by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
Bill O’Reilly’s biography of Ronald Reagan spans his entire adult life, from his move to California to become a movie star, his rise to political power, and his death at age 93. Like the other books in this series (Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, and Killing Patton–all of which I have read except the last), O’Reilly parallels the life of the protagonist–Reagan in this case–with his assassin. This particular one is different in that Reagan’s is only an attempted assassination. However, O’Reilly delves into the possibility that the assassination attempt and subsequent surgery and recovery greatly impacted the rest of Reagan’s life (and presidency) and very well could have contributed to the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s disease in the former president. Killing Reagan also looks at the relationships Reagan had with two women: his wife Nancy and his “political soul-mate” Margaret Thatcher.
- Present-tense, narrative style. Using present tense gives the reader a sense of involvement and immediacy. It reads less like a text-book and more like a crime documentary.
- Chapters that move between Ronald Reagan and John Hinkley, Jr. Like in his other books, O’Reilly devotes time to the assassin as well as the victim. It’s interesting to see these men and see their points of view instead of seeing them only as a man behind a gun. John Hinkley, Jr.’s mental state paralleled with Reagan’s policies on mental health are especially interesting.
- Well-researched facts. In the afterword, O’Reilly states that any facts in the book have at least two confirming sources. Also, many (many, many) quotes from Reagan, his staff members, Margaret Thatcher, and other people demonstrate the authenticity of the story. Also, I feel that O’Reilly is generally unbiased in his treatment of Reagan, telling the reader the good, bad, and ugly about the former president.
What Doesn’t Work:
- Lack of variation in sentence structure and syntax. I noticed this more while reading this book than others of O’Reilly’s. The writing style consists of mainly short, declarative statements, which definitely drive the action of the story. But it gets a little bland after a while. Also, the adjectives that are used tend to be repeated in sections, which makes me think the editors missed opportunities for more descriptive text.
- Less tension than in others in series. Since Reagan doesn’t actually die from the assassin’s bullet, there is less apprehension about an inevitable death. The tension in this book comes from global events like the Cold War and the Falklands War, among other issues that Reagan dealt with during his administration, along with his decline due to Alzheimer’s disease.
I read this book in the span of 24 hours. I think my fascination with this subject is because although I have a background in history, I don’t know a whole lot about very recent history. Many of the most important events in Reagan’s presidency happened in my very early childhood, so while I don’t necessarily remember them, I can wrap my head around how recently they took place as well as how Reagan’s policies and actions have influenced other events that I can remember–and things that are happening today. Many of the people in Reagan’s White House are still politically active now (or recently have retired from public service).
I recommend this book to anyone interested in politics of any kind (or side!) as well as to people who think they don’t like nonfiction. I’ve about decided that well-written nonfiction is my favorite genre!
Mrs. Ethridge’s Report Card:
My Rating: B
- quick, interesting read full of proven facts
- not as good as previous books in the series
Clean Factor: C
- a few language issues, typically in a quote from an actual person
- Reagan was known as a playboy in his younger years, so…
Book Clubbishness: B
- good length, easy to read
- several points for discussion: Nancy Reagan, Alzheimer’s disease, Reagan’s children, etc.