A Glimpse Inside Nelson Mandela's Memoirs

New Book Reveals The Innermost Thoughts Of The International Civil Rights Giant

Nelson Mandela may well be the most admired human being alive. It's difficult to imagine who could compete with him for the title. He went from being prisoner to president and, in the process, became an icon. But he is such a private man that we know very little about what he felt and thought throughout the 92 years of his life. That is, until now.

A book is coming out this week called "Conversations with Myself." It's a collection of his notes, letters, diaries, scribblings, most of which he wrote during his 27 years in prison. We literally read what was going on in his mind when he was leading a struggle, when he was preparing to lead a nation. We've known Mandela the man of history. Now we can begin to know Mandela the man.

He's hardly ever seen in public now, and doesn't give interviews. He leaves home only for very special occasions, like a visit to his great granddaughter Zenani's school.

"And where do you come from?" he asked one little girl at the school.

"I come from London," she replied.

"Oh! London? Have you met the queen there?" Mandela replied, with a chuckle.

That's the Mandela we've seen so little of - the Mandela who is captured in "Conversations with Myself." The book project began with an extraordinary mandate from him: take my personal archives and do what you want with them.

"He's said, 'I don't want you to ask me, Is this too personal, is this too potentially embarrassing,'" Verne Harris, the chief archivist at the Mandela Foundation, told "60 Minutes" correspondent Bob Simon.

Link: Nelson Mandela Foundation

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Harris spent years going through the mountains of material.

"He wants to see the Mandela as they say, warts and all?" Simon asked.

"He said, 'You don't have to protect me,'" Harris replied.

Mandela kept records of everything: in desk calendars, memo pads - every scrap of paper he could lay his hands on.

The most revealing are two notebooks with drafts of letters he wrote from Robben Island, South Africa's Alcatraz, where he was serving a life sentence for sabotage.

Mandela was allowed to send and receive one letter every six months. And the letters reveal that his passion for his wife Winnie never waned.

"What a masterpiece," he wrote after she sent him a picture of herself. "The picture has aroused all the tender feelings in me and softened the grimness that is all around. It has sharpened my longing for you and our sweet and peaceful home."

Winnie had become Mandela's voice on the outside and the Apartheid regime came down on her with a vengeance. She was repeatedly thrown into jail and tortured. The struggle was now not only devastating their lives - their two young daughters had been effectively abandoned.

Mandela was incredibly blunt about what awaited them. "My Darlings" he wrote. "Once again, our beloved Mommy has been arrested and now she and Daddy are away in jail…you may live like orphans without your own home and parents… you will get no birthday or Christmas parties, no presents or new dresses, no shoes or toys."

"What does it feel like reading it today?" Simon asked Mandela's youngest daughter, Zindzi.

"It takes me back to difficult times," she replied. "It's still not easy to talk about those times."