In This Review

Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship
Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship
By Richard Aldous
W. W. Norton & Company, 2012, 352 pp

Great historical figures generate their own myths, often deliberately. One task of the historian is to recapture, as much as possible, things as they actually were. Few modern politicians have generated more fictions than -- and few so deliberately as -- the American and British conservative revolutionaries of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. According to their overlapping myths, they were idealists who stood together for freedom, robust militaries, and a firm hand against terrorism. Yet looking back, the truth seems more complex and subtle. Thatcher’s inimitable Churchillian persona was the result of careful coaching by political professionals, and Reagan was far more pragmatic than most who invoke his name would have one believe. Aldous’ startling conclusion is that Reagan and Thatcher clashed repeatedly over issues such as the Falklands, Grenada, sanctions against the Soviets, the Strategic Defense Initiative, nuclear arms control and missile policy, the Middle East (especially Lebanon and Libya), and the West’s relationship with Mikhail Gorbachev -- all the while crafting an image of conservative unity for the media. In reality, the Anglo-American relationship during the 1980s was weaker in many ways than U.S. relations with France or Germany. This brilliant book reminds readers of the simple lesson that in diplomacy, interests often trump ideology -- and spin trumps both.