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