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At least they paid their taxes

Linda Colley, 25 July 1991

Nancy ReaganThe Unauthorised Biography 
by Kitty Kelley.
Bantam, 532 pp., £16.99, April 1991, 0 593 02450 8
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... pages, full of this kind of upfront bitchiness, will already know, this is an indictment of Nancy Reagan composed by the vacuum-cleaner method. Five years of ‘meticulous’ research and over a thousand interviews have been sucked into the Kitty machine so as to give us the accumulated dirt. The book has been enormously successful, justifying its ...


Hilary Mantel, 7 December 1989

Life Lines: Politics and Health 1986-1988 
by Edwina Currie.
Sidgwick, 291 pp., £13.95, November 1989, 0 283 99920 9
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My Turn 
by Nancy Reagan and William Novak.
Weidenfeld, 384 pp., £15.95, October 1989, 0 297 79677 1
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Heiress: The Story of Christina Onassis 
by Nigel Dempster.
Weidenfeld, 180 pp., £12.95, October 1989, 0 297 79671 2
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... decently veiled. It is the question of public expectation, and how to meet it, that bedevilled Nancy Reagan during her time in the White House. ‘By the end of 1981,’ she tells us, ‘I had a higher disapproval rating than any first lady of modern times.’ Joan Didion called her smile ‘a study in frozen insincerity’. Gloria Steinem called her ...


Michael Rogin, 13 October 1988

Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North 
by Ben Bradlee.
Grafton, 572 pp., £14.95, September 1988, 0 246 13364 3
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For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington 
by Donald Regan.
Hutchinson, 397 pp., £16.95, June 1988, 0 09 173622 6
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... Ronald Reagan’s autobiography, Where’s the rest of me?, repeated the question the actor had asked in the movie King’s Row, when he woke up in a hospital bed to discover that his legs had been amputated. Reagan lost his legs in Hollywood, the autobiography explains, and recovered ‘the rest of me’ (that phrase is the leitmotif of his text) by fighting Communist influence there, acquiring personal and institutional backing, and marrying Nancy Davis ...

Dad & Jr

Christian Lorentzen: Bushes Jr & Sr, 4 December 2014

... race unopposed; deployment as the resident ‘worrywart’ in the Nixon and Ford administrations; Reagan picking him as a running mate in 1980 to avoid being pushed by the party into standing with Ford as an effective co-president. As president, Dad won the Cold War: he’s a second Churchill. The grievances take in Nixon, for the ‘putrid swamp’ of ...

Mailer’s Muddy Friend

Stephen Ambrose, 1 September 1988

Citizen Cohn 
by Nicholas von Hoffman.
Harrap, 483 pp., £12.95, August 1988, 0 245 54605 7
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... threats and innuendo. His main characteristic was cynicism. And yet his friends included Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Norman Mailer, Barbara Walters (they almost married), Cardinal Spellman, nearly all the top Mafia people, Richard Nixon, Si Newhouse, Rupert Murdoch, Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, William F. Buckley, an endless list of Congressmen and ...

I grew a beard

Christian Lorentzen: Biden on Crack, 3 June 2021

Beautiful Things: A Memoir 
by Hunter Biden.
Gallery, 272 pp., £20, April, 978 1 3985 0719 7
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... an antidote to the incessant slogans of the war on drugs that were broadcast during our youth: Nancy Reagan telling us ‘Just say no.’ It was a campaign in which Joe Biden was an architect and collaborator. The months Hunter spent partying at the Chateau Marmont and then, after he was kicked out, in a succession of lesser boutique hotels, are ...


Richard Rudgley: Plant obsessions, 15 July 1999

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession 
by Susan Orlean.
Heinemann, 348 pp., £12.99, April 1999, 0 434 00783 8
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The Tulip 
by Anna Pavord.
Bloomsbury, 438 pp., £30, January 1999, 0 7475 4296 1
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Plants of Life, Plants of Death 
by Frederick Simoons.
Wisconsin, 568 pp., £27.95, September 1998, 0 299 15904 3
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... in this modern nomenclature, such as those named after First Ladies – the Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton – and a whole subculture surrounding the orchid world: orchid baby-sitters, orchid doctors, even orchid boarding-houses, as well as a virtual cosmos of orchidodelirium on the Internet. Orlean shows how the contemporary cult ...

