This is a great history Ronald Reagan's lifelong crusade against Communism. I recommend it as an enjoyable read and a fascinating history of Reagan's role in the Cold War. Despite an obvious enthusiasm for Reagan, Kengor's research is extremely well-researched and authoritative. "The Crusader" is a "must read" book for anyone interested in the period.
However, the story presented here is one-dimensional and, therefore, different than the fuller story Reagan tells himself in Reagan's autobiography An American Life. According to Reagan himself, he and Gorbachev became good friends and peacefully ended the Cold War. That personal diplomacy had much to do with the unraveling of the Soviet Empire three years after Reagan left office. Read the last chapter of his autobiography. This view is affirmed by Reagan's top diplomatic adviser to USSR Jack Matlock in Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. For the rest of the story, read the two best books on the Cold War: The Cold War: A New History and The Rise and Fall of Communism. I recommend reading those books, along with the Crusader, to understand the complete story.
In the early 1940s, Reagan the visible actor spoke out against the threats of Nazism. After America won World War II, Reagan warned that there was another totalitarian threat called Communism. Yet Reagan's anti-Communist views were not well received in Hollywood where many naive liberals back then were intrigued with the delusions of Marxism. Communists were trying to infiltrate the film industry, and Reagan stood up to them and rooted them out. Reagan was threatened with having acid thrown in his face for his efforts. After James Roosevelt, FDR's son, and Reagan considered making a strong anti-Communist statement, they were attacked with insults. That's when Reagan, a staunch FDR supporter, began his journey to become a staunch conservative Republican and crusader against Communism. This book is so well researched and shows repeatedly that again and again, year after year, Reagan sincerely and forcefully spoke out against the threat of Communism - and he was right!
According to "The Crusader," once Reagan became president, he put in place a program of relentless pressure against USSR. He used speeches, economic warfare, a huge military build-up, and support of anti-Communist forces around the world. Reagan rejected containment and Detente, which maintained the status quo. His masterful speeches undermined the legitimacy of Communism. Reagan personally wrote to the Soviet leaders in longhand and insisted that they honor their promises in writing at Yalta, which they broke, to allow free elections in Poland and Eastern Europe.
The agreement at Yalta states: "The establishment of order in Europe and the rebuilding of national economic life must be achieved by processes which will enable the liberated peoples to destroy the last vestiges of Nazism and fascism and to create democratic institutions of their own choice. This is a principle of the Atlantic Charter - the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live - the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government to those peoples who have been forcibly deprived to them by the aggressor nations."
On August 17, 1984, Reagan said "We reject any INTERPRETATION of the Yalta agreement that suggests American consent for the division of Europe into spheres of influence. ON THE CONTRARY, we see that agreement as a pledge by the three great powers to restore full independence and to allow free and democratic elections in all countries liberated from the Nazis after World War II..." Reagan set out to make it happen. Reagan kept pushing and pushing to achieve his foreign policy political goals. It worked.
The chapter "The Coroner Comes to the Kremlin" is great. Read it. Under pressure to revive the ailing Soviet economy, Mikhail Gorbachev adopted bold reforms called Perestroika and Glasnost, but the results were not what he expected. Once the people tasted the freedoms he allowed, once the train was moving at high speed, it could not be turned back. Mikhail Gorbachev's Perestroika and Glasnost reforms opened Pandora's Box of freedom.
Ronald Reagan was the right man at the right time. Mikhail Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first Ronald Reagan Freedom award, and was named Time Magazine's Man of the Decade for his role. Yet Gorbachev never intended to destroy the Communist Party. He hoped, instead, to save it through reforms. He inadvertently presided over its demise. Without Reagan shifting the winds of freedom and applying pressure the way he did, the Soviet Empire would not have unraveled when it did.
Reagan ranks as one of the greatest diplomats of the 20th Century for his role in the demise of the Soviet Empire and making the world safer from the threat of nuclear war, along with FDR and his Great Arsenal of Democracy, Four Freedoms, Atlantic Charter, winning World War II, and making America a superpower engaged in world affairs. Just compare those impressive records to the rigid neo-con blunders in Iraq. Reagan was not a rigid neo-con, and he was not an amiable dunce as his critics have falsely claimed.
I do have a few quibbles with this book. Ronald Reagan, in his autobiography "An American Life" and "The Reagan's Diaries," emphasizes his friendship with "Gorby" and his peaceful diplomacy. Recent Reagan biographies by John Patrick Diggins and Richard Reeves also credit Reagan's diplomacy and friendship with "Gorbachev." Reagan was so sincere and good-natured, with that twinkle in his eye, that he was irresistible. Once Reagan got his "high beams" on you, you were finished, Michael Reagan once said. Reagan was a crusader but, more importantly, he was a persuader.
