The Virtues of Aging

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Overview

"As we've grown older, the results have been surprisingly good," writes former president Jimmy Carter in this wise, deeply personal meditation on the new experiences that come to us with age. Now in his seventies, President Carter has never enjoyed more prestige or influence on the world stage, nor has he ever felt more profound happiness with himself, with his accomplishments, and with his beloved wife, Rosalynn. In The Virtues of Aging, Jimmy Carter shares the knowledge and the pleasures that age have brought him. Blending memoir, anecdote,
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Overview

"As we've grown older, the results have been surprisingly good," writes former president Jimmy Carter in this wise, deeply personal meditation on the new experiences that come to us with age. Now in his seventies, President Carter has never enjoyed more prestige or influence on the world stage, nor has he ever felt more profound happiness with himself, with his accomplishments, and with his beloved wife, Rosalynn. In The Virtues of Aging, Jimmy Carter shares the knowledge and the pleasures that age have brought him. Blending memoir, anecdote, political savvy, and practical advice, this book truly illuminates the rich promises of growing older. The approach to old age was not an easy one for President Carter. At fifty-six, having lost a presidential election, he found himself involuntarily retired from a job he loved and facing a large debt on his farm and warehouse business. President Carter writes movingly here of how he and Rosalynn overcame their despair and disappointment as together they met the challenges ahead. Here too are fascinating sketches of world leaders, Nobel laureates, and great thinkers President Carter has been privileged to know - and the valuable lessons on aging he learned from them.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When President Carter's 1980 electoral defeat brought involuntary retirement, at age 56, from his position at the White House, he had no set plans for the future. According to this sprightly essay, he and wife Rosalynn, now in their 70s, have continued to lead full, active, productive lives because of their willingness to explore new commitments, their abiding refusal to be mentally dormant. Besides serving at the Carter Center in Atlanta--which they established to help negotiate peace agreements, to monitor elections in emerging democracies and to assist the elderly and mentally ill--the Carters are both university professors, and they roll up their sleeves to build at least one house per year for needy families. Further, claims the former president, they run three miles a day, take 15-mile cross-country bike rides and their sex life is "more complete and enjoyable" than ever. Carter dispenses sage advice on how older people can fashion an interesting and challenging life, strengthen interpersonal relations, maintain good health and face death with equanimity. While most of this counsel is not especially original and occasionally veers toward the platitudinous, he fleshes out his prescriptions with practical tips and pertinent examples of friends, relatives and associates who have remained productive. There are some remarkably intimate moments, as when Carter shares cathartic free verse that enabled him to face his ambivalent relationship with his father, or when he discusses the compromises that contributed to the success of his 52-year marriage. (Oct.) FYI: A volume in the Library of Contemporary Thought series.
Library Journal
At age 56, Jimmy Carter "involuntarily retired" when he was defeated for a second term as president by Ronald Reagan in 1980. Despite his achievements in office, Carter and wife Rosalynn faced many of the same challenges confronting other new retirees. The disappointment of Carter's political defeat was complicated by an uncertain financial future for the couple resulting from mismanagement of the family business during Carter's political career, their not having jobs, and the need to care for elderly mothers. In this brief book, Carter sketches how he and Rosalynn created new careers and new lives for themselves--as authors, educators, and senior family members and as a couple growing old together. He adds statistics about the aging population, makes suggestions for healthy living, and defines successful aging. Carter covered much of this same material in his Everything To Gain: Making the Most of the Rest of Your Life (LJ 7/87), coauthored with Rosalynn. Still, at 74, Carter writes as someone who has experienced the "virtues of aging" firsthand, and this work is a thoughtful addition for collections that don't own the previous book.--Karen McNally Bensing, Benjamin Rose Inst. Lib., Cleveland
James A. Fallows, M.D.
The book gives practical steps to happy, healthy, and productive later years. I recommend it as a guide to those coming to retirement and as a stimulus to a richer way of life to those who are already retired (James A. Fallows is a retired physician).
Kirkus Reviews
A heartfelt if somewhat unsurprising view of old age by the former President. Carter (Living Faith) succinctly evaluates the evolution and current status of federal policies concerning the elderly (including a balanced appraisal of the difficulties facing the Social Security system). He also meditates, while drawing heavily on autobiographical anecdotes, on the possibilities for exploration and intellectual and spiritual growth in old age. There are few lightning bolts to dazzle in his prescriptions (cultivate family ties; pursue the restorative pleasures of hobbies and socially minded activities). Yet the warmth and frankness of Carter's remarks prove disarming. Given its brevity, the work is more of a call to senior citizens to reconsider how best to live life than it is a guide to any of the details involved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787117993
  • Publisher: NewStar Media, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/1/1998
  • Series: Library of Contemporary Thought Series
  • Format: Cassette
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 2 Cassettes
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Jimmy Carter (James Earl Carter, Jr.), thirty-ninth president of the United States, is the author of thirteen previous books. In 1982 he became University Distinguished Professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and founded The Carter Center, which addresses national and international issues of public policy and attempts to promote democracy, protect human rights, and prevent disease and other afflictions. In 1991, President Carter launched The Atlanta Project (TAP), a communitywide effort to attack the social problems associated with poverty. He also teaches Sunday school and is a deacon in the Maranatha Baptist Church of Plains. For recreation, he enjoys fly-fishing, woodworking, jogging, cycling, tennis, and skiing.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt

