Considering the sweeping influence of his administration, Ronald Reagan remains a strangely elusive figure—so elusive, in fact, that his official biographer, Edmund Morris, opted to invent a fictionalized version of himself to sketch in the empty spaces. But Frances FitzGerald, who sorted through the cloudy intricacies of the Vietnam War in her previous book (the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fire In The Lake), finds a more direct and illuminating route into his political mind with Way Out In The Blue, a sprawling history of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Better known by the more seductive name "Star Wars," SDI is the antiballistic missile system first introduced by Reagan during a notorious speech given in March 1983, when his presidency was at its lowest ebb. The idea of designing an "impregnable shield" in space to protect the country from nuclear holocaust was a fantasy that appealed to the general public, which feared any further escalation of the Cold War. But defense experts fumed, not least because such a system wasn't remotely plausible. Seventeen years later, SDI still isn't remotely plausible, yet congress recently allocated another $6.6 billion to a similar program, adding to the $60 billion already poured into the most expensive research project in American history. How could this happen? As FitzGerald argues, Star Wars is Reagan's greatest rhetorical triumph, an empty promise rooted in dubious science, mythology, and the movies, and carried out on the force of his charisma and imagination. Sorting through a dizzying array of personalities and technical jargon, FitzGerald investigates Reagan's detached, corporate-style approach to leadership and the tricky role SDI played in negotiations with the Soviets. Way Out There In The Blue rehashes a portrait of Reagan that's common to many left-leaning historical accounts, but by using Star Wars as an angle into his administration (and mystique), the author points to a disturbing legacy in which dreams and policy are virtually indistinguishable.

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