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The Triumph of Nancy Reagan

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The definitive biography of the fiercely vigilant and politically astute First Lady who shaped one of the most consequential presidencies of the 20th century: Nancy Reagan.

The made-in-Hollywood marriage of Ronald and Nancy Reagan is more than a love story—it’s the partnership that made him president. Of the pair, Nancy was the one with the sharper instincts about people, the superior radar for trouble, and the keen sense of how to secure his place in history. The only person in the world to whom Ronald Reagan felt truly close, Nancy understood how to foster his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses. Neither timid nor apologetic about wielding her power, Nancy Reagan made herself a place in history.

But that confidence took years to develop. Nancy’s traumatic early childhood instilled in her a lifelong anxiety and a craving for security. Born into a broken marriage, she spent seven years yearning for the absent mother who abandoned her to pursue an acting career. When she met Ronnie, who had a difficult upbringing of his own, the two fractured halves became whole. And as Ronnie turned from acting to politics, she did too, helping build the scaffolding of his rise and cultivating the wealthy and powerful figures who would help pave his way. Not only was Nancy crucial in shaping Ronald’s White House team and in softening her husband’s rhetoric, she became an unseen force pushing her husband toward what she saw as his grandest purpose—to shake his image as a warmonger and leave behind a more peaceful world.

This book explores the multifaceted character of Nancy Reagan and reveals new details surrounding the tumultuous presidency. The Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty spent four years interviewing the people who knew this couple best and draws on overlooked archives, letters, memoirs, and White House records, compiling the most extensive biography of Nancy Reagan yet. From the AIDS epidemic to tensions with the Soviets and the war on drugs, this book shows how Nancy Reagan became one of the most influential First Ladies of the century.

Photograph © Marvin Joseph

Karen Tumulty is a political columnist for The Washington Post. Before joining the Post, Tumulty wrote for Time magazine. She is based in Washington, DC.

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 13, 2021)
  • Length: 672 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501165214

"Washington Post columnist Tumulty debuts with an astute reassessment of former first lady Nancy Reagan, a woman who “America never quite figured out.” ... The book’s greatest strength is the nuanced, in-depth portrayal of the Reagans’ relationship and Nancy’s fierce stewardship of her husband’s political goals. The result is a complex and engrossing portrait of one of the 20th century’s most quietly influential political figures.Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

" A brilliant and incandescent biography of one of America's most influential First Ladies.  Every chapter shines with fresh vignettes, historical insights, unabashed intimacy and delightful storytelling.  No matter the venue —  a Hollywood set, Sacramento policy session, White House dinner or Moscow diplomatic soiree — Nancy Reagan always exuded a fierce and clear-eyed pragmatism that got important things accomplished for American democracy.  The love story between Ronnie and Nancy is pure magic." — Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University and editor of The Reagan Diaries

"Nancy Reagan is such a familiar figure, and yet Karen Tumulty manages to disclose so much that we didn’t know, or didn’t understand – about her personal demons, and about her remarkable role as Ronald Reagan’s crucial partner. This is the definitive biography of a woman at the center of American politics for a generation." Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today and author of The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty

“She was, in her way, one of the most influential women in American history. Fierce and devoted, Nancy Reagan was instrumental in her husband’s rise and reign, and Karen Tumulty had given us a compelling and illuminating portrait of the woman who never faltered in her love for—and protection of—Ronald Reagan. This is an engaging addition to the literature of the consequential Age of Reagan.” – Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning and #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Truth is Marching On