Ronald Reagan’s son seeks to understand his father by researching his formative years.
“He was easy to love but hard to know,” writes the author, who disagreed with his father politically but loved him avidly. After the former president’s death in 2004, Ron visited the locales, mostly in Illinois, where his father grew up, graduated from high school and completed college. His insights are admittedly speculative yet never outlandish. Ron, a political commentator for MSNBC, writes clearly and does not fall into the trap of inflating his role in his father's world. The author explains that although 90 percent of his father's thoughts and actions have been chronicled more or less fully, the remaining 10 percent requires explication. After all, President Reagan, as Hollywood actor and politician, was inscrutable to the point of wonderment among his family members, friends and professional advisors. Of the already published writings, the author credits Edmund Morris’ Dutch (1999) as the most successful in capturing Reagan’s elusive nature. It turns out, from the youngest child's perspective, that the president was as advertised: naturally sunny, without guile, devoid of cynicism, expert at creating his own worldview by reformulating his childhood experiences, turning cinema experiences into an ersatz reality and frequently invoking denial when unpleasant scenarios loomed. Toward the end of the book, the author shifts from genealogical researcher to you-are-there narrator, particularly as he recounts the assassination attempt on his father and the already elderly man's swift recovery from a nearly fatal bullet entry. Ron's recounting of the post-presidential decline because of dementia is honest and compelling, whatever the reader's assessment of the White House years.A worthy memoir, given what might seem at first a superfluous quest for understanding.