a former roommate of mine bought this back in 2003 or 2004, & i borrowed it from her for months but never finished it. it's a monster of a book, over 700 pages long. it's excerpts from famous diaries throughout history, from john evelyn & samuel pepys in the late 17th century, up to brian eno & alec guinness writing in the 1990s. every day of the year is represented, with a sampling of excerpts written on said day.
i love diaries, i write diaries myself, & i like reading other people's diaries (with permission—like published diaries). so this book was a really fun treat for me. it was heartening to find so many famous diarists struggling with their diary habits, hating their diaries, getting down on themselves for not being more faithful to their own chronicles. it made me feel better about occasionally skipping days or weeks in my diaries.
but it took me forever to slog through the book (about two weeks—that's A LOT for me) because it has no narrative structure, no thread pulling me along & making me turn the page, aside from idle curiosity & the desire to finish reading. &, like other reviewers have pointed out, there was so much stuff in here about world war two. it didn't bother me all that much, because i can recognize & accept that living through world war two (& of course, not all the diarists in the book DID live through the war) had to be a trying experience, & if i'd been there, i probably would have written about it a lot. there are accounts from people who had been sent to concentration camps, soliders in POW camps, politicians trying to make decisions about the war, journalists reporting on the war, people who have been displaced from their homes because of the war, etc.
the folks who put the book together are scottish, as far as i can tell, & so there is an emphasis on european (mostly british isles) diarists, & oh so much about the royal family (including queen victoria's diaries). even some of the diaries that recounted life in the united states were written by visiting europeans marveling over how different (in good & bad ways) the united states was. so, as an american, that was another element of the book that was kind of tough for me. but i got over it. some of the diarists were really fascinating & i looked forward to their entries (such as william soutar's accounts of life as an invalid). others were absolutely insufferable (thoreau, i'm looking at you).
so glad i finally picked up a copy of this book for myself! it did not disappoint.