Book Review: The Literary Reagan: Authentic Quotations from His Life

The Literary Reagan: Authentic Quotations from His Life
By Nicholas Dujmovic.
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019.
Hardcover, 346 pages, $88.

Reviewed by William F. Meehan III

‘Nicholas Dujmovic’s rationale for compiling and editing The Literary Reagan is clear: the legacy of the fortieth President of the United States, who passed away in 2004, continues to inspire political discourse across America today. When it comes to presidential campaigns, for example, Republicans outdo each other with their claims of political and philosophical ties to Reagan. Fiery debates about Reagan’s role and importance in history, and about the effectiveness of his domestic and foreign policies, take place on the pages of books and on the sets of television studios, as well as in the corridors of Congress. Some scholars, moreover, analyze Reagan’s personal side, not the political. “This book,” Dujmovic states, “will clarify matters for all of the above, for the best source on what Reagan thought, what he believed, and what kind of man he was—is Reagan himself, Reagan unadulterated, Reagan the great communicator of his own ideas.”

Dujmovic explains that his collection furthers the Reagan reappraisal by historians begun in 2001 when the Reagan Library opened its pre-Presidential archives, where Dujmovic discovered “a vast trove of resources.” The material, all penned by Reagan, proved significant for two reasons. First, it leaves no question about the author of Reagan’s radio commentaries in the 1970s: “Everyone close to Reagan knew, and all scholars must recognize on the basis of original drafts,” Dujmovic writes, “that Reagan himself wrote the radio addresses.” Second, the voluminous primary documents—diaries, letters, radio scripts, and commentaries—dispelled beliefs held by public intellectuals, pundits, and Democrats that Reagan lacked intelligence, was even according to one government official a dunce albeit an amiable one. Instead, Dujmovic concludes, the president’s archives “demonstrate he was a voracious reader, a prolific and thoughtful writer, a fully engaged mind with a clear, reasoned, and consistent philosophy.”

In addition to primary documents in the Reagan Library archives, Dujmovic relies on Reagan staff memoirs and oral histories as well as on the second volume of Ronald Reagan: An American Life (1990), the president’s autobiography, for authentic material. Reagan might have employed an editorial staff to help him tell his life story, Dujmovic explains, but the sections written by the president “can be identified with confidence, when compared systematically with the texts for which we have indisputable evidence of his authorship.” Dujmovic’s methodology thus involved crosschecking quotations in the autobiography with primary documents written in Reagan’s hand to ensure selection of “passages consistent with that body of acknowledged Reagan provenance as to be without doubt” his very own…’

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