Reagan Diaries Reveal Private Thoughts of a Public Leader

Two decades after President Reagan left office, we're given a new glimpse at his private thoughts, with the publication of the handwritten diaries he kept during his eight years in the White House.

He kept the diaries diligently, using clear orderly handwriting to take note of his daily events and activities and to shed a human light on the most dramatic chapters of his time in office.

"What the style tells you more than anything that … here is a man who is comfortable in his own skin," said Reagan biographer Lou Cannon.

Vanity Fair has published excerpts from Douglas Brinkley's forthcoming book, "The Reagan Diaries," which include an entry days after he took office in 1981. The new president made it clear he would play to win the Cold War.

WHAT TO KNOW
  • Reagan comments on Cuban leader Fidel Castro, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, his children and of course his wife Nancy in his forthcoming diaries.

He jauntily noted how he wanted to take on Cuban leader Fidel Castro in one entry.

Wed. Feb 11 — Intelligence reports say he castro is very worried about me. I'm very worried that we can't come up with something to justify his worrying.

Later that month, on Feb. 26, he details a visit from Margaret Thatcher.

We had a private meeting in Oval office. She is as firm as ever re — the Soviets and for reduction of govt. Expressed regret that she tried to reduce govt. spending a step at a time & was defeated in each attempt. Said she should have done it our way — an entire package — all or nothing.

The diaries reveal Reagan was also flexible — wondering in early 1983 about opening a back channel to reassure the Soviet Union:

November 18, 1983 — "I feel the Soviets are so defense minded, so paranoid about being attacked that … we ought to tell them no one here has any intention of doing anything like that.

When an assassin tried to take his life in 1981, Reagan dutifully and succinctly recorded it a few weeks later.

"Getting shot hurts," he observed. In the hospital he wrote that he started to pray but realized he "couldn't ask for God's help" while feeling "hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot me … I began to pray for his soul."

Reagan also confided in his diaries about his dealings with his children. When a young Ron Reagan bristled over the presence of the Secret Service, he wrote, "I told him quite firmly not to talk to me that way & he hung up on me. End of a not perfect day."

Through it all, his wife, Nancy Reagan, was at his side. After he was shot, he wrote: "I opened my eyes once to find nancy there. I pray i'll never face a day when she isn't there."

And in 1987, when she was away from the White House, he wrote, "as usual I'm lonesome."

"He is a human being," Cannon said. "When you're reading it, you are not reading the diaries of an emperor or a king or anyone who wants to be."

Addition excerpts from the diaries are available at Vanity Fair.com.

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