Procedural-like account of John Hinckley’s 1981 attack on President Ronald Reagan.
Reagan’s son Ron (see My Father at 100, 2011) has been making news with his revelation that the president began his sad decline by Alzheimer’s while still in office, but this account by Washington Post reporter Wilber depicts a Reagan, in office only a couple of months, at the top of his game. The author brings news to the table: For one thing, he writes, “the White House kept secret the fact that the president came very close to dying.” Even so, the public memory is of Reagan’s wakeful joking and his prompt recovery—for, only a few weeks later, he was back at work, now committed, as he wrote, to doing “whatever I could in the years God had given me to reduce the threat of nuclear war.” Wilber adds detail and nuance to the portrait of the would-be assassin, Hinckley, who was famously (or infamously) infatuated with the actress Jodie Foster and the film Taxi Driver. He was also indisputably mentally ill, a point that the recent shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson will drive home, even if, as Wilber notes in closing, Hinckley has increasingly been granted “more freedom in preparation for the day when he is eventually released.” Wilber’s minute-by-minute account of the assassination attempt has moments of tension worthy of Frederick Forsyth, but it’s also marred by patches of self-consciously noirish and clumsy writing (“getting shot by one was a bit like getting smashed with a sledgehammer, only worse”). Perhaps the best part of the book is the author’s portrait of the lead Secret Service agent and his colleagues at work, which adds dimension to the phrase “unsung heroes.”
A welcome addition to the literature of the Reagan era—and, for that matter, of political violence.