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Capsule Review

The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House

In This Review

The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House

The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House
By Douglas Brinkley
Viking, 1998 586 pp. $29.95 Purchase

This excellent study of Carter's life and activities since 1980 is not an "authorized biography" but is, withal, a very well-informed (and extremely admiring) portrait of the ex-president. Carter's efforts on behalf of human rights, which Brinkley estimates have yielded the release of 50,000 political prisoners from 1981 to 1997; Carter's unconventional diplomacy, emphasizing "dialogue with the ostracized" and contact with "outlaws du jour"; his untiring efforts to eradicate disease and hunger; and the role that the Carter Center and its founder have played in monitoring elections and promoting democracy -- all this is well recounted by Brinkley, a historian at the University of New Orleans. There are errors: the author reports, incredibly, that Carter and Reagan agreed in late 1980 "that any Soviet invasion of Poland would have to be met head on by a U.S. military counteroffensive." Brinkley acknowledges that Carter, a "tyrant for peace," is not unflawed, with something of a mean streak and a sense of moral rectitude that slips easily into self-righteousness. Yet even agnostics will have to allow that, if there is a God, Carter has often done His work, and that he has, after all, something to be self-righteous about.

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