This is the first of what I hope to be many book reviews. I often get asked what books I’m reading. These reviews answer that question and hopefully help you find something worth reading. I consider myself a book collector. I love books new or old. I enjoy sharing well-written and impactful books. The first book I’ve chosen to review was released in the fall of 2015: The Time of Our Lives by Peggy Noonan.
This book was my first foray into Peggy Noonan’s work. I had read occasional free Wall Street Journal columns on social media, but I wouldn’t call myself a regular Noonan reader. I am a convert after reading this book. Noonan’s work is refined, graceful, and hits the heart of American conservatism. Many writers, myself included, write for the conservative mind. Peggy Noonan drives at the heart of American conservatism in a way few are capable.
In case you don’t know, Peggy Noonan is a Wall Street Journal columnist and former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan. The Time of Our Lives is a collection of Noonan’s columns and articles spanning her career. The columns cover her copywriting at CBS News, speeches she wrote for President Reagan (including the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster speech), with the bulk being her columns at the Wall Street Journal. She also includes some anecdotes and stories discussing her columns or speeches.
The book is divided into 15 sections, each filled with columns or pieces by Noonan that cover a general theme. Noonan’s work spans the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama (a few 2015 columns are included). I am going to pick out a few pieces I enjoyed the most.
The second section of the book is called “People I Miss.” It is a collection of columns covering people who have passed away. The two most memorable columns cover Joan Rivers and Margaret Thatcher. In the Joan Rivers column, Noonan tells stories of how she knew Rivers and their times together. Particularly memorable is a story involving a hot air balloon ride with Rivers and the ensuing crash landing. I won’t spoil the story here, but the conversation Noonan had with Rivers brought a broad grin to my face. The column for Margaret Thatcher is compelling for the simple reason Noonan had a first class seat to watch Reagan and Thatcher interact personally. The column reflects that personal knowledge and how people continue to misinterpret Thatcher. Both pieces left an indelible mark on me.
The ninth section was the most gripping and my favorite; it is titled: “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” This section covers Noonan’s columns after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The columns are personal, moving, and retell legends of heroism during and after 9/11. Noonan masterfully chronicles this period and how America reacted. Specific stories of sacrifice from New Yorkers living around Noonan put you in the moment. Noonan says, looking back, this was some of her best work. I agree.
There are a many other topics covered. Notable columns are Noonan’s disagreements with George W. Bush over Iraq, her criticisms of Barack Obama, and her defense of Reagan. The most prophetic column is one Noonan wrote after the 2010 Republican takeover of the House. The column: “America Is at Risk of Boiling Over,” published on August 6, 2010, describes a growing feeling Noonan had the nation was becoming overrun with anger. She first noticed this in a column she mentions from 1994. She describes how this would be a growing problem in American politics. The current political environment suggests Noonan is right.
At her best, Noonan provides a conscience for conservatism and America. At her weakest, Noonan can come across as elitist. She spends time in some of her columns describing what an average blue collar worker might think. Sometimes these analogies work, other times it’s overwrought with speculative guesses. Despite these few weaknesses, Peggy Noonan’s writing is strong. She is intellectually honest in her positions. Too many writers herd their opinions to match popular consensus in their base. Noonan does not. She is intellectually honest, courageous, and presents her views with elegance and great charm.
If you enjoy politics or reflections on life, The Time of Our Lives will not disappoint. It’s an enjoyable read from beginning to end. The Time of Our Lives will stand the test of time and is a worthy addition to any library. And if you’re like me, you’ll become a follower of Noonan’s work.