Even before leaving the White House, Rosalynn and I received a notice from the American Association of Retired Persons that we were qualified for membership, but we considered ourselves too young to face the stigma of senior citizenship. However, once back in Plains the point was to be driven home most firmly and clearly. We live 120 miles south of Atlanta and habitually drive back and forth to The Carter Center and to Emory University, where I am a professor. One morning we left our house quite early and stopped to eat breakfast in Thomaston, Georgia, about halfway to Atlanta. There were four of us in the car, and we all ordered about the same thing. But when the waitress brought my bill, I noticed that it was less than the others. Perhaps seeking credit for being an honest customer, I called her back and began to tell her that she had made a mistake. An older farmer, dressed in overalls, was sitting at a nearby table and apparently overheard my conversation. He looked over at us and called out in a loud voice, "Your bill ain't no mistake, Mr. President. Before eight o'clock they give free coffee to senior citizens."

A wave of laughter began at our table, and it still resonated through the restaurant as I paid my bill and hurried back to the car. For several weeks afterward, every time we approached Thomaston I knew that someone would say, "Why don't we stop here for breakfast? There's free coffee for some of us!"


In the years since returning home, Rosalynn and I have been through some severe tests and have struggled to find the best way to retain our self-confidence, evolve and interesting and challenging life, and build better relations with other people. As we've grown older the results have been surprisingly good.

The first time I fully realized how much our lives had changed was when I approached my seventieth birthday. In one of her hourlong special interviews, Barbara Walters covered all the aspects of my life, from the farm to submarienes, from business to the governor's mansion, service in the White House, and from president back home to Plains. Then she asked me a question that required some serious thought: "Mr. President, you have had a number of exciting and challenging careers. What have been your best years?" After a few moments I responded with absolute certainty: "Now is the best time of all." She was surprised, and asked, "Why?"

I fumbled with some thoughts about time for reflection, spending more time with my family, and a chance to correct some of my former errors. Afterward I realized how inadequate my glib, thirty-second answer had been, and I discussed with Rosalynn how profoundly different--and pleasant--was the reality of our senior years.

This book is my expanded attempt, based on our personal experiences, to answer that question--to describe, in effect, the virtues of aging.


We are not alone in our worry about both the physical aspects of aging and the prejudice that exists toward the elderly, which is similar to racism or sexism. What makes it different is that the prejudice also exists among those of us who are either within this group or rapidly approaching it. When I mentioned the title of this book to a few people, most of them responded, "Virtues? What could possibly be good about growing old?" The most obvious answer, of course, is to consider the alternative to aging. But there are plenty of other good answers--many based on our personal experiences and observations.

It is clear that in some ways Rosalynn and I are not typical, having been the First Family of a great nation, a special status that cuts both ways, with benefits and liabilities. But in almost every aspect of life, our challenges have been similar to those of tens of millions of families who face the later years with a mixture of problems and opportunities, doublts and anticipation, despair and hope. We've had to address a common question: How could we ensure that our retired years would be happy, and maybe even productive?

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Table of Contents

Jimmy Carter has achieved more in the nearly two decades since his retirement than most public servants are able to accomplish in an entire career -- and this after serving in the most powerful office on earth. What better spokesperson to extol the finer side of aging? Yes, such a side does indeed exist, insists Carter in The Virtues of Aging, and he draws upon his own experiences to illustrate the point. He and his wife, Carter concedes, faced many difficult questions and no small measure of despair as they entered the evening of their lives. But to those questions they found answers, and they were able to transform this period into the happiest and most fruitful time they have ever experienced. Carter recounts the pivotal conclusions he reached as he came to terms with his own aging and addresses the concerns that face almost all elderly people: health issues, impending changes to Social Security, prejudice against those of advanced age. The Virtues of Aging offers comfort, reassurance, and advice to elderly Americans and proves that Carter, at 74 years of age, is still in his prime.
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Interviews & Essays

On Monday, October 26, 1998, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Jimmy Carter, author of THE VIRTUES OF AGING.


Moderator: On October 26, 1998, barnesandnoble.com was honored to welcome former President Jimmy Carter to our Authors@aol series. Jimmy Carter served as President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. He is founder of The Carter Center and The Atlanta Project. Carter also teaches Sunday school and is a deacon in the Maranatha Baptist Church of the Plains. His latest book is THE VIRTUES OF AGING.



