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Craig Shirley’s New Must Read Reagan Book: Last Act

Conservative President Ronald Reagan is, perhaps more than any other Republican President, the President liberals love to hate. The reason for this enduring enmity is that Reagan proved conservatism worked, and most importantly, that it was and is the majority opinion in America. 

Craig Shirley Last ActCraig Shirley’s new book on Ronald Reagan, Last Act, chronicles the arc of the rise of Ronald Reagan’s post-White House legacy and how public opinion has come to place him among America’s best Presidents – even as liberal academics and political commentators continue to denigrate that legacy as all about Ronald Reagan’s formidable communications skills instead of his world changing ideas. 

But as Craig Shirley documents, when he left office, Ronald Reagan was regarded as successful and highly popular—68 percent approval according to a New York Times poll—but that wasn’t enough for his detractors. The last Gallup poll taken on the elites’ beloved FDR was in 1943, two years before his death. It pegged him at 66 percent approval. 

And if documenting the facts of Reagan’s standing with the American people, despite the liberal onslaught against him, was Shirley’s only addition to his body of work on Ronald Reagan this would be a book well worth reading, but what makes this a great book is the treatment of Reagan’s political and intellectual legacy against the backdrop of his nine and a half year decline suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the final drama of his state funeral.  

In that Craig Shirley has revealed more of the essential relationship between Ronald and Nancy Reagan and given Nancy Reagan a deeper and more human face than other Reagan biographers have provided. 

But as an occasional Reagan advance man, and admirer of the stagecraft of his longtime aide Michael Deaver, it is Craig Shirley’s treatment of the Reagan funeral and its evocative imagery that for me held the book together. 

Although no one in the establishment media is likely to mention it, hundreds of thousands lined Constitution Avenue, in some places ten or more deep, waiting for the Reagan funeral procession. And Reagan’s funeral, the public pageantry and the small community remembrances that went with it, are an apt metaphor for Reagan’s relationship with the American people. 

All of these Craig Shirley treats in panoramic colors, but it is Shirley’s study of the details of the funeral and the care lavished upon the week-long remembrance by Reagan’s former staff that adds much to the book. 

And the inside details are fascinating. Nowhere else will you find it explained that the riding boots facing backwards in the stirrups of the riderless horse in the funeral procession were Reagan’s well-worn personal riding boots, not props, carefully collected from his California home by Robert Higdon and meticulously polished and soaped to a gleam in a final act of faith and admiration by Rick Ahearn, one of his longtime advance men. 

Craig Shirley’s evocative prose captures the mood of the procession like no other writer has: 

Slowly, the funeral procession made its way to Capitol Hill, past hundreds of thousands of Americans. It was followed by a lone soldier carrying the flag of the commander in chief, a blue field with a circle of fifty stars and the seal of the American president. The silence was astonishing. There was no breeze and little sound from the crowd either. All that could be heard was the “clomp, clomp, clomp” of the horses and the creaking of the wooden wheels on the carriage, the soft sound of drums. 

For me, the finality of Reagan’s passing was confirmed by the 21-gun salute fired when his casket was carried the 116 steps up into the U.S. Capitol. I was there when he received the 21-gun salute at his Second Inauguration on January 21, 1985 – the coldest inauguration on record – and this salute and the mournful dignity of the accompanying music closed the circle. Craig Shirley captures that moment exquisitely. 

One of my favorite lines in Reagan’s Second Inaugural address is this, “My friends, we live in a world that is lit by lightning. So much is changing and will change, but so much endures, and transcends time.” 

In Last Act Craig Shirley has documented important details of the enduring and transcendent legacy of Ronald Reagan. If you want to understand Reagan’s legacy and why and how it has grown since his passing, and how the drama of his funeral help frame that legacy, I urge you to read this book.

You may purchase Craig Shirley's Last Act through this link or at your favorite bookseller.

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