The BookBrowse Review

Published September 16, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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  • Blog:
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    by Natasha Trethewey
Book Jacket

His Very Best
Jimmy Carter, a Life
by Jonathan Alter
29 Sep 2020
800 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN-13: 9781501125485
Genre: Biography/Memoir
Critics:
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From one of America's most-respected journalists and modern historians comes the first full-length biography of Jimmy Carter, the thirty-ninth president of the United States and Nobel Prize–winning humanitarian.

Jonathan Alter tells the epic story of an enigmatic man of faith and his improbable journey from barefoot boy to global icon. Alter paints an intimate and surprising portrait of the only president since Thomas Jefferson who can fairly be called a Renaissance Man, a complex figure—ridiculed and later revered—with a piercing intelligence, prickly intensity, and biting wit beneath the patented smile. Here is a moral exemplar for our times, a flawed but underrated president of decency and vision who was committed to telling the truth to the American people.

Growing up in one of the meanest counties in the Jim Crow South, Carter is the only American president who essentially lived in three centuries: his early life on the farm in the 1920s without electricity or running water might as well have been in the nineteenth; his presidency put him at the center of major events in the twentieth; and his efforts on conflict resolution and global health set him on the cutting edge of the challenges of the twenty-first.

Drawing on fresh archival material and five years of extensive access to Carter and his entire family, Alter traces how he evolved from a timid, bookish child—raised mostly by a black woman farmhand—into an ambitious naval nuclear engineer writing passionate, never-before-published love letters from sea to his wife and full partner, Rosalynn; a peanut farmer and civic leader whose guilt over staying silent during the civil rights movement and not confronting the white terrorism around him helped power his quest for racial justice at home and abroad; an obscure, born-again governor whose brilliant 1976 campaign demolished the racist wing of the Democratic Party and took him from zero percent to the presidency; a stubborn outsider who failed politically amid the bad economy of the 1970s and the seizure of American hostages in Iran but succeeded in engineering peace between Israel and Egypt, amassing a historic environmental record, moving the government from tokenism to diversity, setting a new global standard for human rights, and normalizing relations with China among other unheralded and far-sighted achievements. After leaving office, Carter eradicated diseases, built houses for the poor, and taught Sunday school into his mid-nineties.

This engrossing, monumental biography will change our understanding of perhaps the most misunderstood president in American history.

"Presidential historian Alter delivers the first full-length, comprehensive biography of Jimmy Carter...Students of recent presidential and world history will find Alter's anecdotally rich narrative immensely rewarding." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"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." - Publishers Weekly

"In this definitive biography, Jonathan Alter provides a wonderfully readable assessment of the character and achievements of our most underrated modern president. It is a deeply personal account, filled with fascinating new information. Carter's story is a needed inspiration in this dark time." - Walter Isaacson, New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci

"This deeply researched and fluidly written biography is the first truly comprehensive look at our 39th president. Alter illuminates Carter's character, and explains much about the strengths and weaknesses of the elusive man from Plains. This is a fascinating work." - Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello

"In this extraordinarily well-researched and well-written book, Jonathan Alter perfectly captures how Jimmy Carter was the most misunderstood president since Thomas Jefferson, and the only other not to lose a single American soldier in war. It's a compelling story of a complicated and brilliant life." - Andrew Young, former US Ambassador to the UN, Mayor of Atlanta, and close confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Jonathan Alter has painted an important and revealing portrait of Jimmy Carter, an American president who led many different lives. Alter's memorable book goes a long way toward illuminating the shadows that have long obscured him." - Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of America

Jonathan Alter is an award-winning historian, columnist and documentary filmmaker. An MSNBC political analyst and former senior editor at Newsweek, he is the author of three New York Times bestsellers: The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies; The Promise: President Obama, Year One; and The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.

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