DiannaBN: Mr. Carter, welcome! Thank you for joining us this evening!

Jimmy Carter: I'm delighted.


DiannaBN: Would you like to make any opening comments before we start with the audience questions?

Jimmy Carter: I hope everyone who is retired or who hopes to be will buy the book.


Question: Japan made a serious, resolute effort to save social security for its baby boomer generation by raising taxes, and only precipitated its current financial debacle. How can the U.S. tackle the same problem without meeting a similar fate?

Jimmy Carter: Something will have to be done as the baby boomers reach retirement age, because then there will be less than three workers per retiree. This will be the biggest issue to face the industrialized world. It will have to pass the political tests of senior citizens, but we cannot escape making changes in the retirement laws.


Question: Do you believe that the interim accord agreed to this weekend by Netanyahu's cabinet and the Palestinian Authority will provide a lasting settlement, pending final status negotiations? Is it as significant as Oslo?

Jimmy Carter: In fact, this is a good effort to get back to where the Oslo agreement had already reached. We had a lot of trouble after Camp David, and it took six months of hard negotiating to get the Egypt-Israel treaty completed. Since then, in 20 years, not a word has been violated. I hope and believe that we can consummate Oslo, at least in its early stages. The final stages -- Jerusalem, et cetera -- will be extremely difficult. We can't give up hope.


Question: Richard Holbrooke has remarked that while the emergency in Kosovo is in the process of being resolved, the crisis is still outstanding. What can be done by the West to ensure an enduring peace in the region?

Jimmy Carter: The latest news is that NATO officials are pleased with Serb withdrawals. The threat of military action should be maintained. The targets, though, should never include those occupied by civilians but restricted to military installations -- if NATO decides to bomb.


Question: Aside from much lip service, human rights in recent years has been relegated to the margins of the international policy-making arena in an increasingly globalized marketplace. Is it too late to reorient global priorities in a humanist direction?

Jimmy Carter: I don't think it is too late. This is the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, and the Carter Center and many others are still fervently promoting human rights.


Question: In light of the subsequently surfaced evidence contrary to the President's claims, would you describe his decision to bomb the Sudan's Sufi pharmaceutical plant as rash? Do you think the secrecy surrounding his decision making is to blame?

Jimmy Carter: I have called on the U.S. government to support an objective and technically qualified inspection of the facility. The Carter Center has a full-time office there dealing with health problems, and our people say that the installation has never been a secure place, but always open to visitors. The U.S. has blocked any inspections so far. I don't know if the attack was justified, but I have serious doubts.


Question: What was your most memorable experience as president?

Jimmy Carter: There were several. Seeing Zimbabwe created as a democracy to replace the Rhodesian white-supremacy government was one. Obviously, Camp David and the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Another was diplomatic relations being established with China, and also the Panama Canal treaties, which honored human rights in this hemisphere. One that I can't forget is the failed rescue attempt for our hostages in Iran. In general, the good memories outweigh the bad ones.


Question: Who was the most interesting person you had the opportunity to meet, and why?

Jimmy Carter: The most memorable, interesting, and admirable person I met was President Anwar Sadat. He was personally courageous, bold, wise, and generous and primarily responsible for the peace that has survived between his country and Israel.


Question: Do you think the office of the president will survive this scandal with the same amount of respect and power that it had previously?

Jimmy Carter: It will survive, but its respect and power will be damaged during these next two years. Afterward, the scars on the presidency will be minimal. The best thing now will be to get it all over with, and to move on to other things. I have predicted that the partisan House of Representatives will probably vote impeachment but the Senate will not remove the President, nor will he resign.


Question: Do you agree that terrorism will constitute the single greatest threat to U.S. national security in the 21st century? Does the magnitude of that threat justify the curtailment of civil liberties that the President has endorsed?

Jimmy Carter: I don't think that terrorism will be the greatest threat, and it doesn't justify curtailment of civil liberties. The greatest threat to global peace and perhaps to our own security is the widening gap between rich nations and people and poverty-stricken nations and people. This is a perhaps unavoidable reason for the now unprecedented number of wars around the world. Our nation and other leaders must help to address the real suffering of many people, who react to this form of human-rights abuse with violence.


Question: What do you see as the greatest obstacle in making the changeover from work to retirement?

Jimmy Carter: Most often, the lack of proper planning or preparation. We plan for college, for careers, et cetera, but forget that one half of our adult years will be spent as retired persons. I can certify that this should be and actually is the most enjoyable period of existence -- both to receive untold blessings for ourselves and to share those blessings with others.


