God, family and country leap from the pages in the just-released diaries of President Reagan, but the cover-to-cover theme in Reagan's writings from the world stage is his wife, Nancy.
The 784-page "The Reagan Diaries," edited by Douglas Brinkley, made its debut Monday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, a day before the $35 book's national release. Nancy Reagan placed two of her late husband's five maroon, leather-bound diaries in a display case.
Reagan wrote diary notations each night for his eight years as one of the 20th century's most popular presidents, with the exception of a few days after he was shot by John Hinckley Jr. — "Getting shot hurts," he wrote.
On Jan. 19, 1989, Reagan wrote simply: "Tomorrow I stop being President."
The turbulent sweep of the White House years provides unvarnished details of acrimonious moments with his kids — "Insanity is hereditary you catch it from your kids" — optimism after meeting Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (he refers to him as Gorby) and fears of war in the Middle East — "Sometimes I wonder if we are destined to witness Armageddon."
Reagan wrote of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger ("A day we'll remember for the rest of our lives") and the 1981 assassination of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat ("He was truly a great man, a kind man with warmth and humor.").
"Many times when books by historians or authors or journalists are out, it's their take. This is the president writing. No spin. No agenda," library executive director Duke Blackwood said.
Most detailed president?
The Reagan Library Foundation partnered with HarperCollins Publishers to print the diaries, described as the most detailed presidential record in American history. Few presidents since John Adams kept personal diaries, and the Reagan diaries certify the nation's 40th chief executive as one of the most prolific writers ever in the Oval Office.
The entries reveal a spare writing style that gives concise sensibility to the private thoughts of the man known as the Great Communicator.
And not surprisingly, Nancy constantly creeps into his consciousness.
An entry noting his wedding anniversary described their marriage as "29 years of more happiness than any man could rightly deserve." Another candidly recalled Nancy Reagan's return to the White House after a long trip and "a race" between the president and dog Rex to be the first one to greet her.
"Personally, I believe it is the strongest love affair ever written from the White House," Blackwood said.
When Nancy Reagan was away on her frequent "Just Say No" anti-drug crusades, Reagan wrote in his diary about going "upstairs to a lonely old house." When she returned to the White House after her mastectomy, Reagan wrote: "Rex is happy. So am I."
"We didn't like being apart. In the White House, it is a lonely place," Nancy Reagan said in an interview videotaped last week for Monday's "Good Morning America." As for the diaries, "I can hear him, see him; it's just Ronnie."
Reagan's innermost thoughts range from the mundane — "Changed our clocks back to standard time" — to the pain of telling his wife her mother was dead — "I came home and told her the news. It was heartbreaking."
Prayed for Hinckley
The president's belief in God and the power of prayer also emerges.
After he was shot March 30, 1981, Reagan said he looked up from a hospital gurney and prayed.
"But I realized I couldn't ask for God's help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot me. Isn't that the meaning of the lost sheep? We are all God's children & therefore equally beloved by him. I began to pray for his soul and that he would find his way back to the fold," the president wrote.
When he saw Nancy at his bedside, he wrote: "I pray I'll never face a day when she isn't there."
Reagan, who died in June 2004 at age 93 after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer's disease, never kept a diary before entering the White House in 1981.
"I think his beliefs, his upbringing, his ethics and morality, well, he was a very grounded and real person. This diary was for him and Mrs. Reagan. It's unvarnished," Blackwood said.