From the National Review: To a certain ten-year-old boy living in Dixon, Illinois, in 1921, the town’s modest public library was a revelation, a “house of magic,” as he would later put it. At least once a week, young Ronald “Dutch” Reagan would take the long walk from his family’s home to the Dixon library, returning the two or more books he had devoured that week and eagerly speculating about what new discoveries or adventures he might find next.
The Reagans had only recently moved back to Dixon after short stays in several other Illinois cities and towns. For the future president, reading was not only a lifelong passion but also, during his unsettled early childhood, a means of escape and exploration. According to Reagan’s biographers and letters, few American authors made a greater impression on young Dutch than Edgar Rice Burroughs. Best known as the creator of Tarzan, one of the most successful characters in popular fiction and entertainment, Burroughs wrote dozens of other works spanning such genres as adventure, mystery, horror, westerns, humor, and a type of science fiction known as “planetary romance” or “sword and planet” stories.
Through print, comic strips, radio, television, and motion pictures, Burroughs’s characters such as Tarzan and John Carter, Warlord of Mars, entertained millions and inspired countless young readers to pursue such varied vocations as astronomy (Carl Sagan), space exploration (NASA astronaut Terry Wilcutt), zoology and conservation (Jane Goodall), and fiction (Michael Crichton and Arthur C. Clarke). “I’ve talked to more biochemists and more astronomers and technologists in various fields, who, when they were ten years old, fell in love with John Carter and Tarzan and decided to become something romantic,” wrote Martian Chronicles author Ray Bradbury, another fan. “Burroughs put us on the moon.”