Earlier this year I wrote about keeping a diary. I think there’s value there—not only for personal reasons, but for family reasons. For public figures, there’s even more value.

James Carden’s review of George Kennan’s diaries got me thinking about the value of private journals in the era of ubiquitous social media. Kennan, the architect of the U.S. policy of Soviet containment, was an enormous public figure:

What strikes the reader of these diaries, besides the sheer abundance of literary talent on display, is Kennan’s capacity, in the space of a single entry, for deep wisdom and even deeper melancholy. This duality runs like a thread through these pages, and a little of the latter goes a long way. Take one example from April 1951: “It would be a miracle if, with some combination of personal and public problems, anything remained for me personally in life … this will be a time for leadership or for martyrdom…

Kennan’s private reflections animate the public space. How many families would benefit from their parents keeping even semi-regular diaries?

How many otherwise routine, even stiff mental pictures we keep of our closest friends or family members would be re-written if we could catch a glimpse of them as more bohemian diarists? If only I could read about the lives of my ancestors.

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