Jimmy Carter The American Presidents Series: The 39th President, 1977-1981

The American Presidents

Julian E. Zelizer; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

Times Books




208 Pages



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A peanut farmer from Georgia, Jimmy Carter rose to national power through mastering the strategy of the maverick politician. As the face of the "New South," Carter's strongest support emanated from his ability to communicate directly to voters who were disaffected by corruption in politics. In the aftermath of the disillusioning crises of Watergate and Vietnam, Americans were looking for a president untainted by the ways of Washington; they found him n Jimmy Carter.

But running as an outsider was easier than governing as one, as Princeton historian Julian E. Zelizer shows in this examination of Carter's presidency. Once in power, Carter found himself unable to sustain a strong political coalition in Congress, as he focused on policies that often antagonized key Democrats, whose support he desperately needed. And despite some signal achievements in the middle of his term—most notably the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel—by 1980 Carter stood alone in the Oval Office as he confronted a battered economy, soaring oil prices, American hostages in Iran, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Carter's unpopularity enabled Ronald Reagan to achieve a landslide victory, ushering in a conservative revolution. But during Carter's post-presidential career, he has emerged as an important voice for international diplomacy and negotiation, remaking his image as a statesman for our time.


Praise for Jimmy Carter

"An accessible, insightful examination of the Carter presidency by journalist and Princeton history professor Julian E. Zelizer . . . A lucid overview of Carter's troubled presidency."—Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor

"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 reasonably 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 . . . A fine analysis of the man and his career."—Jay Freeman, Booklist

"This slim biography portrays a president 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 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 American Presidents series, Zelizer concurs with other historians' lukewarm opinion of Carter but adds that many problems were beyond his control."—Publishers Weekly

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A Maverick Politician

The ceremonial drive from Capitol Hill to the White House that follows a president's swearing-in is, by tradition, a stately procession. Crowds line the approximately mile-and-a-half stretch as the presidential...

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  • Julian E. Zelizer; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

  • Julian E. Zelizer is the author of nine books, most recently, Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security from World War II to the War on Terrorism. He is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and is a regular contributor to CNN.com, nytimes.com, Politico, and other media. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

  • Julian E. Zelizer Jon Roemer
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov