FitzGerald dismantles here the notion that Ronald Reagan's Star Wars proposal of 1983 subsequently enshrined as the Strategic Defense Initiative contributed significantly to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the ending of the Cold War. In details rather too complete, she first explains why Reagan was psychologically disposed toward believing that American ingenuity and determination could create a perfect shield against nuclear attack. But her real focus is on the grandstanding, in-fighting, and self-aggrandizing among true-believers, politicians, and bureaucrats that have kept this concept alive in one form or another up to the present day. Long after the need for such a defense system demonstrably exists, SDI still chugs along, burning up billions and serving its proponents as a symbol for America's rightful military invincibility. However, as FitzGerald documents repeatedly, SDI has never come close to working, even in a limited way.

The Ronald Reagan FitzGerald draws for us has moments of political brilliance but is, overall, a man dreaming on the sidelines, as his minions (particularly Secretary of State George Schultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger) battle each other for turf, leverage, and attention.

The most sympathetic character in FitzGerald's gallery of political figures is Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, who emerges as amiable, bright, tireless, and determined to bring democratic reforms to Russia. It was his work, not America's military buildup, she insists, that hastened an end to the old ways and animosities. Among all FitzGerald's revelations, the most appalling (if least surprising) is that once an American weapons system is funded, it tends to stay funded, regardless of reliability, feasibility, or need. Two presidents past Reagan, Star Wars is still way out there in the blue. Edward Morris writes on politics and other forms of mass entertainment from Nashville.

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