Falling somewhere between David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King and Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, this memoir is a real world look at a CIA operative’s life as part of the staff of a U.S. Embassy. Danger, intrigue and civil service bureaucratic infighting abound, making it an interesting window into the sausage making of foreign policy. (4 of 5 Stars)
In 2010, I started on a mission to read a biography of each and every U.S. President in chronological order. If seven years seems like a long time, it is–so long, in fact, that I was reading about Adams, Jefferson and Madison on a Sony eReader. I doubled up on some of them, like Kennedy, Reagan and T-Rex, so with my “extra credit” reading, it averaged out to about seven books per year. Not too shabby, as it probably represented about 20-25% of my total reading and many of the bios were quite verbose.
- The Presidents as men, as human beings, are each uniquely different personalities that run the gamut from one extreme to another, e.g. from Theodore “Bully Pulpit” Roosevelt to Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge. But the bottom line is that no man ever becomes President who does not want the job. Remember, nobody joins…
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A gritty-as-a-west-Texas-prairie murder mystery, Ben Rehder’s tale is more spicy gumbo than cowboy chili, stirring a Nordic blonde eco-warrior unafraid to use her feminine wiles, a big city mafioso in witness protection trying to muscle in on a home-grown business, and a girth-challenged U.S. Marshal in love with the mobster’s Hispanic housekeeper into the pot with local Blanco County LEOS and locos. I didn’t read the first in the series, but that’s okay. Bone Dry was a quick, entertaining read with enough twists to keep you flipping the pages to the end of the trail. (4 of 5 Stars)
The buck stops here: I take full responsibility for my disappointment in this book, having been misinformed by my expectations. I really enjoyed Reeves’ bio of Kennedy (Profile of Power), giving it 5 out of 5 stars. I was hoping for more of the same, but what started as a fly-on-the-wall behind-the-scenes look at a presidency in action morphed into an examination of Reagan’s reflection as it appeared in the mirror of the news media.
For example, Gorbechev was named Time Magazine’s Man of the year…
But the Fashion Foundation of America named Reagan to its “Best Dressed” list for the fourth straight year, and dropped Gorbachev because he wore a business suit rather than a tuxedo to the formal White House dinner to celebrate the signing of the INF Treaty.
In fact, the very last sentence of the book is
“God, this is impressive,” said Steven Weisman, a New York Times White House correspondent during the Reagan years [commenting on his funeral]. “But the man they’re talking about is not the President I covered every day.”
There was also a lot more editorial snarkiness in Reeves’ narrative this time than I recall in the Kennedy book. For example:
President Daniel Ortega and Defense Minister Humberto Ortega sounded more like the Marx Brothers than Marxists…
He [Reagan] had connected Americans with a common political language—dumbing down politics in his way…
Written like a true Politico-Media Establishment elitist.
In fact, I think I may have come away with greater insight into those who collect salaries as paid observers of and commentators on politics than I did about Ronald Reagan. The book is littered with observations similar to Steven Weisman’s, like:
David Stockman was cruel and specific in his reminiscences, helping create the image of a befuddled old man who came alive only when the curtain opened and the lights brightened.
It gives me pause that journalists and politicians may be afflicted with the same cognitive dissonance as movie and TV fans who might struggle with the fact that Matt Damon is not really Jason Bourne or that Martin Sheen was never really President.
Reagan was, after all, an actor…and, really, aren’t we all? (2 of 5 Stars)
Note to readers of this bog (the following comments do not appear in my Amazon and a Goodreads review postings): I have no doubt that the Iran-Contra “Affair” was a misguided and illegal attempt by the Executive branch to implement policy against the will of the Legislative branch, but…come on…seriously. The wails of indignation by journalists, politicians and biographers over the fact that individuals involved in a COVERT! operation would lie during the execution of that operation and not be open, honest and forthcoming about their COVERT! activities is evidence of either a special kind of stupidity or their own devious natures.