The Corner

re: Presidential Reading

Tevi: It depends on how you define “schlock,” but if you mean “popular fiction,” then I disagree. Reagan’s favorite author was Louis L’Amour, the Western novelist. Reagan wasn’t shy about saying so and I don’t see why he should have been. His appreciation was revealing, and I mean this in an entirely positive sense. (I’ve written about RR and LL for NR.)

There’s also a nifty little story about how Reagan contributed to the career of military-thriller writer Stephen Coonts right after Coonts’s first book, Flight of the Intruder, was published:

Shortly before the book’s release, “Top Gun” became a smash-hit movie. Although the film skipped over the question of whether Tom Cruise’s character suffered from hemorrhoids, Mr. Coonts believes it primed the public for a realistic novel on military aviation. Even more important was then-Navy Secretary John Lehman. He didn’t know Mr. Coonts, but he enjoyed a prerelease copy of the book so much that he sent it to his boss, telling him that if he liked “The Hunt for Red October,” then he would love “Flight of the Intruder.”

Ronald Reagan left this copy on his desk, beside a jar of jellybeans, on the day a photographer for Fortune visited the Oval Office. When the picture appeared in the magazine, publicists at the U.S. Naval Institute made sure that everybody knew what was on the president’s reading list.

This connection obviously benefited Coonts. It surely didn’t hurt Reagan–and even may have helped him, however modestly, in conveying a certain kind of image. Flight of the Intruder is an excellent depiction of naval aviation during the Vietnam era. It’s also a really good potboiler.

If presidents want to kick back with Westerns or mysteries or thrillers every so often, then by all means they should.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.


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