The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter

Crown. Jun. 2021. 784p. ISBN 9780451495235. $38. BIOG
In this latest book, Bird (American Prometheus) draws heavily from personal accounts to present a thorough understanding of Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) and his presidency. Carter’s term as governor of Georgia gained him a national profile as a neoliberal Southern populist; when he ran for president in 1976, the political establishment was skeptical. Bird chronicles Carter’s legislative successes (the National Energy Act; Panama Canal treaties) and failures (tax reform; health care), plus the 1978 Camp David Accords. The final year of Carter’s presidency was marked by the energy crisis and, most significantly, the Iran hostage crisis. Carter was consumed by his inability to free the hostages, and Bird has written a compelling account of the administration’s planning for its failed rescue mission. Carter’s re-election campaign against Ronald Reagan makes for painful reading, but his visit with the Iran hostages upon their release is an emotional highlight of the book. Bird concludes with an overview of Carter’s post-presidential years. His wife, Rosalynn Carter, has been a strong influence, and their close relationship resonates throughout the book.
VERDICT This engaging political biography, similar in scope to Jonathan Alter’s His Very Best, will introduce Carter to a new generation, and will remind other readers of a truly transitional time in U.S. politics.
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