Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire

  • By Bret Baier and Catherine Whitney
  • HarperCollins
  • 416 pp.
  • Reviewed by Talmage Boston
  • June 4, 2018

The Fox News star's formula results in another winning historical read.

Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire

Fox News anchor Bret Baier has a great history-writing formula working for him these days and, like all great performers, he knows his audience. The formula works so well because every weeknight, he appears in front of 3.5 million mostly Republican viewers. Then, every 16 months, aided by able researchers and veteran writing collaborator Catherine Whitney, he turns out more than 300 pages covering the story of an admired Republican president.

In general, his text showers praise on the subject’s life; in particular, he focuses on his chosen commander-in-chief’s most memorable three consecutive days in office.

Assuming the resulting book is a quality product, with those circumstances in place, Baier has a guaranteed bestseller on his hands. The assumption of quality being confirmed, the formula worked the first time with Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission, which came out in January 2017 and reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list.

Literary history is now repeating itself with his new book, Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, which debuted a couple of weeks ago at number five on the list. Baier has confirmed that the next book in his series is already being researched at an as-yet-unidentified presidential library and should be out by the fall of 2019. As the adage goes, “It’s nice work if you can get it.”

Regardless of the formula and the marketing machine behind it, Three Days in Moscow is a smooth, informative, and persuasive piece of history writing. Lest there be anyone on the fence about Reagan’s legacy as a leader and communicator of the highest order, all doubts are removed after reading Baier’s book.

To achieve the book’s desired length, there is an extended buildup to President Reagan’s arrival in Moscow for his fourth and final summit with Mikhail Gorbachev. How extended? He and Nancy arrive in Moscow on page 239. The pre-Moscow pages cover Reagan’s upbringing, education, sportscasting radio days, movie career, family, job as General Electric’s pitchman, eight years as California governor, and first seven years as president — emphasizing his Geneva, Reykjavik, and Washington, DC, summits with Gorbachev that preceded Moscow.

The prose and presentation of information in the condensed biography are airtight, making the reader well aware of all Reagan had done in his life before late May 1988 that formed his state of consciousness upon his arrival in Moscow. Once there, the narrative gets much more specific.

Among other human-interest highlights, he and Nancy drew an overflow crowd when they unexpectedly decided to walk the streets to meet the Russian people; then, at Red Square, in a setting secretly orchestrated by the Soviet leaders, they found themselves answering pointed questions from KGB members disguised as peasants.

Throughout the three days in Moscow, 77-year-old Reagan performed at the top of his game on Gorbachev’s home court — unyielding in insisting that America’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) would not be abandoned; quoting Solzhenitsyn on the importance of Russian churches and Pushkin on the need for peace; offering a dinnertime toast containing lyrics from a Russian folk song; and relentlessly charming the pants off Gorbachev with his glowing words of friendship.

The epicenter of Reagan’s time in Moscow came with his electrifying speech to the students at Moscow State University, the full text of which appears in the book’s appendix. There, speaking in front of a large bust of Lenin that towered behind him, the Great Communicator waxed eloquent on the importance of human rights in what his speechwriter Anthony Dolan called “the final flowering of Reagan’s philosophy” and “the climax to the continuum of his grander design” vision for the ultimate free society.

Baier describes the tone of Reagan’s speech at the university as “optimistic and futuristic, friendly and even collegial, like old friends making plans.” He opened with a line guaranteed to create instant rapport with his audience, wishing the college students well on their upcoming exams, saying, “So, let me just say, zhelayu vam uspekha [I wish you success].”

Then he lifted their hopes toward a brighter future by quoting Boris Pasternak from Dr. Zhivago: “What has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel, but an inward music — the irresistible power of unarmed truth.”

Upon finishing his masterpiece in soaring rhetoric, which the New York Times reported as “Ronald Reagan’s finest oratorical hour,” he opened the floor for questions. In that give-and-take format, his humor, warmth, and authenticity captivated the students, just as it had Gorbachev. After leaving the university, Reagan said that “while the students were cheering, I looked behind me and saw Lenin weeping.”

Baier’s book succeeds in presenting the Moscow Summit as the final tour-de-force of Ronald Reagan’s presidency — a time when everything clicked for him and he had the opportunity to deliver the vital message of human rights and freedom to a Russian people who fed off his every word.

Reading the well-crafted account of how the old communist-fighting master performed on such a grand stage produces feelings of sheer patriotic exhilaration and justifies why so many hold Reagan in such high esteem for his role in ending the Cold War.

Three Days in Moscow does not deliver any new information about Reagan. Thus, the history lover in search of fresh angles on his life or presidency will come up empty. That said, the book achieves its goal of amping up the floodlights of new appreciation for Reagan’s star power, which is what Baier’s readers are surely hoping for when they pick up this book.

Talmage Boston is a lawyer and historian in Dallas, Texas. His latest book is Cross-Examining History: A Lawyer Gets Answers From the Experts About Our Presidents (Bright Sky Press 2016).

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