The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, Jul 30, 2009 - Political Science - 168 pages
"They called it the Reagan revolution," Ronald Reagan noted in his Farewell Address. "Well, I'll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense." Nearly two decades after that 1989 speech, debate continues to rage over just how revolutionary those Reagan years were. The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction identifies and tackles some of the controversies and historical mysteries that continue to swirl around Reagan and his legacy, while providing an illuminating look at some of the era's defining personalities, ideas, and accomplishments. Gil Troy, a well-known historian who is a frequent commentator on contemporary politics, sheds much light on the phenomenon known as the Reagan Revolution, situating the reception of Reagan's actions within the contemporary liberal and conservative political scene. While most conservatives refuse to countenance any criticism of their hero, an articulate minority laments that he did not go far enough. And while some liberals continue to mourn just how far he went in changing America, others continue to mock him as a disengaged, do-nothing dunce. Nevertheless, as Troy shows, two and a half decades after Reagan's 1981 inauguration, his legacy continues to shape American politics, diplomacy, culture, and economics. Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush modeled much of their presidential leadership styles on Reagan's example, while many of the debates of the '80s about the budget, tax cutting, defense-spending, and American values still rage. Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan remains the most influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and one of the most controversial. This marvelous book places the Reagan Revolution in the broader context of postwar politics, highlighting the legacies of these years on subsequent presidents and on American life today. About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

It is not all that common that one of the university presses like OUP would publish a book that treats a conservative icon with a glowing praise, even when that book is aimed at a general audience. Even more unusual is the title of this book, which minces no words in characterizing its subject in such an uncompromising and definitive terms as "The Reagan Revolution." Ronald Reagan was one of the most significant American presidents of the twentieth century, and part of his enduring appeal stems from his willingness to portray the most important issues of the day in straightforward terms. His characterization of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" resonates to this day.
Gil Troy gives us a very interesting and favorable portrayal of Reagan, but he manages to avoid turning this book into some kind of hagiography. He describes Reagan's early youth in Illinois, and tries to establish some of the influences on his character that remained over the years. Troy is not shy of psychoanalyzing Reagan, but for the most part these assessments have a lot of face validity and generally flow well with the image of the 40th President. We also learn quite a bit about Reagan' political career, and his climb to the top of US politics. Overall these are all very interesting bits of information.
One of the issues that I have with this book is that it spends too much time on either the background material that builds up to Reagan's presidency, including the general political trends in the US, or on the assessment of that presidency in terms of later political and social developments. Personally I would have liked if the book focused more on Reagan himself and let the presidency years speak for themselves.
Furthermore, Troy seems to be overly eager to stress the facts that Reagan was no hard-core conservative, and was in fact rather moderate in his policies. This assessment, whether justified or not, is not very likely to jive well with either the conservatives or liberals today. In fact, Troy seems to be backtracking from the very title of this book, and even suggesting that if there was such a thing as The Reagan Revolution it was both a) limited and b) over by now. This attitude almost nullifies the otherwise very favorable account of Reagan legacy. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting book and well worth the read.


1 Was Reagan a dummy?
2 Do Americans like their government bigor small?
3 Was there a call for a Reagan revolution or what happened to the Great Society?
4 Was there in fact a Reagan revolution?
5 Did the Democrats fiddle as the Reaganauts conquered Washington?
6 Who ended the Cold WarReagan or Gorbachev?
7 Did the Reagan revolution succeed or fail?
8 When did the Reagan revolution end?
Further reading

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2009)

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Visiting Scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, DC. A frequent media commentator, his writings have appeared in the Washington Post, Newsday, the New York Times Book Review, the National Post, and other publications. He is the author of Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s and Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents.