THE UNFINISHED PRESIDENCY by Douglas Brinkley

THE UNFINISHED PRESIDENCY

Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House
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KIRKUS REVIEW

If you wonder why Jimmy Carter was so unsuccessful as a president and outstanding as an ex-president, this book is for you. Carter’s reaction to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) captures the essence of the Carter enigma. Promoting a technically impossible “Star Wars” scheme, Carter believed, was dishonest. Yet as historian Brinkley (Univ. of New Orleans; Dean Acheson, 1992) points out, Carter’s public condemnation of SDI reveals not only moral conviction, but also an utter inability to consider that the Reagan administration was simply using SDI to pressure the Soviets. As president, Carter was a man of moral absolutes in a world colored in shades of gray. As an ex-president, however, this same quality leaves him undeterred by concerns that prevent public officials from moving forward. To gain peace Carter will sit down with terrorists; tunnel vision can be instrumental when it is the ultimate goal that matters. The moralistic Carter has “turned the establishment of personal rapport with political outlaws into a diplomatic art form,” and the world is better off as a result. Brinkley is a sympathetic biographer, but Carter’s less admirable traits—unrelenting competitiveness, an occasional mean streak, and the oft-noted self-righteousness—are recognized along with the qualities Brinkley admires. Be forewarned, however: Brinkley is also an encyclopedic biographer. This volume reflects a decision to interrupt work on a complete biography of Carter to write a “short book” on Carter’s post-presidency. That this “short book” runs 500 pages reflects Brinkley’s emphasis on comprehensiveness, resulting in a sometimes tedious “first he did this, then he did that” tone that makes the work less lively than it should be. But there are also delightful vignettes, such as Brinkley’s discussion of the origins of Habitat for Humanity, that make persevering to the end worthwhile. Carter’s post-presidency appears not as an “unfinished” presidency, but rather as the continuation of work that was always about more, for Carter, than being president. (16 pages photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 11th, 1998
ISBN: 0-670-88006-X
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998




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