (upon the recommendation of a synagogue member, Mr. Wiesel and his wife invested their savings and that of their humanitarian foundation with Bernie Madoff, losing millions.)

He writes these words, “credo that defines my path”: 

I belong to a generation that has often felt abandoned by God and betrayed by mankind. And yet, I believe that we must not give up on either.

Was it yesterday – or long ago – that we learned how human beings have been able to attain perfection in cruelty? That for the killers, the torturers, it is normal, thus human, to act inhumanely? Should one therefore turn away from humanity?

The answer, of course, is up to each of us. We must choose between the violence of adults and the smiles of children, between the ugliness of hate and the will to oppose it. Between inflicting suffering and humiliation on our fellow man and offering him the solidarity and hope he deserves.  Or not.

I know – I speak from experience – that even in darkness it is possible to create light and encourage compassion. That it is possible to feel free inside a prison. That even in exile, friendship exists and can become an anchor. That one instant before dying, man is still immortal.

There it is: I still believe in man in spite of man. I believe in language even though it has been wounded, deformed and perverted by the enemies of mankind. And I continue to cling to words because it is up to us to transform them into instruments of comprehension rather than contempt. It is up to us to choose whether we wish to use them to curse or to heal, to wound or to console.” 

Unbelievably, even at 82, Elie Wiesel was still wondering, still questioning whether he could have done more — he who used his life to give voice to those forever silenced, who challenged world leaders on their decisions.

“Have I performed my duty as a survivor? Have I transmitted all I was able to? Too much, perhaps? ….I feel the words [in Night] are not right and that I could have said it better…In my imagination, I turn the pages.”

You have, indeed, performed your duty as a survivor, Mr. Wiesel.  Your words were heard and your eloquence has made us so much richer for the gift and wisdom of them.  Your indelible imprint on this all too often fragile and flawed world has brought compassion, humanity, inspiration, and solace to countless people.

Rest well, Elie Wiesel.  May you finally be at peace.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #35 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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brexit at breakfast (26/99)

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Yes, I realize that’s not the Union Jack nor the American Flag, but it might as well be given the news from across the pond this morning and the anticipated ripple effects here. (And the realized ones, with the stock market plunge.)

That photo was taken nearly three years ago, as part of Pittsburgh’s Knit the Bridge yarn-bombing project. More than 1,800 volunteers worked for 14 months, knitting and crocheting 580 blankets that covered the Andy Warhol Bridge to celebrate Pittsburgh’s diverse neighborhoods representing dozens of ethnicities.

It was a grand display symbolizing the threads that tie a community together.  The connections between all of us and the bridges that lead to understanding.  The interdependency that unites us, makes us one.

I’m certainly not an expert in such global matters as Brexit.  I will admit that it wasn’t until the murder of Jo Cox that I even knew this was happening, and shame on me for not realizing how big a deal this was. I mean, I needed to ask The Husband for “the Reader’s-Digest-So-I-Sound-Somewhat-Intelligent-When-Talking-With-My-Coworkers” version of Brexit over breakfast this morning.

(His response?  “It’s 1929.”)

It would appear that some people in the UK needed an FAQ, too.  NPR reported that Google searches on “what is the eu” and “what is brexit”  spiked significantly after the polls closed.

It’s easy for us to be all smarter-than-thou, shaking our heads in astonishment as we wonder aloud what the hell people were thinking.  But the parallels and the implications are truly frightening, considering our own political mess here on these shores.

I realize I sound a bit hypocritical saying all this when Brexit wasn’t even on my radar until a day or so ago. Trust me, I’m paying attention now by reading about what this means — and it doesn’t sound pretty.

This morning we woke up to a very different world.

Or, given past history, one that we already know.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #26 of 99 in my 99 Days of Blogging project. 

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Book Review: Reagan: The Life, by H.W. Brands (a guest post by The Husband)

ReaganThe Husband has started writing a bit again (thank you God) and is allowing me to share his book reviews with you. 

Without further ado, I give you The Husband’s words about Reagan: The Life, by H.W. Brands. 

