Some books are so good--so contagiously appealing--that the reader’s first instinct is to check a calendar: Does anyone have a birthday coming up? An anniversary? A christening? What is wanted is a pretext for putting a wonderful book in the hands of a friend. Peggy Noonan’s WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION: A POLITICAL LIFE IN THE REAGAN ERA is such a book.
Noonan was a speech writer for President Ronald Reagan from 1984 to 1986; part-time in 1987 and throughout 1988 she worked for George Bush. She was good at her trade; her speeches for Reagan included many of his most stirring, and it was she who wrote Bush’s acceptance speech for the Republican National Convention in 1988--singled out by many analysts as the turning point in the campaign. She writes with an insider’s authority, yet WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION is not a typical White House memoir. It is funnier, more personal, and probably much truer to life than most products of the genre.
Whether detailing her ongoing battles with bureaucrats and policymakers who tried to rewrite her speeches (at one point she circulated a memo showing what would have happened to the Gettysburg Address if these mavens had been given a crack at it), sketching leading players in the Reagan Administration, or providing a running commentary on the making of a major speech, Noonan is a gifted raconteur. At the same time, as her title indicates, she has another agenda: An Irish Catholic from a family that always voted Democratic, she sees her shift to the Republican populism of Ronald Reagan as exemplary of a significant shift in American political life. Whether or not they agree with her assessment of the Reagan presidency, most readers will finish WHAT I SAW AT THE REVOLUTION with the hope that Peggy Noonan has another book in the works.
Sources for Further Study
Commentary. LXXXIX, May, 1990, p.58.
Human Events. L, May 5, 1990, p.11.
Library Journal. CXV, March 15, 1990, p.96.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 4, 1990, p.2.
National Review. XLII, February 19, 1990, p.49.
The New York Review of Books. XXXVI, December21, 1989, p.3.
The New York Times Book Review. XCV, February 4, 1990, p.1.
Newsweek. CXIV, November 27, 1989, p.85.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVII, January 19, 1990, p.88.
Time. CXXXV, February 19, 1990, p.84
The Washington Post Book World. XX, February 4, 1990, p.1.