The Corner

Politics & Policy

Nancy Reagan, R.I.P.

Nancy Reagan has died.

I never met her, but I had one interaction with her. Seven years ago, I wrote a story for National Review on how the Western novelist Louis L’Amour had been Ronald Reagan’s favorite writer. The purpose of the piece was to explore why this might be true, and what it might tell us about Reagan. The idea came to me on a visit to the Reagan Ranch, where I checked out the bookshelves. I was curious to see so little by L’Amour. So I did a little investigating, and eventually acquired a quote from Mrs. Reagan, via an email exhange with her personal assistant. Here’s how the article begins:

When the Reagan Ranch went up for sale in 1996, Nancy Reagan left behind most of the furniture and linens but removed a number of personal items. She didn’t want them falling into the hands of strangers. After Young America’s Foundation bought the home, however, she sent back artwork, silverware, and other effects. YAF had promised to preserve the property, and the former first lady thought that many of the family belongings should be saved along with it.

Today, a visit to the Reagan Ranch — the so-called Western White House, near Santa Barbara, Calif. — is a journey back to the 1980s. It’s possible to see the trails Ronald Reagan rode on horseback, the tools he used for clearing brush, and the chairs he rested in. The bookshelves hold 247 volumes by the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and Whittaker Chambers. Almost all are the actual copies that Reagan read. Yet five titles by western novelist Louis L’Amour are duplicates. The originals remain at the Reagan home in Bel Air.

“Because Louis L’Amour was my husband’s favorite author, I decided to keep his books at the house with me instead of returning them to the Ranch,” says Nancy Reagan. Four of the books are fiction: The Lonesome Gods, The Walking Drum, Last of the Breed, and The Haunted Mesa. One is a memoir: Education of a Wandering Man. In addition, there’s a complete set of hardcover L’Amour novels behind the president’s desk in the private quarters of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

As the eulogies pour in, we’re going to hear a lot about the wife’s devotion to the husband. This was my glimpse of it.

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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