A few weeks ago, a nice lady from Penguin emailed to ask if I’d like a complementary copy of My Father At 100, Ron Reagan’s book about his famous father. Being a Reaganite, I gladly agreed. Unfortunately, I think I may end up disappointing her, because the book was a little bit disappointing to me, which is sad, because I really wanted to like the book.
First off, the good parts. Ron (I’ll be referring to him as Ron throughout not out of disrespect, but to avoid confusion with President Reagan) is very good at bringing forward things that might not have been covered by other books — I’m not sure because I haven’t read every book by or about Reagan — and at describing his own journey to discovering these things about his father. He shares a lot of stories that he heard around the dinner table and really helps understand how Reagan developed during his years before entering politics, even going back to the O’Regans of Ireland for a little of the family history. Several of the stories are very touching, sharing things like his recollections of when his father was shot.
However, the book disappoints because Ron can’t quite seem to let go of his political differences of opinion with Reagan, or with Republicans in general. Even though in the introduction he says, point blank:
This is not a political biography — that’s a job best left for others. I argued plenty with my father while he was alive; I have no intention of picking a fight with him now that he’s gone and can’t defend himself.
That seems to be what he does at several points in the book, including this passage:
His cherished tax cuts were passed — only to be scaled back when it became apparent that trickle-down economics was, indeed, as his vice president had put it earlier, “voodoo.”
That’s not the statement of a man who has no intention of picking a fight with a parent who’s passed on. He also denigrates the entire Republican party in the epilogue as being infected by “rage mongering.” Given that the book was copyrighted in 2011, he was probably writing it in 2010 and could easily have been referring to the rise of the Tea Parties in the 2010 midterm elections.
Ron Reagan’s political differences with his father are well known in political circles, and I believe that had Ron gone with his original intention of not writing a political biography, and not picking fights with his late father, the book would have been much better. It would have been impossible to write a book about Reagan without at least glancing in the direction of politics, but in my opinion, it could have been handled much more gracefully.
All in all, I’d give it a C. The parts where Ron concentrates on family history and stories about the Reagan household that we might not have heard are well worth reading; if you’re a conservative who can handle the author rehashing old disagreements with his father in the pages of the book, it’s worth picking up.