Ronald Reagan Biographer H.W. Brands Says He’s Most Significant President of 2nd Half of 20th Century

Ronald Reagan’s reputation has changed dramatically since he departed office in 1989. He was the most important and successful president of the second half of the 20th century, says Historian H.W. Brands, author of Reagan: The Life (2019). Franklin Roosevelt was, of course, the most important president of the first half of the 20th century. John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson represented “FDR 2.0,” Brands observed. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford mostly continued FDR’s New Deal liberal policies. Jimmy Carter was a transitional figure between FDR’s philosophy that “big government is the solution” and Ronald Reagan’s philosophy that “big government is the problem.” Bill Clinton famously declared that “the era of big government is over.”

Brands “follows his subject from humble beginnings in small-town Illinois to fame on the silver screen and power in the Oval Office. Employing archival sources not available to previous biographers, Brands has crafted a richly detailed and fascinating narrative of Reagan’s presidency, which ushered in a new presidential age—the age of Reagan—whose effects are still powerfully felt today.”

He spoke at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI as part of the Common Ground Initiative. GVSU has the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, where Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas, speaks frequently. It is closely associated with the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.

On Reagan, Gorbachev and the Cold War

KrasnoUNC: In 2014, Dr. Brands, the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair at University of Texas-Austin, delivered a lecture, “Who Won the Cold War? Reagan, Gorbachev, and the World they Destroyed.” “This lecture was part of a series with eminent scholars organized by the Richard M. Krasno Distinguished Professorship at UNC-Chapel Hill in cooperation with the Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense (PWAD), the Department of History, the UNC Center for European Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences, the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities, UNC Global, and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS).”

Author Events, Free Library of Philadelphia: In a 2015 lecture, Brands provided fresh perspective on the importance of the 40th President’s unlikely ascension and consequential legacy.

US National Archives: In his new biography, H. W. Brands puts forth Ronald Reagan as one of the great Presidents of the 20th century. Brands follows Reagan from small-town Illinois to Hollywood and to the White House.

Additional Lectures by Bill Brands on Ronald Reagan on

H.W. Brands on U.S. Founders, the Presidency, Congress and History

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