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The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism [Hardcover]

Paul Kengor
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Book Description

Oct. 5 2006

A groundbreaking reassessment of Ronald Reagan's life and presidency, exploring his lifelong struggle--and ultimate victory--against the tyranny of Communism

In this dramatic meditation on the life of Ronald Reagan, historian Paul Kengor presents an account of the fortieth president that has never been written--one that details Reagan's campaign against the Soviet Union, which lasted for more than forty years. Tracing Reagan's anti-Communist sentiment to his days as president of the Screen Actors Guild, Kengor illuminates how this experience first emboldened the actor to speak out against the oppression of the Soviet Union and describes Reagan's multifaceted efforts to prevent Communism from taking hold in Hollywood. Ultimately his SAG tenure paved the way for his burgeoning political career, which, from its inception, had but one purpose: the end of Communism.

Utilizing reams of recently declassified documents, Kengor assembles a striking mosaic of Reagan's words and actions that toppled the Soviet Union. From Reagan's covert support of the rebels who defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan to his secret oil collusion with Saudi Arabia that devastated the Soviet economy, Kengor reveals how Reagan's eight years in office did more to bring down the Soviet Union than any single administration in the history of the Cold War. With painstaking detail, he also explains Reagan's crucial move to escalate the arms race with the Kremlin, a decision that, though politically un-popular, proved vital to the Soviets' eventual downfall.

Revisiting many of the administration's principal characters, Kengor speaks with the individuals who helped shape foreign policy under Reagan. These testi-monies give unfettered access into the hearts and minds of those closest to Reagan, revealing how this group translated Reagan's ideas into a comprehensive strategy to destroy the Soviet Union. In addition, Kengor delves into never-before-studied Soviet documents and propaganda, uncovering how the other side perceived Reagan's advances and attempted to counter his progress with its unique brand of disinformation. Also told here is an incendiary revelation of the liberal American politician who reportedly reached out to the Soviets to derail Reagan's 1984 bid for reelection.

With unparalleled research, this fascinating book tells the story of a man who believed that it was his responsibility to save the world from Soviet oppression. It's a story that demonstrates how one American's fight ended the twentieth-century's longest war. It's a story of one man who changed history. It's the story of a crusader.


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From Publishers Weekly

In this hagiographic account, political scientist Kengor (God and Ronald Reagan) makes the familiar case (made most recently by John Lewis Gaddis in The Cold War) that Reagan played a decisive role in ending the Cold War. Reagan was troubled by communism well before he arrived at the White House. As a young man in Hollywood, he railed against the red threat, and as early as 1967, he called for the destruction of the Berlin Wall. As president, Reagan engaged in "economic warfare," invaded Grenada and proved that the Soviets couldn't win an arms race against the U.S. Though "those enslaved by the Soviet Communist state" didn't find freedom until after the Reagan administration, Dutch gets the credit. And what of other major figures who contributed to the Cold War's end? Gorbachev, of course, figures prominently, and John Paul II makes significant appearances—Kengor credits the pope with helping turn Reagan's attention to Poland. Ted Kennedy, on the other hand, emerges as a sneak and a dupe, willing to undermine U.S. foreign policy and make nice with the Russians. The book's structure is somewhat stilted—each chapter is broken up into short chunks, so it feels as though one is reading not a sweeping narrative, but an annotated time line of Reagan's presidency. While the book is workmanlike, the chronology is useful and the footnotes reveal an impressive amount of research. (Oct. 17)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Praise for God and Ronald Reagan:“God and Ronald Reagan captures the real Ronald Reagan.” (Michael ReaganMichael Reagan)

Praise for God and Ronald Reagan:“A profound character study, and engrossing work of history…” (Peter Robinson, author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life)

Praise for God and Ronald Reagan:“Fascinating… This is a must-read piece of political history.” (Donald M. Goldstein, coauthor of At Dawn We Slept)

Praise for God and George W. Bush:“Excellent” (National Review)

Praise for God and George W. Bush:“A wealth of material.” (National Catholic Reporter)

“Combining great story-telling with his commitment to scholarly detail, Paul Kengor has written an important and fascinating book.” (Peter Schweizer, author of Do As I Say Not As I Do and Reagan's War)

“While many have tried, few have succeeded in telling such a complete history of my dad’s greatest triumph.” (Michael Reagan)

“Paul Kengor’s latest book illuminates a side of the man evident only to those closest to him.” (Bill Clark, National Security Advisor 1982-1983)

