Lou Cannon, the foremost biographer of Ronald Reagan, writes and lectures on the presidency, politics, California and the media. His five books about the nation’s 40th president include the acclaimed "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime", a Book of the Month Club main selection when first published by Simon and Schuster in 1991. George F. Will said Cannon was “Reagan’s best biographer.” John Chancellor called "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime" “indispensable,” saying it presented “the real Reagan, without the makeup or the handlers, seen through the eyes of the keenest Reagan-watcher of them all.” President Obama read and learned from the book, according to a White House announcement.
"President Reagan" was updated and re-published in April 2000 by PublicAffairs and reissued in 2011 to coincide with the centennial of Reagan’s birth. In 2003, PublicAffairs published Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power, praised by columnist David S. Broder as “another major contribution to Cannon’s definitive portrait of The Gipper.” Michael Barone called this book “essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Ronald Reagan.”
In 2008 Cannon co-authored "Reagan’s Disciple: George W. Bush’s Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy", with his eldest son, Carl M. Cannon, a prize-winning White House correspondent. The book was published by PublicAffairs. The New York Times said Reagan’s Disciple was “sharp and discriminating” while The Washington Post found it “persuasive.” The Economist called the Cannons “canny, diligent reporters… [who] have produced as subtle an account of the past seven years as you could wish for.”
Cannon wrote the chapters on Reagan’s presidential legacy and his governorship in a special issue of Time commemorating the 10th anniversary of Reagan’s death. The issue was published as a trade paperback called The Reagan Paradox.
Lou Cannon worked 26 years on the national staff of The Washington Post, where he won many awards and was often described as a “reporter’s reporter” by his colleagues. Subsequently, he was a contributing editor and then chief executive officer of California Journal, a respected non-partisan magazine that was published from 1970 to 2005. He was until recently an editorial advisor to State Net Capitol Journal in Sacramento, a LexisNexis publication, for which he wrote a monthly column. He also writes for the website, RealClearPolitics, and lectures on the presidency, the media, California politics, and police issues. Cannon has written for Smithsonian magazine, National Review, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times. His most recent column (July 2022) “The Road Not Taken” examined what states might have done on the abortion issue if Roe v. Wade had never been decided.
Cannon’s noteworthy books include "Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD", published in 1998 by Times Books and in paperback in 1999 by Westview Press. Garry Wills called this monumental social history “a classic.” The Los Angeles Times ranked Official Negligence among the best non-fiction books in 1998. The newspaper’s Jim Newton said the book is “the definitive work of modern Los Angeles, a massive effort to see the nation’s most dynamic city at its most important crossroads.”
In 2001, PublicAffairs published Ronald Reagan: The Presidential Portfolio, a history illustrated from the collection of The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. It includes photographs, documents, and artifacts—some published for the first time—plus a 60-minute audio CD with excerpts from key Reagan speeches and a discussion by Cannon of the Reagan legacy. Cannon’s earlier Reagan books include "Reagan" (1982) and "Ronnie & Jesse: A Political Odyssey" (1969) a dual biography of Reagan and the flamboyant legislative leader Jesse Unruh. His books on other subjects include "The McCloskey Challenge" (1972) and "Reporting: An Inside View" (1977).
Born in New York City and raised in Reno, Nevada, Cannon attended the University of Nevada in Reno (now UNR) and San Francisco State College. After service in the U.S. Army he became a reporter for various California newspapers and covered Reagan’s first years as governor of California for the San Jose Mercury-News. He moved to Washington as a national correspondent for Ridder Publications. Beginning in 1972 he worked for The Washington Post as a political reporter, White House correspondent, columnist, and Los Angeles bureau chief. During the Reagan presidency, Cannon was senior White House correspondent for The Washington Post and wrote a weekly syndicated column.
Cannon was honored by the American Political Science Association in 1969 for “distinguished reporting of public affairs.” In 1984 he received the White House Correspondents Association’s coveted Aldo Beckman award for overall excellence in presidential coverage. The following year a survey by Washington Journalism Review named Cannon as “the best newspaper White House correspondent.” In 1986, Cannon won the Merriman Smith award for excellence in presidential news coverage—a single story written under deadline pressure. He won the first Gerald R. Ford Prize (1988) for distinguished reporting on the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan presidencies.
In 1995 Cannon was Raznick Distinguished Lecturer in the history department of the University of California at Santa Barbara. In 1996 he was Freedom Forum journalist in residence at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California. In 2013 he received an honorary degree as doctor of humane letters from California State University, Channel Islands.
Cannon has four children, seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. He and his wife, Mary, live in Summerland, near Santa Barbara, California.
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