Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rawhide Down

By Del Quentin Wilber

One sure sign of getting old is when they start writing history books about events you remember.  I was 12 years old on March 30, 1981 and in Wanda Davidson’s sixth grade class.  I don’t remember any announcement being made at school, but I do remember Lisa Williams coming into the class room at some point exclaiming “Reagan’s been shot.”  Once I got home from school I remember watching the details of John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt on the NBC Nightly News.

It’s hard to imagine, but it’s been 30 years since Hinckley took aim and squeezed the trigger.  Del Quentin Wilber gives a nearly minute by minute accounting of that March 30th, when the life of the President, as well as the fate of the United States and world hung in the balance.  Had Reagan succumbed to the assassin’s bullet, life as we know it, undoubtedly would be radically different than it is today.

Mr. Wilber’s tome is well researched.  Indeed, no detail, no matter how small or trivial seems to have been left out of his narrative.  He had unprecedented access to Secret Service and FBI reports, court documents, recordings, and transcripts of interviews, plus a nearly bottomless sea of news reports, newspaper and magazine articles.  He also conducted 125 interviews of people who were there, from White House staff members, Secret Service agents, and the doctors and nurses who were on duty or on call that day.

In this day and age of politicians and pundits who endlessly scream at each other on television, where Ronald Reagan has been deified by the Republican right and vilified by the Democratic left it is easy to forget that he was just a mortal man.  Not only does Mr. Wilber’s narrative breathe new life into the man who became an icon, but most of all, in contemplating Ronald Reagan’s mortality he has restored his humanity.

ISBN 978-0805093469, Henry Holt and Co, © 2011, Hardcover, 320 pages, Pictures, Endnotes, Bibliography & Index. $27.00

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