Question: Do you think that the key to finding happiness in retirement is discovering what you can still offer others? Perhaps picking one or two good volunteer programs? My grandmother always seemed happiest when she was buzzing from one service project to the next.

Jimmy Carter: There is no doubt that every time we think we're making a sacrifice to help others, it turns out to be a blessing for ourselves. In my book, I try to give some examples of how our activities both in work and pleasure are almost unlimited -- and available to anyone regardless of personal wealth or influence.


Question: What do you think is the proper retirement age?

Jimmy Carter: A definitive poll of Americans revealed that we consider 54 to be the proper age. The same poll said that "old age" was 73. This means that there is a 20-year gap between retiring and becoming old. Also, there are many years of life left after we become "old." I've passed 74 and still consider myself to be young. The book tells all the exciting and gratifying things that Rosalynn and I have adopted after leaving the White House -- downhill skiing, fly-fishing, bird watching, et cetera, along with climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, above the base camp at Everest, and up and down Fuji in one day. In addition, we have taken up writing, Rosalynn having published four books, and this is my 13th. I'm now working on a novel. There is plenty to do after retirement and even becoming old.


Question: With how busy you are, do you even consider yourself retired?!

Jimmy Carter: No, but I'm in the same boat with millions of others who have found a surprisingly full life after leaving our main professions. Also, like many others, my retirement was involuntary, as a result of the 1980 election. This is the best time of my life.


DiannaBN: This will be our last question for Mr. Carter this evening.

Question: Are you afraid of death and all of its mysteries? Do you look at death differently than 20 years ago?

Jimmy Carter: I considered this question quite seriously, and included an answer as a chapter in the book. I don't fear death, and hope I can approach it with as much equanimity as did my father, mother, my two sisters, and my brother. They died with good humor and were careful to place a minimal psychological and financial burden on the ones they loved. My oldest sister, for instance, was an avid biker. During her last day in the hospital, there were always two leather-jacketed bikers on guard outside her room. Her funeral procession was 37 Harley-Davidsons, and she requested that carved on her gravestone would be, "She rides in Harley heaven." You all can come down to Plains and see where she lived, and where she is buried. I wish all of you a long life, and one that is full of pleasure, excitement, adventure, gratification, and love.


DiannaBN: Mr. Carter, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Will you join us again when you finish the novel you're working on?

Jimmy Carter: I'll look forward to it. I've enjoyed doing the typing myself.

^%=fontsmall%^ Copyright 1997, 1998, 1999 barnesandnoble.com llc; licensed to America Online, Inc.^%=xfontsmall%^


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2004

    Read it before it's too late

    I'm in my mid fifties and I found this book to be informative, practical and somewhat inspirational. Anybody contemplating retirement,not just in the immediate future, but several years down the line can profit from this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2003

    A Feel Good Book on Aging

    Jimmy Carter writes as if he were having one of his presidential fireside chats. His writing is clear, friendly, and very readable, as always. He gives the reader a look into his world with his poignant writing style. In his book 'The Virtues of Aging', Jimmy Carter takes the reader through the maze of events that transpire as men and women go through the transition from aging adults to senior citizens. Carter writes of his own transition from president of the United States to a (not so) private citizen. How he felt at his sudden unemployment: 'I was just fifty-six years old when I was involuntarily retired from my position in the White House. What made losing the job even worse was that it was a highly publicized event, with maybe half of the people in the world knowing about my embarrassing defeat'. Carter writes honestly and openly of his rude awakening into the ranks of senior citizenship, his close encounter with bankruptcy, the fear of losing the family business and property that has been in his family for generations, and ultimately his fortunate financial recovery. Carter describes the importance of an open mind for success in role transition and steps to take to prevent an identity crisis from occurring, such as the importance of family, friends, goals and hobbies in creating successful identity continuity. He discusses the absolute significance of health care for the elderly and the lack of such care for the impoverished elderly in the United States. Jimmy Carter gives the reader suggestions on how to prepare for retirement and aging- the economics, emotions, and physical aspects (health wise) of aging. He also understands that most young adults do not think about their later years until they are there. He covers the emotional support he received and continues to receive and give to his wife Rosalyn Carter during the difficult periods he went through before and at the end of his presidency and right into senior citizenship. Carter describes the feelings of wanting to get closer to his adult children, grandchildren and Rosalyn. Jimmy Carter covers some important facts and statistics that directly or indirectly concern the elderly and retired. The clear message in this book is that entering the ranks of senior citizenship need not be a harrowing experience, but a virtuous new stage of life. 'The Virtues of Aging' should be read by the young as well as those aging individuals who are planning or who have not begun to plan for retirement and/or their senior years.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2005

    Chalk up another one for Jimmy Carter

    Read this book now and make a difference in your life and maybe someone elses too. No need to sit home and wonder,' What can I do to keep busy and help others?' You can never go wrong with a Jimmy Carter book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

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