Reagan Biography To Be Paperback

Tuesday, October 3rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — You heard the arguments when ``Dutch'' came out in hardcover. Now, you can relive them in paperback.

The new edition of Edmund Morris' biography of former President Reagan includes a 10-page ``publisher's note'' that defends the author's decision to place himself in the book as a fictional character.

``All that `Dutch' asks of a first-time reader is that he or she be willing to accept, in its early pages, the presence of a fictional narrator,'' reads the note prepared by the Modern Library, which will issue the paperback Oct. 24. ``Every biographical fact recorded, every one of Ronald Reagan's words and thoughts and acts, are all the fruit of hard historical research ... even the most apparently imaginary episodes are nothing more than imaginative in execution. They merely tell the truth in ways altogether new.''

Morris won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of Theodore Roosevelt and reportedly received a $3 million advance from Random House for ``Dutch,'' the first biography authorized by a sitting president.

While some praised Morris' technique as innovative and exciting, others were horrified and accused him of everything from shallowness to subversion of historical standards. The New York Times' Maureen Dowd likened his scholarship to ``Forrest Gump'' and Robert Novak, writing in The Weekly Standard, called the book ``pretentious bric-a-brac'' and ``grossly inadequate.''

Despite all the criticism, or maybe because of it, ``Dutch'' was on bestseller lists for months.

Morris, in a phone interview with The Associated Press from his home in Washington, D.C., said the Modern Library had asked him to write the new introduction. He refused because he believed ``the book should speak for itself.''

``I would have preferred,'' he added, ``that the book come out exactly as the hardback had. But I guess they thought it was an interesting story. ... I just asked that they include the negatives as well as the positives.''

The publisher's note resummarizes the events, good and bad, beginning with Morris' admitted problems understanding Reagan and his decision to experiment with the narrative. It also gets in a few insults. Criticism from columnists Dowd and George Will is labeled ``vituperative'' and uninformed. Academic opposition is described as reaching ``almost comical proportions.'' Political writers were ``annoyed'' by the book's ``literary virtuosity'' to the point of ``near abuse.''

``Dutch'' is defined as ``a long and polyglot book'' abounding in ``cinematic devices'' appropriate for the life of an ex-movie star.

``In every case, such passages present authentic material in Reaganesque fashion, illuminating our understandings of the strange and compulsive workings of the central character's mind,'' the note reads.

The Modern Library specializes in ``classic'' literature rather than contemporary best sellers but said it is ``proud to reissue (`Dutch') ... with confidence that it will soon attain that status.''


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