The best books about the life, character, and presidency of Jimmy Carter

Jonathan Alter Author Of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life
By Jonathan Alter

Who am I?

Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author, political analyst, documentary filmmaker, columnist, television producer and radio host. He has interviewed eight of the last nine American presidents and lectures widely about the presidency and public affairs.


I wrote...

His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

By Jonathan Alter,

Book cover of His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, a Life

What is my book about?

I have long written about American presidents but for decades but I had little exposure to Jimmy Carter. Then, in 2015, my book group in New York was reading Thirteen Days in November by Lawrence Wright. Someone there knew Carter’s grandson, who brought the former president to our group to discuss the Camp David Accords. Afterward, I concluded that anyone who could pull off that virtuoso performance must be a more complicated figure than the easy shorthand: bad president/good ex-president. But my obsession with understanding Carter didn’t fully kick in until Donald Trump became president. For all of his flaws and political failures, Carter is the unTrump: honest, decent, accountable, far-sighted.

The books I picked & why

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An Hour Before Daylight: Memories Of A Rural Boyhood

By Jimmy Carter,

Book cover of An Hour Before Daylight: Memories Of A Rural Boyhood

Why this book?

Carter grew up amid Jim Crow segregation on a farm in Archery, Georgia. While his family wasn’t poor, the farm had no running water, electricity or mechanized equipment until Carter was 11. Carter has written 31 books, and this is his best: It’s warm, evocative and revealing of his character development.


Always a Reckoning and Other Poems

By Jimmy Carter,

Book cover of Always a Reckoning and Other Poems

Why this book?

During one of my interviews, Carter told me that he had trouble expressing his emotions outside of his poetry. While Carter is not an outstanding poet, he succeeds here in offering glimpses of his inner life and fraught race relations in the American South. And he explores his relationship with his father, wife, son and others.


The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time

By Hunter S. Thompson,

Book cover of The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time

Why this book?

After Carter left office, it was hard to remember what made him so exciting when he first became a national figure in 1976. In his patented “gonzo” style, Thompson’s flattering and entertaining articles on Carter in this collection shed light on what made Carter compelling and cool. Thompson's stature among young journalists was so great at the time that his coverage of Carter helped make him president.


Thirteen Days in September: The Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace

By Lawrence Wright,

Book cover of Thirteen Days in September: The Dramatic Story of the Struggle for Peace

Why this book?

The Camp David Accords brought enduring peace between Israel and Egypt after 25 years of war. Wright’s taut narrative—later adapted as a play—conveys just how close the summit came to falling apart. Along with normalizing relations with China, obtaining ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties, and advancing a path-breaking human rights policy, Carter’s triumph at Camp David suggests he was a better foreign policy president than many critics acknowledged at the time.


All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter With Iran

By Gary Sick,

Book cover of All Fall Down: America's Tragic Encounter With Iran

Why this book?

Sick, Carter’s White House adviser on Iran, offers a cogent, deeply insightful account of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the seizure of American hostages in Tehran, and the Carter Administration’s inadequate response to the unfolding crisis. In a later book, The October Surprise, Sick falls just short of proving that the Reagan campaign conspired with the Iranian government to delay the release of the hostages until after the 1980 election. But he is convincing in his claim that the truth in this sordid affair has never fully come to light.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Jimmy Carter, international relations, and politics?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Jimmy Carter, international relations, and politics.

Jimmy Carter Explore 11 books about Jimmy Carter
International Relations Explore 140 books about international relations
Politics Explore 367 books about politics

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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