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. Outside the Oval Office, with a commitment/i>
Hailed by Time magazine as "a fascinating . . . rich, energetic American story," this extraordinary biography will transform America's perception of Jimmy Carter.
Jimmy Carter left the White House in January 1981, defeated in his bid for reelection and rejected by the American public--but hardly broken. Outside the Oval Office, with a commitment rarely seen in an ex-president, he was more determined than ever to complete his life's mission: the achievement of world peace.
With unique access to the Carter archives and to the man himself, award-winning historian Douglas Brinkley brings us this unprecedented biography of the former President. Here are penetrating observations of Carter's complex relationships with such world figures as Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro, and Yasir Arafat, as well as his associations with the presidents who have succeeded him. Brinkley also reassesses the achievements of Carter's underrated White House tenure--the Camp David accords, Panama Canal treaties, and his championing of human rights. The Unfinished Presidency is the definitive portrait of this formidable world statesman.
--Brinkley is a regular commentator on NPR and his articles have appeared in the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and Foreign Policy
"A thoroughly sourced intimate portrait of one of the country's most respected ex-presidents." --USA Today
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
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Meet the Author
Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Rice University and a contributing editor at "Vanity Fair". "The Chicago Tribune" has dubbed him "America's new past master." Six of his books have been selected as "New York Times" Notable Books of the Year. His most recent book, "The Great Deluge", won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He lives in Texas with his wife and three children.
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