At Gorbachev's friendly invitation, Reagan gave a speech on free markets at Moscow State University and received a standing ovation. Reagan sold the Russians on free markets and freedom. He WAS the Great Communicator. When a reporter asked Reagan if USSR was still "the evil empire," Reagan replied, "No. I was talking about another time, another era." Kengor does not mention this, and he describes the visit to Moscow as yet another time when Reagan pressured Gorbachev. In fact, it was Reagan's love of peace and diplomacy that won the Cold War. Reagan and "Gorby" became good friends. In his autobiography, Reagan shared his fear that Gorbachev might be toppled by Communist hardliners: "I was concerned for his safety... I've still worried about him: How hard and fast can he push reforms without risking his life?"
Kengor presents an incomplete and perhaps misleading story of the Reykjavik summit and the friendship between the two leaders. Kengor reveals that Reagan desired to abolish nukes, but Kengor does not mention that Reagan and Gorbachev tentatively agreed to abolish ALL nuclear weapons at the Reykjavik summit and that Reagan proposed sharing SDI, which Reagan believed would make nukes obsolete.
Also, the achievements of President George Bush Sr. are not mentioned. Sweeping progress occurred when Bush was president, such as the summit at Malta between Bush and Gorbachev, the withdrawal of Soviet troop from Eastern Europe by Gorbachev's order, and Gorbachev allowing numerous free elections to take place. Bush was president for nearly three years when Gorbachev finally fell from power.
By the way, it was actually the 1975 Helsinki Accords by Gerald Ford - not Yalta - that officially recognized Soviet Control of Eastern Europe. In return, the Soviets promised to honor "human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief." Specifically, the Soviets recognized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped achieved. This allowed the dissident movement in USSR to take root. According to Soviet Foreign Minister Anatoly Dobrynin, the publicity gained from finally receiving recognition of Soviet control in Eastern Europe was supposed to bolster the Communist Party. Instead, "it gradually became a manifesto of the dissident and liberal movement'... Brezhnev could hardly repudiate what he had agreed to... human rights..." (The Cold War a New History: John Lewis Gaddis) Kengor also does not mention anything about the Potsdam Conference when Harry Truman was president. That was the last summit of WWII - not Yalta.
This book does not mention the contributions of the dissident movement, including Nobel Peace Prize-winning Andrei Sakharov. He was named as one of the Time 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. "By courageously speaking truth to power, he became the conscience of the cold war and inspired the movement that toppled Soviet communism...," Time wrote. "By the time of his death in 1989, this humble physicist had influenced the spread of democratic ideals throughout the communist world. His moral challenge to tyranny, his faith in the individual and the power of reason, his courage in the face of denunciation and, finally, house arrest -- made him a hero to ordinary citizens everywhere."
None-the-less, this is the best book on Reagan's lifelong crusade against Communism and a compelling work of research concerning Reagan's role. Kengor has done a fabulous job. Without Reagan, the Soviet Union would not have unraveled when it did. Reagan was the right man at the right time.
I am in a unique position to recommend this book. I studied the Cold War in college (although I eventually majored in business) when Gorbachev was in power. I traveled abroad and witnessed first-hand the rebellion in Lithuania against Soviet rule. I talked to several Lithuanians, who were participating in the rebellion, and I briefly met Vytautas Landsbergis, a professor of music and leader of the rebellion who became president after Lithuania gained independence. Tanks rolled through the streets of Vilnius while I was there (although Gorbachev refused to brutally suppress the rebellion). As a memento, I have a leaflet that Soviet helicopters dropped into the streets of Kaunas demanding an end to a huge demonstration. I had a friend who went to Poland and witnessed the Solidarity movement. Reagan encouraged those rebellions. I saw the world turn, and I know that Reagan had much to do with it. Reagan's life story is quite charming.
I highly recommend this book along with the fuller story Reagan tells himself in Reagan's autobiography An American Life. Reagan's personal diplomacy had much to do with the unraveling of the Soviet Empire three years after Reagan left office. This view is affirmed by Reagan's top diplomatic adviser to USSR Jack Matlock in Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. For the rest of the story, read the two best books on the Cold War: The Cold War: A New History and The Rise and Fall of Communism. I recommend reading those books, along with the Crusader, to understand the complete story. Read the Reagan biographies that document this relationship with Gorbachev well, including Ronald Reagan: Fate, Freedom, and the Making of History, President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination and President Reagan: The Role Of A Lifetime. The Soviet Empire unraveled three years after Reagan left office when George Bush Sr. was president. The more diplomatic and peaceful side of Reagan is minimized in Kengor's "The Crusader." None-the-less, Kengor's book is an important piece of the puzzle and a terrific history of Reagan.
Also read the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire by David Remnick.