Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 01/10/2011 by John Bird.
Not Recommended. Author Brown does a disservice to the real Reagan with her over-adoring, over-attached, hyper-sentimental approach.
President Reagan was a man of faith. He believed in prayer, and he depended upon a sovereign God who answers prayer. He displayed his faith through generosity, kindness, and love. Because I admire these qualities and the President who possessed them, I was eager to read Mary Beth Brown's The Faith of Ronald Reagan. Brown is a New York Times Best-Selling Author, so I assumed that the book would be well written. Had I thought twice, I would have remembered that popularity has little to do with quality.
Brown gives us an overview of each stage in the President's life, even going back as far as the childhood of his parents. She covers the most important events while throwing in the more interesting details, and has no shortage of quotes from Reagan and those who knew and loved him. By the end, I appreciate President Reagan even more than I did before, and I am convinced that he trusted God, both in public and private.
Though Brown succeeds in highlighting the faith of Reagan, she fails to write a serious biography. She is too attached, too adoring. This hagiographic book sounds like a mother's ode to her most beloved son, or a high school yearbook tribute to the quarterback who died in a tragic accident written by the overly familiar friend: "I loved Joe. He was kind to everyone, always smiling, perfect in every way. We all loved him, but I, I loved him the most."
True to her role as overly familiar friend, Brown mentions any Reagan event that she was "fortunate to attend," even when it has little to do with the context. And, once she tells us that Reagan’s childhood nickname was "Dutch," we almost lose hope that she'll ever use his real name again:
Dutch also occasionally led prayer meetings at church. Members of his church enjoyed listening to Dutch's dynamic, engaging voice and delivery, which was most likely the result of the elocution (the art of public speaking) lessons that his mother gave him. Some church members later remarked how Dutch would make the Bible seem personal and alive...
Finally, after several chapters, Dutch grows up, and we remember that we are reading about a President of the United States. But then there's the problem of awkward, repetitive, redundant prose:
In 1976, he faced a sitting U.S. president, Gerald R. Ford, for the Republican nomination, and his campaign strategy called for delivering a knockout blow to Gerald Ford in the early primaries of New Hampshire and Florida. The strategists of the 1976 campaign believed that those early wins would knock Ford out.
Nothing is beautiful, but has to be stunningly beautiful. Danger has to be "a brush with death." And paragraphs drop in from nowhere: just when we think we are reading a chapter about Reagan's mother, it's suddenly about Moon (Reagan's brother), or Muggs (Reagan's girlfriend). Or is it about Dutch's collection of bird's eggs? No, it's Bible commentary - the Mary Beth Brown Bible commentary, which readers get a strong dose of. For Brown, every story is a "teachable moment," and she never misses an opportunity to enlighten us on things that are "almost universally misunderstood."
There are other problems besides the writing: the equating of patriotism with faith, the belief that the U.S. is the "shining city on a hill," and the dogmatic certainty of the Holy Spirit's involvement in Reagan's acting career and political speeches. Maybe Reagan was the most Christian President of modern times ("Even though Carter was a self-described born-again Christian, he gave eleven religious discourses...whereas Regan gave twenty-four"). But God's chosen servant, in the Old Testament sense of spirit and anointing? Really?
John Barletta, a Secret Service agent close to President Reagan (who has traveled all over the world with him) has said that he too noticed this amazing phenomenon with the weather at Reagan's inauguration and other appearances: 'The sky would be gray and cloudy at an outdoor event, and then when President Reagan came up to speak, the sky would clear and the sun would shine down on him.'
Serious readers will want to find another Reagan biography. For those who prefer a shallow, sentimental book that borders on mystical, this book will do.
Editor's Note: The Faith of Ronald Reagan is the 2011 version of Brown's Hand of Providence: the Strong and Quiet Faith of Ronald Reagan, also published by Thomas Nelson in 2004.