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book about a great president April 7 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
A few years back, I was having an argument with a (rather liberal) friend of mine about the collapse of European communism. We are both from Europe, but we grew up on different sides of the East-West divide. His was what I came to understand the conventional view of people on the left: the communism collapsed due to its internal contradictions, because it was not the "real" communism, and a string of similar sorts of nonsense. As with many other issues that we argued about, I could not have disagreed more. Indeed, communism had enough of the internal problems that its eventual demise was inevitable, however left to its own devices, the eventual collapse would surely taken many more years, or even decades if not longer to unravel, with incalculable cost in human misery that would have engendered. Those of us who have had the luck to avoid that misery are grateful for all the external pressures exercised on that political system that hastened its demise, in particular the pressure that United States has exercised during all those decades of the Cold War, culminating with the final strong push by president Ronald Reagan and his administration. This book is a valuable record of what motivated Reagan to see the communism for what it really was - an evil system bent on repressing its own citizens. The book documents Reagan's anti-communist stand from his earliest political days, all the way through his years in the office. It gives an invaluable event-by-event chronology of all the systematic and relentless effort that Reagan put into dismantling the communist influence everywhere in the world that culminated in the final collapse of the Soviet Union and its many Eastern European satellite-states. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
56 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid writing Oct. 23 2006
By Essex - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For substance "The Crusader" falls within the work of David Brinkley, Robert Caro and David McCullough. History which is fun to read but isn't fluff.

Not the very light writing of a Sean Hannity, Al Franken, Michael Savage or Bill O'Reilly. Nor an Ann Coulter foot-noted polemic intended to amuse or infuriate.

On the other hand, "The Crusader" is not as detailed as Yale university's Annals of Communism series (Think Sean McMeekin, Donald Rayfield and William J. Chase--wonderful history but not books one picks up and reads straight through).

Of the 432 pages in "The Crusader" 79 are footnotes. 12 pages mention Ted Kennedy. 4 pages out of those 12 pages are in the appendix--the KGB letter. Kengor received the Chebrikov document via Marko Suprun, Walter Zaryckyi and Herb Romerstein (author of the Venona papers). A brief excerpt from the letter was first published in the London Sunday Times (February 2, 1992 "Teddy, the KGB and the Top Secret File").
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece Work of History! Skeptical at First, I Was Impressed! April 27 2007
By Todd Carlsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blockbuster Nov. 2 2006
By Richard D. Cappetto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism

by Paul Kengor is a wonderful History of Ronald Reagan and his goal to defeat communism. kengor was challenged to prove that Reagan brought down the USSR and he proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt.The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism is very well resourced and is comprehensive, you will learn a lot and yet its not dry history, its exciting. Just for the Kennedy and Carter mentions alone, its worth it the read. There should be a congressional investigation into both Carter and Kennedy actions. But I digress, you will find out that Ronald Reagan did not end communism alone, but he was a big factor and major player in bringing down the evil empire, and that evil system.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Leadership in Difficult Times Dec 7 2006
By Bonnie M. Parsley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
We have heard of how SDI was the breaking point for the Soviets but Paul Kengor, in his book The Crusader, reveals the many and varied strategies used by President Reagan and his team for bringing down the Soviet Union, many of which have only recently been declassified. For anyone who doubts that Reagan had much to do with the demise of the Soviet Union, this book will convince you that Reagan's staunch adherence to his belief that human freedom will win against totalitarian ideology was the catalyst in winning the cold war. He believed that as long as the oppressed are given hope, and the right pressures are applied on repressive regimes at the right time, these regimes will crumble.

The Crusader is a fascinating read as it shows how Reagan, the man, developed the confidence, the skills, and the philosophy that helped him deal with the Soviets. It shows how he was able to stand up to the intense pressure, even from those in his own administration at times, to follow the right course which led eventually to the collapse of Communism. You come away with the belief that without Reagan, the Soviet Union would still be controlling Eastern Europe and parts of Asia today.

Extremely well researched with new evidence from both U.S. and Soviet declassified files, the Crusader tells a story of courage, principled leadership, and faith in the power of freedom. It shows Reagan as a great leader who revived the American spirit and made us believe in ourselves again. It shows how Reagan who was often bitterly opposed by the opposition party, the Europeans, and the Kremlin was able to persevere and accomplish the thing that he had set out to do from the first days of his administration. This book offers many lessons that we need to learn in order to deal intelligently with the difficulties that the U.S. faces today. I highly recommend this book.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars should be mandatory reading April 3 2007
By M. D. Tudahl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It is nice to finally read some of the history of the 1980s without the need to insult or suck up to those in power. Paul Kengor has added this book to the list of great biographies of Ronald Reagan (another was "Reagan's War" which is also excellent). Regardless of what you felt about the man, it is fairly important to understand Reagan's place in changing the world.

An odd thing about telling the story of Reagan is that most biographies don't mention what he did for Poland and other Soviet Block countries. In fact, the book, "Dutch" barely mentions Lech Wallesa and the solidarity movement. In many of those countries, Reagan is viewed as a liberator and hero. Again, regardless of your view of the man here in the U.S., he did change the world and was the linchpin for the fall of the U.S.S.R. This book is an excellent way to understand how and why he did it. What he did was put his vision on the block and stood by it, regardless of what some of his closest advisors told him. In the end, history has shown him to be the man with the vision of how to end the cold war.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for ANYONE who wants to understand the fall of the Soviet Union or why Reagan is viewed as a God by many Republicans. At the same time, this book is not insulting, nor does it degrade those with different viewpoints. It is an exciting and fascinating book with information that I had never heard, and I've read 10-15 books about the man. Great work and as a fan of history... keep these types of books coming.
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