The Triumph of Nancy Reagan by Karen Tumulty (Simon & Schuster), £25.
This title is an oxymoron. Despite the author’s valiant efforts, Nancy Reagan is revealed as a sad, troubled, eccentric figure who triumphed over nothing. Least of all, herself.
Readers cannot complain of lack of detail. Nancy’s difficult upbringing in a broken home is painstakingly described. Her early days as a minor Hollywood star are meticulously researched too. Still, readers will wonder whether, until she dug her claws into Ronnie, she was anything more than another casting couch moll.
Once First Lady, the battles for influence in the Reagan White House are constant; the notorious foibles of purchasing expensive china and failing to return borrowed designer clothes. Most of this is well known. What is new is the coverage of the couple’s declining years and her visceral need to protect her husband in his Alzheimer clouded decline.
Tumulty has been thorough, and her book will be a “must-have” for future researchers. Oddly, there are no chapter titles. It’s like exploring a Henry Beck London Tube map where none of the stations are named. Her editors should have corrected this elementary error.
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Read this book only if you have a burning interest in Nancy Reagan, who remains significant but ultimately peripheral. And watch out for Tumulty’s next oeuvre. Can we expect The Wisdom of Donald Trump? Karen Tumulty’s academic rigour and journalistic eye would be better served by choosing a less idiosyncratic subject next time around.
The Authority Gap: Why women are still taken less seriously than men, and what we can do about it by Mary Ann Sieghart (Transworld Publishers), £16.99.
Women are united – across age, ethnicity and class – by endless stories of being talked over, underestimated, and routinely patronised by men. Despite huge leaps in gender equality, women are still paid and promoted less, held to unattainable standards, and consistently accorded less authority than their male counterparts. According to Mary Ann Sieghart, the journalist and radio presenter, these are all manifestations of an “authority gap” which continues to persist between men and women.
Her book is an intelligible manifesto that shows why systemic sexism persists and how we can counteract it. To explain why women are still taken less seriously than men, Sieghart compounds her own personally gathered and commissioned data alongside theoretical research from a wide variety of disciplines.
Sieghart’s résumé means she provides valuable first-hand insights into her own experience of this chasm. Despite spending over two decades in senior roles, both as senior editor and columnist at The Times and then as a presenter on BBC R4, she has still been given the cold shoulder, ignored on live TV, and treated with abject condescension.
As well as peppering her own anecdotes throughout the book, The Authority Gap’s greatest strength is its host of interviews from over a hundred women, including anecdotes from a cast of high profile women including Baroness Hale, Hilary Clinton, Caitlin Moran and Mary Beard. At times, you can’t help but despair that these women – who are at the very top of their game – still have their seniority questioned, appearance scrutinised and views ignored on account of their gender. But besides speaking to a glittering stream of these high-profile women, Sieghart also collates everyday stories from women across generations, ethnicities and sexualities, which together, makes for an exhaustive and enlightening account of an unrelenting gap.
If you think The Authority Gap is a “man-bashing” book, you are failing to read between the lines. Sieghart dedicates the whole latter part as to what we can all do, men and women, to instigate change, and what we all stand to benefit from by greater self-awareness.
An Extra Pair of Hands by Kate Mosse (Profile Books), £9.99.
Kate Mosse’s successful career as an international bestselling novelist may make her difficult to relate to — but one life experience a large chunk of people can relate to is Mosse finding herself becoming a carer in middle age.
Here, Mosse offers us something very different to the gothic fiction she is famed for. This is a moving – and timely -account of what it means to care for those we love as they near the end of their lives. For her, this means tending to her father as his Parkinson’s worsens, then supporting her mother in widowhood, and finally, acting “as an extra pair of hands” for her 90-year-old mother-in-law.
At the very start of the book, Mosse takes issue with the word “carer” – a “loaded little word”, which brings with it a hint of transaction. While being a carer is hard work, she demonstrates through her tender descriptions that it can also be deeply enriching labour.
But she is candid too, about the personal sacrifices the role requires – and the guilt one feels when grief is tinged with feelings of relief.
Mosse is careful to remind us that this is just her account, and the experiences of the 8.8 million unpaid carers in the UK are all unique. And yet, the book is filled with truisms, and hard-won wisdom, about responsibility, about ageing – where long-term illness can shrink a person’s world – and more generally, about family and human connection.
Ultimately, the book is an uplifting reflection on the fragility of life, an ode to the invisible army of carers holding families together, and a celebration of three people she loves.