Douglas Brinkley: On Reagan's Incredibly Personal Account

Historians in the News

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: All right, now to your one-of-a-kind experience, a sneak peek into the Reagan diaries. This is the first time the diaries of a U.S. president have ever been released. Historian Douglas Brinkley edited the diaries. Douglas Brinkley is right here with us tonight at the Reagan library. Nice to see you, Doug.


VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So it's very exciting. You got to edit these diaries. How many diaries are there? I mean, what's the volume that you've edited this down to?

BRINKLEY: Well, they're housed here at the Reagan library, and there were five volumes, looked kind of like a half a set of encyclopedias, all maroon, leather-bound, and had Ronald Reagan's name on them. And he never kept a diary when he was governor in California, so he decided, got to keep them as president. And he began them his first day in office, and the last entry is when he's waving goodbye to Washington and heading back out here to California. I had to cut them a lot. We're going to eventually bring out a boxed set with them complete. So this fat book, 800 pages...

VAN SUSTEREN: Fat one, right?

BRINKLEY: ... is just a condensed version. I edited it down, put annotation, a glossary, and tried to make it so it's a book you can read from beginning to end. Other presidents had kept diaries sporadically — Eisenhower, Truman. Some kept them in detail, like Polk, but Polk was only one term as president. But Reagan kept them regularly, and it was the fortitude and the discipline that I found quite amazing.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So I'm sure this is sort of the plum job for a historian, a presidential historian. Did you get a call from Mrs. Reagan? I mean, how did this happen?

BRINKLEY: Well, as you know, I write books on U.S. history and on presidents. And I did meet with Mrs. Reagan, and she green-lit the idea that I would be the person. Former California governor Pete Wilson thought I might be right, and Fred Ryan, who heads the Ronald Reagan Foundation. I met with Mrs. Reagan for lunch, and we talked and everything kind of came together. And so I just was very honored to be chosen to do this. It's really Ronald Reagan's book, not mine. I just tried to really help the reader along because there's so much material, just so they could really have it in a book they can buy and carry on with them or keep on their shelf.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what's interesting — I mean, it's very sort of factual, dispassionate, except that you hear this love story that's sort of woven through for his wife, that makes its way on so many pages. I mean, you can feel that, reading the diary entry.

BRINKLEY: You know, the Reagans are fascinating people, and their love story is now part of our national drama. And it comes out clearly in here. There have been love letters that have been published before and other material. But here every day — I mean, here's a president, that if Nancy Reagan leaves for a day, let alone six days, he's staring out the window, waiting for her. There's a great co-dependency and love. It's not about her views on policy in the diaries, just about how much he misses her. And there's a lot of family life information in here. He writes about his children quite a bit also....

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