On Monday, visitors to the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., lined up to be the first to buy the book, which is made up of personal entries he kept almost every day during his eight years in office. It's a very revealing account of his presidency and his relationships with wife Nancy, his kids and the American people.
Douglas Brinkley, the book's editor, is also an in-house historian for CBS News. He said he was amazed that the president wrote in the diaries everyday.
"Shows a lot of fortitude and dedication to handwrite into these volumes and not miss a day," Brinkley told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "He lost a few days when he was shot and did a recap on that. We really have a president in real time for eight years and just the very act of keeping them was what was immediately surprising."
After he was shot by John Hinkley, Reagan wrote that he "opened my eyes once to find Nancy there. I pray I'll never face a day when she isn't there." His love for Nancy comes through in many of the entries. On another occasion, Reagan wrote, "Of all the ways God has blessed me, giving her to me is the greatest and beyond anything I can ever hope to deserve."
"He absolutely loved Mrs. Reagan. They had a co-partnership," Brinkley said. "Throughout the diaries, even if she's gone for 30 seconds, he seems to write a little note that 'I'm missing her, the dog Rex is missing her.' One point, early in the diaries, he goes on a trip to Canada and he can't believe that he's having to sleep in a separate room. He's all distraught that — first time in their marriage they're not in the same bed. Later, they go out to the ranch in California and Mrs. Reagan has to leave and she sleeps in a separate room and he can't believe that either. You're constantly seeing him do whatever he can to be with Mrs. Reagan 24/7."
Reagan also wrote about his relationship with his children. His son Ron Jr. was having a difficult time with the Secret Service protection and hung up on the president in a phone call. Reagan wrote: "I'm not talking to him until he apologizes for hanging up on me." He also wrote about his son Michael who he said screamed at him about having been adopted and also hung up on him. But the most volatile relationship was with his daughter, Patti. He wrote about her: "Insanity is hereditary, you can catch it from your kids."
"Obviously, he loved his kids," Brinkley said. "But many of them are on the left — at least Ron Jr. and Patti — counterculture kids. So they're crashing with the new Reagan revolution … But he's a dutiful father, but one who struggles with his kids. And the fact that he opens himself up like that in the diaries is quite unusual. I think people will enjoy that aspect of the book, getting to see Reagan as father during these eight years."
Reagan also worried about the tumult in the Middle East. After the Israelis bombed and Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, he wrote that he believed Armageddon was near. Brinkley said that word, "Armageddon," popped up throughout the diaries.
"It's really quite something because you know this being written by a president sitting in the oval office with the control of all the nuclear weapons and the best intelligence information in the world," he said.
During his administration, Reagan's arch nemesis was Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, who also makes frequent appearances, as do Reagan's fears about Islamic terrorism. Also during his time in office, more than 200 Marines were killed in a bombing in Lebanon. He took each loss very personally and wrote about breaking the news to parents.
"One father asked if they were in Lebanon for anything that was worth his son's life," Reagan wrote.
"He really cared about it when a young man or woman died, an American citizen died," Brinkley said. "And he would do the outreach. He would get on the phone and call a parent and give them the bad news … he talks about having a lump in his throat."
Click here and here to read excerpts of "The Reagan Diaries."
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