cover image His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life

His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life

Jonathan Alter. Simon & Schuster, $37.50 (800p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2548-5

Journalist Alter continues his study of Democratic presidents (after The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies) with a sweeping, meticulously-researched biography of Jimmy Carter. Contending that Carter is “perhaps the most misunderstood president in American history,” Alter sheds light on his rise from Georgia farm boy to naval nuclear engineer in the early days of atomic submarines, innovative peanut producer, governor of Georgia, and unlikely presidential candidate. Alter highlights Carter’s achievements in his one-term presidency, from the well-known (the Panama Canal Treaty, normalizing diplomatic relations with China, the Camp David Accords) to the more obscure (deregulation provisions that opened the door for craft beer production and more effective ground shipping options). Carter’s character flaws also come into focus, particularly his aloofness and prickly personality, as does his public silence on the civil rights movement as a county school board member and state senator, his legislative failures on tax and welfare reform, and his administration’s “undisciplined, disorganized, and poorly informed” response to the Iranian Revolution, which came back to haunt Carter during the hostage crisis that doomed his reelection campaign. Alter’s fluidly written account adds depth and nuance to the popular understanding of Carter’s presidency, yet his post–White House career gets short shrift. Still, this is an illuminating and persuasive reevaluation of Carter’s legacy. (Sept.)