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Jimmy Carter (The American Presidents) Hardcover – September 14, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This slim biography portrays a president (1977-81) with more idealism than his predecessors but less luck and political skill. In a nation still reeling from Watergate, Carter's 1976 campaign stressing freedom from Washington politics propelled him to the presidency. Princeton history professor Zelizer (Arsenal of Democracy) regretfully points out that outsider status may win elections but exercising power requires traditional insider arm-twisting which Carter was slow to learn. His successes including the SALT II arms treaty, the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace accords, and a Social Security tax increase (denounced by conservatives but a lifesaver for the program). Zelizer feels Carter's hardest fought victory, passage of the Panama Canal treaty, damaged him by energizing his enemies without increasing his popularity because few Americans cared. They cared about inflation and unemployment, and Carter managed to anger both liberals and conservatives by rejecting both expensive social programs and massive tax cuts. Few blame him for Iran's revolution or the hostage-taking at the American embassy, but no presidential reputation could survive their long captivity or the bungled rescue attempt. And in this latest addition to the Am erican Presidents series, Zelizer concurs with other historians' lukewarm opinion of Carter but adds that many problems were beyond his control.
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From Booklist

This latest volume in the Holt series of compact biographies of American presidents is written by a Princeton professor of history. When politicians, pundits, and even historians speak of a failed presidency, the Carter administration is often cited. The term may be simplistic, even unfair, yet this engaging survey indicates that it is a resonably accurate description of Carter’s single term. Zelizer pays sufficient attention to Carter’s youth, his rise through Georgia politics, and his postpresidential efforts at international mediation. But the most engrossing portion of the work deals with Carter’s successes (there were some) and failures as president. He campaigned and won as a political outsider; unfortunately, he was unable to learn that he couldn’t govern as an outsider. He lacked the traditional ties to the core elements of the Democratic Party. When the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan eroded his support among independent voters, he lacked a hard-core base to rally behind him. For general readers, this work offers a fine analysis of the man and his career. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805089578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805089578
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,110 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jon Hunt on March 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There have been few presidents who began their terms with as much hope as Jimmy Carter began his....the impromptu walk down part of Pennsylvania Avenue on his inauguration day...January 20, 1977... gave Americans new hope that we were finally pulling together after Vietnam and Watergate. The scene exactly four years later painted a completely different picture....the newly-defeated president on the phone trying to find out if the Iranian hostages had been freed.

What happened during those four years? Author Julian Zelizer tells us and much of it isn't pretty. Our thirty-ninth president rode an almost perfect wave to be elected. The "heavy hitters" in the Democratic party decided not to run in 1976, there were rule changes that benefited an outsider such as Carter, he used his political skill in Iowa to propel him forward... all of these combined with his luck in the timing for a change in national direction and leadership.

Indeed the first couple of years of the Carter presidency went fairly well, though Carter never learned the "diplomacy" of working with Congress, much to his detriment. But by 1979, as Zelizer deftly points out, things started to fall apart. Inflation was running rampant, the Middle East was a growing problem, there were gas shortages, Three Mile Island leaked and then there was the unwise decision to let the Shah of Iran enter the United States for cancer treatment. When the hostages were taken in Tehran, Carter's presidency was effectively over.

The author delves into these problems with aplomb and impressively outlines Jimmy Carter's downhill slide. For those of us who well remember the Carter presidency it's worth noting that we thought the 1980 election would be much closer than it turned out to be.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The American President Series intends to provide concise but useful biographies of American Presidents. In that sense, this particular volume is successful. There were certainly some aspects of President Carter's career that were glossed over such as his achievements in the Navy, some aspects of his family life and a number of events during his presidency. Curiously, the tone of the book also changes with the flow of the material. In the first half of the book, Carter is portrayed as being honest and refreshingly anti-establishment. In the second half, which documents his slide from popularity, the books tends to highlight his lack of flexibility in dealing with other power figures. In any case, this book is a pretty good overview of the main issues surrounding President Carter's life and career so far. He is probably one of the most harshly-judged political figures of recent times. This book can help readers see some of the nuances behind the man and give a bit better perspective on what he attempted to do beyond the stereotypical views of his shortcomings. Two of the lasting impressions one can take away from reading this book are first, that President Carter was one of the few presidents to make an honest and long-term attempt to improve the energy regime of the US, and second, that he he has maintained a strong dedication to human rights and diplomatic solutions to international relations. I do recommend this book, but anyone who has a serious interest in the Carter presidency will most likely want to go beyond the very concise coverage of it in this book.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Steven A. Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 19, 2010
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A nice addition to this series of brief biographies of American presidents. The focus here is Jimmy Carter. The author has no reservations about being critical where such is appropriate, so the book has a bit of an edge (but not inappropriately so, in my judgment). The book begins by outlining Jimmy Carter's background, his first efforts at politics, his success as a candidate for governor, and his strategic approach to running for president.

Then, his presidency. From a promising beginning to more difficult sledding. Finally, the problems of the last part of his presidency, including the hostage crisis and the economic stagnation facing the country. Unlike many presidents, there has been an active, visible, and controversial post-presidential career.

The book, overall, does a good job of presenting Jimmy Carter, assessing his body of work, and doing so in rather brief fashion, making this accessible to people who do not want a one thousand page biography.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Frank Anderson on January 31, 2014
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I read all the Biographies of the Presidents by way of the Presidential series. If you are going to do it, read John Hancock first because he was the first Continental Congress President. You will find as you read these how the lives of each President intertwined with the next. The job is a lineage.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a fascinating look at one of our most controversial Presedents, Jimmy carter. The book is not very lenghty but the author covers all the essential aspects of Carter's life and administration. In spite of the size of the book, it is very comprehensive and informative. The prose is straightforward and crisp. The author provides a very balanced assessment of this most interesting personality. He discusses both Carter's failures and surprising successess in a very evenhanded manner. I especially found the discussion of Carter's post presedency activity most interesting. In short, I found this book interesting, entertaining, and insightful.
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