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Book Report: Compare differences, commonalities between two world leaders

President Ronald Reagan and Generalissimo Francisco Franco are a very unlikely pair.

Reagan was tall and handsome, a hale fellow well-met, and very difficult to dislike, whatever your political persuasion.

The Spanish dictator was private, short, nerdy and not a real barrel of laughs.

But they have a good deal in common as evidenced in two new books, "Ronald Reagan," by Michael Schaller (Oxford University Press, $12.95 cloth), a brief and lively biography of our 40th president, and Stanley Payne's "Spain: A Unique History" (University of Wisconsin Press, $26.95 paper), a briefer than usual history of the Iberian country with a very interesting chapter on Franco.

Both authors give honest attempts to be even-handed in their treatment of Reagan and Franco, which is no mean task, given the controversy that swirls about both political leaders.

Schaller, who specializes in American politics, points out that when it comes to Reagan his adherents see him as the "great communicator" who spawned the Reagan Revolution; his adversaries, like Clark Clifford, described him as an "amiable dunce," who confused the war movies he acted in with real life situations.

University of Wisconsin professor Payne and Franco apologist admits that Franco has more than his share of detractors, but is still admired by conservative factions on the Iberian Peninsula.

His title for the Franco chapter tells it all: "Francisco Franco: Fascist Monster or Savior of the Fatherland?"

And how did these important political figures come to this?

For lots of reasons, say the authors. Franco despised his father, a navy admiral and big-time philanderer, who had little to do with religion. Franco, apparently was a mama's boy.

Reagan's father was an alcoholic, always a few miles ahead of the latest Illinois bill collector, no match for Nell, his hyper religious wife.

Both Franco and Reagan achieved success very early in life and slid, cleverly, into positions of power by downplaying their political agendas until they had control.

And both changed the complexions of their countries for a good long while.

But nothing lasts forever, the authors point out, and a visit to Spain today exhibits little of the dictator's heavy hand so apparent until the return of the monarchy.

And what about Washington?

The civility of previous political dynasties seems all but disappeared. Schaller is especially good at portraying Reagan's easy wit. When critics condemned the "B" movies he made his reputation on, he smiled and said, "My producers didn't want quality. They wanted the movie on Thursday."

Payne's introductory chapter on how he became a "Hispanist" is especially interesting. I would hope that more historians would follow suit and give readers an idea of where the authors stand.

Both books are fine dissections of the use of political power and how different ethnic traditions respond differently to leadership.


My late friend Dave Goldsmith left the urban fleshpots of northwestern Ohio to teach at Michigan Northern University in Marquette. Before he knew it he was hooked on all things UPPER, or Upper Peninsula -- including the sauna. On a visit years back, he lured me into his sauna, where I sweat like a butcher and failed to see anything pleasant about it.

I wish Dave were alive to enjoy a new book, "The Opposite of Cold: The Northwoods Finnish Sauna Tradition," by Michael Nordskog, photography by Aaron W. Hautala (University of Minnesota Press, $34.95).

It's a beautiful coffee table edition full of color photos with a text by Viroqua saunist Nordskog and Brainerd photographer Hautala. The pair takes us into working saunas in the upper Midwest and even photographs the public saunas of the North Country's past.

The book is so inviting that I'm tempted to give the sauna another try.

Well, maybe not.....

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.