The New York Times Book Review
The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White Houseby Douglas Brinkley
Jimmy Carter left the White House in January 1981, defeated in his bid for reelection and rejected by the American public - but hardly broken. In fact, as Douglas Brinkley's book reveals, he attacked the next phase of his life more determined than ever, outside the scrutinized and politicized Oval Office, to complete a mission to pursue peace in embattled areas… See more details below
Jimmy Carter left the White House in January 1981, defeated in his bid for reelection and rejected by the American public - but hardly broken. In fact, as Douglas Brinkley's book reveals, he attacked the next phase of his life more determined than ever, outside the scrutinized and politicized Oval Office, to complete a mission to pursue peace in embattled areas throughout the world, from Bosnia to Haiti. Historian Douglas Brinkley has had unique and intimate access to the former president, as well as exclusive access to the postpresidential papers, including Carter's correspondence with fellow world leaders Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, and Oscar Arias. Brinkley's book captures Carter's prickly personality and remarkable political life, including the complex relationships he has developed with such international pariahs as Fidel Castro, Kim Il Sung, Hafez al-Assad, and Yasir Arafat. He explores the sometimes difficult relationships Carter has had with the presidents who have succeeded him, and details his extraordinary partnership with Rosalynn, his fearless ally and confidante.
The New York Times Book Review
He stained our national pride with a failed hostage rescue mission, hobbled us financially with helium-infused inflation and interest rates and, perhaps most unpardonably, made us wait in interminable lines at the gas pump. If you still can't forgive Jimmy Carter for these things, among many others, Douglas Brinkley's faithful chronicle of our 39th president's accomplishments since leaving office should go a good distance toward changing your mind. In The Unfinished Presidency, Brinkley stacks between two covers an exhaustively detailed compilation of all that the man from Plains has done since leaving office. In doing so, he reserves an ultimately positive (if not entirely exalted) place in history for the man he calls a "grinning Georgia overachiever blessed with a tinkerer's restless mind and a zealot's near messianic confidence in his own abilities."
Is Carter messianic or megalomaniacal? Brinkley presents conflicting evidence. We witness Carter making peace in Bosnia, Haiti, North Korea, Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia; monitoring elections in Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti and elsewhere; helping eradicate diseases like river blindness from the globe; working to eliminate famine from African countries via the spread of high-yield wheat; and struggling to free some 50,000 political prisoners, all since 1981. In Brinkley's hands, some of this material is gripping, such as Carter's tough-talking efforts to get Haitian coup leader Gen. Raoul Cedras to step down in 1994, minutes before American troops were scheduled to invade the island nation. Other anecdotes are less flattering: Carter grabbing the spotlight by briefing CNN before President Clinton on his work in Haiti, or trying to subvert George Bush's Gulf War plans by sending anti-aggression letters to various world leaders. Carter was, Brinkley writes, "complicating U.S. diplomacy with his unorthodox assumptions of authority."
Throughout all this, Brinkley -- a University of New Orleans professor and National Public Radio commentator who's written well-received books on Dean Acheson and Franklin Roosevelt -- also serves up some behind-the-scenes goodies. These include Carter's friendship with PLO leader Yasir Arafat (one that occasionally bordered on a "love fest") and, more recently, his intimacy with Clinton, who asked the Baptist minister to "pray for him in his hour of darkness."
Brinkley is an admitted Carter acolyte, and a persuasive one, but he ultimately fails to present his subject as a three-dimensional man. He makes it redundantly clear that it's Carter's small-town, overall-wearing values and Christian beliefs -- not the desire to buff his image or win a Nobel Peace Prize -- that keep him marching around the globe. Brinkley constantly refers to his subject as a "pious Christian" whose "bedrock faith" urged him and Rosalyn to "press on, to abandon despair for love and to turn defeat into victory." But he doesn't go far enough in explaining why this man, as journalist James Reston has noted, was so intense that when he dined, his knife "cut into the plate." He doesn't shed light on the Carter who famously told Playboy magazine he "lusted in his heart," or the one whose knee-jerk actions made his postpresidential staffers joke that his motto was "ready, fire, aim." Brinkley's book may lead to Carter's acceptance as one of our greatest ex-presidents, but as far as what motivated the man to become a candidate for that title, we get too much shell and not enough peanut.
Political Science Quarterly
- Penguin Group (USA)
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.58(w) x 8.34(h) x 1.32(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
What People are saying about this
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >