Celebrated local author Peter Collier has released a new book and will be taking part in a book signing for his latest tome, “Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick,” Friday at the Book Seller, located at 107 Mill St. in Grass Valley.
Collier has been called by the New York Times “America’s premier biographer of dynastic tragedy” due in part to books he produced, focusing on blueblood families like the Rockefellers, Kennedys, Fords and Roosevelts.
His latest bio profiles Kirkpatrick, a woman who rose to power during the Reagan administration, first as a member of the president’s cabinet, then when she was appointed by the president to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in 1980.
Collier is a longtime inhabitant of Nevada City, having moved here in 1976 from Berkeley, in an effort to raise his children in a less “toxic” environment.
“I was looking for a place where they could have a more normal upbringing,” Collier said. “I wanted a place that would resemble the upbringing that I had experienced many years ago.”
According to Collier, Nevada City in the mid-1970s was an extremely comfortable place to be.
“When I came here, people routinely parked in the SPD parking lot and left their cars unlocked with the keys in the ignition,” Collier said. “It has turned out to be a good decision. I’m glad that I circled my wagons in this area.”
The genesis of Collier’s decision to produce a biography of Kirkpatrick, a woman, whose legacy he greatly admires, goes back many years.
“I started a publishing company called Encounter Books about 15 years ago or so, and one of the first books I thought that I wanted to do would be a book by Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had always been a hero of mine,” Collier said.
“She was a crucial figure in history, who has been somewhat forgotten except by a generation who remembers the Cold War, when it was not clear who was going to win.”
Collier approached Kirkpatrick about doing the book and the two became friends. Kirkpatrick agreed to write it but, for reasons unknown, was never able to follow through on her promise. Eventually, in an effort to help,
Collier offered to interview Kirkpatrick and then put together a rough draft that she would be able to edit as she pleased.
“I did hours and hours and hours of interviews with her,” Collier said.
After Kirkpatrick died in 2006, Collier decided to produce the book himself.
“She sort of broke through a lot of glass ceilings, having come of age right after World War II, and was a sort of pre-feminist, although because she became a part of the Reagan team, second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem ignored her achievements,” Collier said. “Steinem famously called her a ‘female impersonator,’ and Naomi Wolf, another feminist of that generation, called her a ‘woman without a uterus.’ In fact, Jeane Kirkpatrick had three children at that time, and Naomi Wolf had none.”
Interestingly, there are parallels between Kirkpatrick’s conversion to the political right and Collier’s.
As a young woman in the 1940s, Kirkpatrick is reported to have been a member of the Young People’s Socialist League. As a Democrat, she was active politically during the 1970s, involving herself in the political campaigns of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. After becoming disappointed with what she perceived as the Democrat Party’s turn to the left under the leadership of George McGovern and later Jimmy Carter, she eventually changed her party affiliation. She joined the Republican Party in 1985 after delivering the keynote address at the Republican Party convention re-nominating Reagan in 1984.
A look at Wikipedia reveals that Collier was involved in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s after getting his BA from UC Berkeley with a degree in English. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. He is now an avowed conservative.
“I was much more extreme in my political days than Jeane was,” Collier said. “I was one of the people that Jeane hated, that is, I was a leftist who had perfected the art of anti-Americanism. She hated us and rightly so, although we’re alike in that we both made a years-long transition from the left to right.”
Collier hopes that readers of his book have an appreciation for Kirkpatrick’s bravery and her insistence that the U.S. eventually claim victory over Russian expansionism during the Cold War.
“What you come away from this story seeing is that the men and women within the Reagan administration decided to take a stand and save their country,” Collier said. “He came into office during a time of incredible defeatism and appeasement. The Soviet Union was an imperialist country poking its foot into the Western hemisphere and had a huge foothold in Central America. America was on the defensive and Jeane (Kirkpatrick) and others on the Reagan team said, ‘This will not stand.’”
For information regarding the book signing event featuring Peter Collier, contact the Book Seller at (530) 272-2131.
Tom Kellar is a freelance writer living in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.