Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Standing before Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in 1987, President Reagan delivered his famous challenge to Soviet Premier Gorbachev: to tear down the wall dividing East and West Berlin. Within two years, the wall crumbled, and the U.S.S.R. soon followed. Time magazine deputy managing editor Ratnesar has mined American and East German archives to produce a lively, impressively detailed history of the iconic speech. Despite impeccable conservative credentials, Reagan considered avoiding nuclear war more important than defeating communism. This only became obvious in 1985, when Gorbachev assumed the Soviet leadership. Over the course of several meetings, the two leaders developed a rapport and announced disarmament agreements that distressed Reagan's hard-line supporters. In early 1987, speechwriter Peter Robinson produced a draft containing the "tear down this wall" statement, followed by a tortuous four months of innumerable drafts and quarrels with high officials who considered it unnecessarily offensive. In the end, Reagan liked the phrase, so it stayed. Being the world's sole superpower has brought America little satisfaction, so readers should enjoy this slim, lucid account of a time when events turned out brilliantly. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Time deputy managing editor Ratnesar examines the legacy of what is perhaps President Ronald Reagan's most famous speech. When Reagan died in 2004, nearly every tribute included the universally known line from his landmark speech at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Reagan's challenge to the Russian president was soon seen as one of the highlights of his tenure, and even today historians rank it as one of the most powerful lines ever spoken in a presidential speech. In his brief but comprehensive debut, Ratnesar includes testimony from members of Reagan's former staff, including the speech's main writer, Peter Robinson. The author capably portrays the nuts-and-bolts process of crafting a presidential speech, with vetting and editing from countless cabinet departments. But Ratnesar widens his scope, effectively placing the speech in the context of the Cold War, showing how Reagan's predecessors dealt with the Berlin Wall and how Reagan, as far back as 1967, had expressed a firm desire to eliminate it. The author makes a strong case that the words "tear down this wall" were not simply a bellicose challenge; they were an invitation to Gorbachev, an attempt to build a bridge between Cold War enemies. Reagan's respect for Gorbachev gave the challenge particular resonance. "If he took down that wall," the president privately told aides, "he'd win the Nobel Prize." Ratnesar is careful not to freight the speech with too much importance, however. Unlike some of Reagan's more ardent admirers (and despite the book's subtitle), the author does not give the speech full credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall, or of the Soviet Union. But there's no denying its importance. "That single phrase in Berlin," Ratnesar writes, "seemed to capture the essence of Reagan: a clear, simple, resolute message of optimism" that has since become a key part of Reagan lore. A well-balanced look at a key moment in Reagan's presidency. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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