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The Reagan Diaries Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 22, 2007
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The book is quite long - nearly 800 pages in the printed version, and requiring more than 10 hours to read in the Kindle version. Brinkley, the editor, painstakingly retained Reagan's original words, spelling errors and all, though chose to summarize a significant portion of the diary (probably 50%), rather than include a word-for-word rendition. The summarized info is shown in italics. Classified info has also been redacted (shown with square brackets in the text). I started off carefully reading every word, but by about half way through the book, I thought I'd never finish so decided to just skim the italicized text.
This is not an autobiography. There is no historical analysis, no retelling of historic events, no summarization of the issues of the day. For instance, though the Iran-Contra affair is mentioned many, many times, you won't be able to piece together what actually happened by reading the diary entries. Perhaps Reagan was not a deep or introspective thinker, or perhaps he just knew that his diaries would become public at some point, and didn't want to get too personal.
Here are some of my observations from the diary:
He had a modest ego. Even the "Tear Down This Wall" speech in Berlin in 1987 is somewhat downplayed, though he did mention that the speech was warmly received.
He had little respect for the press and believed they manipulated situations and chose what news to present; there are quite a few negative comments about Sam Donaldson in particular.
He had a contentious relationship with Tip O'Neill.
His devotion to Nancy was legendary and he mentioned her absence with longing every time she had to be away from him. He was proud of her work on the "Just Say No" campaign.
He hobnobbed with the rich and famous, particularly Hollywood types.
He loved to watch movies, even the oldies but goodies. He didn't care for R rated or smutty movies though.
He didn't use swear words. He writes d--n and h--l in his diary, and never a mention of the F word at all.
He was sensitive and touched by many of the people that he met with hardships, frequently commenting that he "puddled up".
He made friends with some of the most important global figures of the day - Gorbachev, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Theresa.
His main form of recreation was horseback riding and cutting down trees.
He was inordinately proud of his physical condition, always reporting that he got a good report from his many physical exams. In Chapter 4 he wrote "I'm so healthy I had a hard time not acting smug."
He was very concerned about his approval rating, and mentioned it frequently; though he wasn't always rated highly, his final polls in office gave him the highest rating of any president ever.
He was photographed thousands of times while in office; "photo op" is probably the most commonly recurring appointment on his calendar
He never did learn how to spell Gadaffi (leader of Libya); Quadhafy, Quadafy, Kadhafy, Qaddafi, Quadaffi, Quadafi were some of his attempts.
He made history for 8 years, and strolling through his diary is a great reminder of the world changing events of the 1980's. On his last night in office he wrote "Tomorrow I stop being President." There's no way to know from his diary whether he was sad, excited or relieved at the end of his historic term in office. However, reading his diaries motivates me to look for a biography to fill in where his diary leaves off.
The Reagan Diaries is a really intimate, personal look into Reagan's eight years as president of the United States. We get to see, in his own words, what his daily life as president was like, including how he felt about certain issues.
If you want to learn more about Reagan's life and political career, then The Reagan Diaries is an essential part of your book collection.
The biggest downside is that the editor (and the author [Reagan] as well), doesn't elaborate on what Reagan is saying, so if you're like me and you were young during the events of the early 1980's, you'll have a hard time matching what was written with what was happening in the world at the time.
I'm sure this book would be more interesting to fans of the Reagan presidency than to the opposition, but nevertheless it is a revealing look into one of the most successful presidencies in my lifetime.