As a history aficionado, there is something special about reading about a period of time in history during which you first learned of the events by opening the newspaper – that is, about a time in history that you lived through.  This is not possible, for instance, when reading about Lincoln and the various tragedies he dealt with during the Civil War. For those of my increasingly-advancing age, however, it is possible when reading a biography of President Ronald Reagan. The most recent such effort is from H.W. Brands, chair of the history department at the University of Texas at Austin.

The book is 737 pages, so bring a snack. Brands does a wonderful job of translating the enigmatic Reagan into a flesh and blood human being with strengths and flaws.  This is no easy task.  People tend to view Reagan either as a deity or, well, as the opposite of a deity. Brands makes ample use of Reagan’s own diaries, which are an invaluable resource to historians.  Unfortunately, because of the onset of Alzheimer’s, they also proved a resource for Reagan himself in recalling things that were slowly disappearing from his accessible memory.

Perhaps the central theme or thesis of Brands is a bit Freudian: because of his alcoholic father, Reagan spent his entire life conveying an eternal optimism [to counter the reality of what he came home to as a boy when his father had been drinking] that made him irresistible to tens of millions of Americans. Unfortunately, Brands argues, that eternal optimism led to a resistance on his part to dealing with unpleasant realities [think Iran-Contra] that nearly ended his presidency.  Indeed, it was only because enough people refused to believe that Reagan was lying about knowing that money from arms sales to Iran had been diverted to the Contras in Nicaragua that Reagan wasn’t impeached.

The first 238 pages of Brands’ tome deal with Reagan’s life prior to his 1980 run for the White House. It’s a good primer on how ‘Reagan became Reagan’. One area of particular note is the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the effect FDR had on Reagan. Those not familiar with the 40th president are often shocked to learn the reverence with which Reagan held FDR. It’s important to remember, though, that for the first half of his long life, Ronald Reagan was a Democrat. And, like all Americans living through it, the Great Depression left indelible impressions on Reagan. And how FDR tackled the Depression meant a great deal to Reagan – even if he came to believe that government was the problem, not the answer.

This seemingly contradictory hero-worship of FDR is just one of the many conundrums faced by students of Reagan. While he praised FDR for his leadership and his compassion, when Lyndon Johnson sought to extend the New Deal 30 years later – just as Reagan was preparing to run for Governor of California – Reagan castigated LBJ and the Great Society. The famous line Reagan used when someone asked him why he left the Democratic party was, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party – the Democratic Party left me.”

As for Reagan the president, Brands makes a strong argument for something I’ve believed for some time: Ronald Reagan was not an empty-headed performer repeating well-scripted lines. Certainly by the end of his presidency there were moments when that is exactly what he had become. But that was because of illness. Although Nancy Reagan cites a fall in 1989 as the beginning of Reagan’s Alzheimer’s, I’ve always believed that – in the last two years of his Presidency – Reagan was in the early stages of the disease. That, when he told various investigators, “I just don’t remember” something pertaining to Iran-Contra, that he really didn’t.  He was still aware enough, though, to know that he could have checked his diaries to find some of those answers – and Reagan never mentioned the diaries until after he’d left office. For his first six years in office, however, Reagan was a heavily engaged chief executive.  Certainly not the micro-manager his predecessor had been [indeed, Brands argues that had Reagan been more like President Jimmy Carter, Iran-Contra would have never happened]; but someone who was leading his Administration’s policies, not merely mouthing the words.

Because I don’t want to write a 700-page book review, here are a few snippets from some of the seminal events of the Reagan presidency and how Brands treats them:

1) Assassination Attempt -Here, Brands drops the ball. He does not delve into enough detail regarding the seriousness of Reagan’s injuries – namely, how close to death Reagan truly came. The fact is, a delay of even five minutes in getting Reagan to the emergency room would have meant the presidency of George H.W. Bush would’ve begun nearly eight years earlier than it did. Brands does do a fine job of detailing Nancy Reagan’s trauma and the long-term effects Reagan’s brush with death had on her and how she worried about her husband. It also introduced astrologer Joan Quigley into the nation’s life. From the assassination attempt to the end of his life, Nancy Reagan relied heavily on Quigley – to a level that not even President Reagan knew – in influencing Reagan’s calendar of events.  This stemmed from Quigley’s claim to Nancy Reagan that – had she been consulted – she could have told Reagan not to travel on March 30, 1981.

2) Air Traffic Controllers – One of the reasons why the air traffic controllers were fired is they didn’t believe Reagan when – on August 3, 1981 – he told the press clearly that he would fire any controller who did not return to his/her job by August 5th. Most of the members of PATCO [Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization] thought Reagan was posturing. This was a fatal error. One of Reagan’s heroes – in addition to FDR – was Calvin Coolidge. As governor of Massachusetts in 1919, Coolidge had won national acclaim for firing striking police in Boston.  Indeed, it was that action that was the largest contributor to Coolidge being named to the Republican ticket with Warren Harding one year later. Like Coolidge, Reagan did not believe the controllers had a right to strike. For Reagan – as for Coolidge 60 years earlier – there was a clear distinction between the public and private sectors when it came to strikes. Those in the latter group had a right to strike. Those in the public sector did not.

3) Gorbachev – Perhaps the two most influential men in the second half of the 20th century were Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. Brands does an excellent job in providing a blow-by-blow account of the to two biggest summits between the two men – Geneva in 1985 and Reykjavik in 1986. While the latter was initially viewed as a colossal failure, it actually paved the way to the eventual arms treaty signed by the two men in 1987. Ultimately, the one issue the two men could not get past was Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative [SDI], skewered by critics as ‘Star Wars’. Although Gorbachev came to Reykjavik with virtually every concession requested by Reagan at Geneva, Reagan would not abandon the testing of SDI, while Gorbachev insisted that any testing remain ‘in the laboratory’ for at least ten years.  Of course, we now know that SDI was never developed [President Bill Clinton killed it in 1993] but at the time Reagan held onto the concept of being able to shoot down incoming missiles. Although many derided Reagan at the time for the fantastic concept, Reagan argued that he wasn’t interested in SDI to prevent a Soviet attack: he was worried about a ‘lone mad-man’ with a nuclear device. Although seemingly paranoid in 1986, in the aftermath of 9/11, one can see Reagan as being more prescient than paranoid.

4) Iran-Contra – Nothing defined Reagan’s second term – not even the treaty with the Soviet Union – as much Iran-Contra did.  Brands concludes that Reagan knew well that we were trading arms for hostages; but was completely blindsided by the subsequent diversion of proceeds from those sales to the Contras in Nicaragua.  At the heart of the matter, according to Brands, was Reagan’s humanity. According to numerous sources – including his own diary – a daily question Reagan asked his staff was “Any word on the hostages?” Every day. It consumed him. He had berated and belittled Carter for being unable to deliver the hostages held in Iran and here he was completely helpless to free [at one time] six Americans held in Lebanon by Hezbollah. In Reagan’s mind, he constructed a framework whereby he was not really trading arms for hostages. Rather, he was making a gesture to Iran [arms, despite the fact that doing so was a violation of U.S. law] with two goals in mind: a) to begin to thaw the ice between the two countries with the long-term goal of working with Ayatollah Khomeini’s successors on reestablishing relations; and, more importantly, b) so that Iran would use its influence with Hezbollah to get them to release the U.S. hostages. Brands argues that Reagan is to blame in that his free delegation of authority bred an Oliver North and John Poindexter.  Reagan also made it clear to both men that he wanted the Contras helped, to keep them together “in body and spirit” despite the Boland Amendment which prohibited aiding them. With a lack of oversight and unmistakable instructions from Reagan that he wanted “everything possible” done to help the Contras, it is little surprise that North and Poindexter made the decision to divert the Iran funds without telling Reagan.

Brands’ work is strong. Although obviously very lengthy, it is an easy read and provides non-history aficionados with enough of an historical background to make those who were not alive appreciate and understand the times in which Reagan lived and led. In many ways Reagan will always remain an enigma.  The book only casually covers two of his deepest mysteries: his complicated relationship with his children from two marriages; and the fact that even those whom he considered his closest friends claim to have never really gotten close to him.

Brands’ work does bring Reagan closer to us. And what we find reminds us of why we liked him in the first place.

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