Monday, August 13, 2012

My Father at 100, by Ron Reagan

Ronald Reagan would have been 100 years old in 2011.  As a celebration of his father's life, son Ron sought to learn more about family history, and glimpse the often unseen side of our 40th president.  In learning more about family history, Ron learns a great deal about himself, as well as what shaped his father into the leader he seemed destined to become.

It is not often that I write a harsh review of a book, because I know that is most cases, an author has poured his life's blood into the book, eating, breathing, and sleeping the all consuming work for many months, only to put it out there for all the world to see, like their exposed inner child.  So, normally, I try to respect authors even when I do not like the book.  The exception to this is when a person with a famous name masquerades as an author, cashing in on that name, with a piece of pure schlock.  And that is totally the case with this book.

I personally have no strong feelings one way or the other in terms of Ronald Reagan.  I was too young during his presidency to remember much of it, and am too disinterested in politics now to devote too much time learning about him.  However, I thought a biography would be a good way to slightly expand my knowledge base regarding the former president.  And in that way, the book was successful, as I did learn facts about his life.  But I had to learn them in the most boring way possible.  This book is so boring, and poorly written.  It tries to be both a historical genealogy about generations past and a memoir of growing up as the son of the president; it fails at both.  The book starts out ok, if not a little slow, tracing the family roots back to Ireland, and telling how the family made their way to, and across, America.  However, the book kind of tanks about 60 pages in, when the author starts interjecting childhood anecdotes, often unrelated to the overall topic of the chapter, in a way that confuses the narrative.  In one chapter, he discusses himself as a teen, his dad as a teen, then his dad at his first inauguation, his dad as an adolescent, himself as an adolescent, and his grandfather as a young adult, pretty much in that order.  It was awful.  The same chapter included the following obnoxious (and what I suspect to be inaccurate in terms of current alcohol consumption) sentence about his grandfather Jack: "He drank during an age when men imbibed far more alcohol, on average, than in today's more abstemious climate."

I think that this book could have benefited from a heavy handed editor not so intimidated by the Reagan name that he was scared to tell Ron he cannot write.  Either an editor like that, or a ghost writer.  I cannot even speak to the factual nature of the content, because I could not get past the awful awful writing to even devote any energy to the content.

If I felt this were a book by someone who really tried, or that this was an earnest endeavor to write ones memoirs, I would probably not be so harshly critical.  However, I feel like this was just an attempt for Ron to cash in on his famous dad.  I would imagine there are many biographies, and even memoirs written by other Reagan family members, that are written better than this, and would tell more about Ronald Reagan in a clear, concise, logical manner.  I doubt I will go looking for them, however, as this one kind of soured me.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.


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