Who Will Lose?

David Edgar, 25 September 2008

Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future 
by Newton Minow and Craig LaMay.
Chicago, 219 pp., £11.50, April 2008, 978 0 226 53041 3
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... Prep was never more significant than in the debates of 1980 and 1984, in both of which Ronald Reagan’s surrogate opponent was David Stockman, a young former radical who went on to head the Office of Management and Budget before resigning over the budget deficit in Reagan’s second term. Stockman had been employed by ...

Those bastards, we’ve got to cut them back

Daniel S. Greenberg: Bush’s Scientists, 22 September 2005

The Republican War on Science 
by Chris Mooney.
Basic Books, 288 pp., £14.99, October 2005, 0 465 04675 4
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... The therapeutic hopes aroused by stem-cell research, however, have shifted political alignments. Nancy Reagan, mourning her husband’s death from Alzheimer’s disease, received public support when she endorsed the expansion of stem-cell research. More recently, the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, a former heart surgeon who’s expected to run for ...

Most Sincerely, Folks

Michael Wood: Andrew O’Hagan, 5 June 2003

by Andrew O’Hagan.
Faber, 328 pp., £16.99, May 2003, 0 571 19501 6
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... the Palladium and Las Vegas, appears with Dean Martin and Les Dawson, is introduced to President Reagan. Something is amiss, though. Even Nancy Reagan notices it. ‘My word,’ she says, ‘you’re terribly thin, my dear.’ Then she adds: ‘Well, never mind. A girl can never be too thin.’ At a later ...

The Mother of All Conventions

Edward Luttwak, 19 September 1996

... made for television by Haley Barbour, the Party’s national chairman. The appearance by Nancy Reagan spoke for itself. The elevation of Colin Powell into some sort of co-candidate and the exceptional prominence given to Elizabeth Dole, who made the most of her opportunity by wading into the crowd on the floor to do her husband’s This Is Your ...


John Lanchester, 21 October 1993

United States 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 1298 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 233 98832 7
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What Henry James Knew, and Other Essays on Writers 
by Cynthia Ozick.
Cape, 363 pp., £12.99, June 1993, 0 224 03329 8
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Sentimental Journeys 
by Joan Didion.
HarperCollins, 319 pp., £15, January 1993, 0 00 255146 2
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... Best Man, a play that I had written about a Presidential convention. An agent had suggested Ronald Reagan for the lead. We all had a good laugh. He is by no means a bad actor, but he would hardly be convincing, I said with that eerie prescience which has earned me the title the American Nostradamus, as a Presidential candidate. Vidal’s literary opinions are ...

Rising Moon

R.W. Johnson, 18 December 1986

L’Empire Moon 
by Jean-Francois Boyer.
La Découverte, 419 pp., August 1986, 2 7071 1604 1
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The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection 
by Edward Herman and Frank Brodhead.
Sheridan Square, 255 pp., $19.95, May 1986, 0 940380 07 2
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... the disparate elements of the American Right into the great crusade which was to culminate in Reagan’s election in 1980. Rising Tide was warmly greeted by Barry Goldwater and its columns featured articles by such luminaries of the conservative movement as Congressman Larry McDonald (head of the John Birch Society), Fred and Phyllis Schafly, Ray Cline ...

National Treasure

Christopher Hitchens, 14 November 1996

Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir 
by John Davis.
Wiley, 256 pp., £14.99, October 1996, 0 471 12945 3
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... of First Ladyhood and a Frank Sinatra-hosted inaugural party. All the things, in short, for which Nancy Reagan was later to be lampooned. But, as anyone who has ever argued with a fan will swiftly appreciate, nothing is wrong if a Kennedy does it. ‘Class’, you see. ‘American royalty’ is the phrase most often and – for my money – most aptly ...

Feral Chihuahuas

Jessica Olin: A.M. Homes goes west, 22 June 2006

This Book Will Save Your Life 
by A.M. Homes.
Granta, 372 pp., £14.99, June 2006, 1 86207 848 3
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... Former First Lady and the Football Hero’, perhaps her most ambitious story, Homes depicts Nancy Reagan visiting online chat rooms so that she can experience anonymity. Why has she resorted to such threadbare territory here? This is Homes’s first novel in six years, and her penetrating critique has given way to self-help truisms: ‘There is no ...

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