Interview by John Wisniewski
Henry William Brands (born August 7, 1953) is an American educator, author and historian. He has authored 25 books on U.S. history and biography. He is the Dickson Allen Anderson Centennial Professor of History and a Professor of Government at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his Ph.D. in history in 1985. His works have twice been selected as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
In the biography “Reagan: The Life,” H. W. Brands brilliantly establishes Ronald Reagan as one of the two great presidents of the twentieth century, a true peer to Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan conveys with sweep and vigor how the confident force of Reagan’s personality and the unwavering nature of his beliefs enabled him to engineer a conservative revolution in American politics and play a crucial role in ending communism in the Soviet Union. Reagan shut down the age of liberalism, Brands shows, and ushered in the age of Reagan, whose defining principles are still powerfully felt today.
Reagan follows young Ronald Reagan as his ambition for ever larger stages compelled him to leave behind small-town Illinois to become first a radio announcer and then that quintessential public figure of modern America, a movie star. When his acting career stalled, his reinvention as the voice of The General Electric Theater on television made him an unlikely spokesman for corporate America. Then began Reagan’s improbable political ascension, starting in the 1960s, when he was first elected governor of California, and culminating in his election in 1980 as president of the United States.
Employing archival sources not available to previous biographers and drawing on dozens of interviews with surviving members of Reagan’s administration, Brands has crafted a richly detailed and fascinating narrative of the presidential years. He offers new insights into Reagan’s remote management style and fractious West Wing staff, his deft handling of public sentiment to transform the tax code, and his deeply misunderstood relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, on which nothing less than the fate of the world turned.
Reagan is a storytelling triumph, an irresistible portrait of an underestimated politician whose pragmatic leadership and steadfast vision transformed the nation.
1) Why did you choose to write about the life and presidency of Ronald Reagan?
He was the most influential president of the second half of the twentieth century, changing the course of American politics in a conservative direction that still shapes public affairs today.
2) Why did Ronald Reagan choose a career in politics?
His Hollywood career had fizzled, and he needed something else to do. He had developed an interest in politics while working for General Electric, and he decided to give politics a try.
3) Did Ronald Reagan’s years in Hollywood aid him in his political career?
Most definitely. It made him famous, and taught him how to be a celebrity – how to act in public.
4) Did Ronald Reagan have to make some difficult decisions during the air traffic controllers strike?
It was a simple but trying decision. The striking controllers had violated their pledge not to strike. That’s what made it simple. But Reagan’s action cost a lot of good people their jobs. That’s what made it trying.
5) Ronald Reagan was criticized for traveling to Bitberg Germany. Did Ronald Reagan fear that this decision may have hurt his popularity as President?
He knew that it would. But he had made a commitment to Helmut Kohl and determined to follow through.
6) Do you have any favorites of Ronald Reagan’s films, H.W.?
Reagan himself considered Kings Row his best film.
7) What was the most dramatic moment of the Reagan Years?
The most dramatic moment was his near assassination in 1981.
8) Why should historians and authors take a look back at The Reagan Years?
The Reagan years marked the beginning of the conservative age we still live in.
9) Did the people of the United States expect President Ronald Reagan to recover, so quickly, from the attempt on hi life?
They did, in part because they didn’t know how close he had come to dying.
10) Could you tell us about your next book, or any upcoming projects, HW?
I’m not publicizing my next project just yet.