The Reagan Diaries

Ronald Reagan’s personal diaries will be published tomorrow. Taegan Goddard notes this is “the first time a U.S. president’s diaries have been released.” The Politico‘s Mike Allen thinks it will shake up people’s conceptions.

“The Reagan Diaries,” a 767-page flashback to be published Tuesday, shows Ronald Reagan as few people knew him, jotting with candor during quiet times on Air Force One and in the privacy of the second-floor study off his White House bedroom.


The meticulous handwritten entries in five leather-bound volumes, now condensed to one for publication, provide thought bubbles for the iconic photographs of the Reagan presidency, showing what he was really thinking day by day through two terms of self-styled optimism and peace through strength, with his trademark jelly beans on the side.

The diaries, essentially a long letter the president wrote to himself, ran 450,000 words. He never missed a day except when he was shot, and even then went back and provided a description of how he initially thought his injury was a broken rib from the Secret Service agent pushing him onto the floor of the limousine.

Three years after Reagan’s death at 93, the books have been edited into a hardback volume by Douglas Brinkley, the Tulane University historian who condensed, annotated and indexed. The work captures a Reagan who was notably emotional about the youngsters and grieving families who so regularly cross a president’s path.

This struck me as particularly amusing:

The Reagans and the Bushes did not appear close to outsiders but he wrote at one point: “Tonite Geo. B & Barbara for dinner. A nice evening.” One Sunday, referring to his King Charles Cavalier Spaniel at the time of the 1986 royal wedding in England, “Well Mommie is on her way to Eng. & Rex & I are alone. The Bushes took pity on one of us (me) & invited me over for lunch.”

There should be a lot more very interesting insights, although 767 pages of daily reflections will be a tough slog.

UPDATE: Commenter Triumph notes that several other presidential diaries have been published. Indeed, Goddard must have quickly fact-checked himself, as the claim no longer exists in the post itself; I got it from his RSS summary.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Taegan Goddard notes this is “the first time a U.S. president’s diaries have been released.”

    Taegan Goddard doesnt know what she’s (?) talking about.

    I have the following on my bookshelf:

    John Adams’ diary was published in 1961 and John Quincy Adams’ diary was published in 1981.

    George Washington’s six volume diary was published in 1976.

  2. Anderson says:

    First 20th-century president’s diary, I think the New Yorker review said.

  3. How much more published material do we need to prove Reagan wasn’t the moron his enemies claimed his was? There’s the book of radio commentaries written by himself and the book of letters. Reagan fans will adore this collection–I’m adding it to my wish list–but the myth of “Reagan as moron” will continue despite the evidence.

  4. Triumph says:

    First 20th-century president’s diary, I think the New Yorker review said.

    The Wilson papers are 69 volumes–I would be surprised if there are not some diary entries in there someplace.

  5. Anderson says:

    Here’s what Lemann wrote in the N’Yawker:

    While he was President, Ronald Reagan kept an almost daily diary. He was the only President during the last century to do so …

    Just from skimming the review, the comparison that most struck me was to the diaries of Nicholas II, a similar intellect to Reagan’s but without the camera appeal.