The best study to date of the Carter era and a substantial contribution to the history of the 1970s.

THE OUTLIER

THE UNFINISHED PRESIDENCY OF JIMMY CARTER

Searching biography of a president whose contributions, the author argues, are undervalued.

Though Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) has been “perceived as a ‘weak’ or hapless executive,” that view, writes Pulitzer winner Bird, is “a simplistic caricature.” Carter’s single term in office was “consequential.” Bracketed between the Nixon/Ford and Reagan/Bush eras, it marked such matters as the beginnings of corporate deregulation and the beginning of the end of the Cold War. Carter is also remembered as a scolding moralist. He earns the rubric “outlier” for being a Washington outsider, a former governor swept into higher office largely because he wasn’t a Republican—but also, by Bird’s sharp account, for taking his own path, often against the counsel of his advisers. For example, he was urged not to hire economist Paul Volcker to lead the fight against inflation, knowing that Volcker “intended to make the economy scream as he faced reelection.” Carter’s failures, Bird suggests, were often not of his doing: A deeply split Democratic legislature made up then of Southern conservatives (who would soon defect to the GOP) and Northern liberals hampered him, and he had the likes of Edward Kennedy dogging him constantly. The author’s sprawling study is sometimes repetitious—e.g., he repeats the observation that Carter made more minority appointments to the federal judiciary than any other president before him. Nonetheless, Bird is a keen biographer of political figures, and he offers a welcome reminder that Carter’s liberal impulses were correct while his missteps were often the result of events he could not fully control, as when the Reagan campaign, in a “treasonous caper,” putatively met with the Iranian regime to delay release of the Tehran hostages and “scuttle Carter’s second-term presidency.” Shelve this alongside Jonathan Alter’s equally incisive biography, His Very Best.

The best study to date of the Carter era and a substantial contribution to the history of the 1970s.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-451-49523-5

Page Count: 784

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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