Jimmy Carter at his best

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Bill Young

Writing Matters

Quick! Who is the only American President to spend 90 seconds inside a melting nuclear reactor? Who passed more legislation than any President in the last 50 years, and earned the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize? You'd be correct if you answered Jimmy Carter.

Jonathan Alter, an award-winning historian, columnist and documentary filmmaker, has just published His Very Best, Jimmy Carter, a Life. On Sunday, Oct. 4, at 2 p.m., Alter will be the next author sponsored by Writing Matters, in conjunction with the Nineteenth Century Club. The evening will be a conversation with yours truly.

Jimmy Carter has certainly had the most productive post-presidency of anyone in history. From his involvement with Habitat for Humanity to becoming a hero in Africa for his work to eradicate Guinea Worm disease to monitoring more than 100 elections around the world (often in dangerous situations), he has been a moral and ethical exemplar for our times.

He grew up on a farm near Plains, Georgia, with no running water or electricity, and went barefoot most of the year. He was an avid reader. Most of his playmates were black children of cotton pickers whose parents instilled in Carter a value system as well as a love of nature. He fulfilled his dream of attending the U.S. Naval Academy and, upon graduation, traveled the world as a submarine officer before joining the nuclear submarine program led by Admiral Hyman Rickover.

Carter's first political office was as a state senator in 1962, at a time of ingrained segregation and racism in the South. In 1971, he defeated George Wallace and became Governor of Georgia, ending the racist wing of the party. Five years later, he ran for President, going from zero percent to capturing the Democratic nomination. In 1976 he became the 39th President of the United States.

Although he served only one term, he doubled the size of the National Park Service and passed 14 environment bills, anticipating global warming. He strove for peace in the Middle East, bringing Palestine and Israel together for the Camp David Accords. He ratified the Panama Canal Treaties, preventing a major war in Central America. He also was never called out for lying, and when running for re-election, gave himself only a middling grade on 60 Minutes.

For a man famous for admitting to "having lusted in my heart," Carter has been faithfully married for 74 years to Rosalynn, his partner in every endeavor. They lead a modest life in Plains, cooking dinners and visiting friends, and, until recently, teaching Sunday school every Sunday morning.

Jonathan Alter was born and raised in Chicago. The author of five books, including examinations of the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama, he was also a longtime media critic and columnist for Newsweek. In 2000, he was the first to predict that the presidential election would be decided in the courts. He was executive producer of Alpha House, an Amazon TV series written by Gary Trudeau and starring John Goodman, about four Republican Senators sharing a townhouse near Capitol Hill. And in 2019, he co-produced and co-directed Breslin and Hamill, an HBO documentary film about legendary New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill.

Join us on Sunday, Oct. 4 at 2 p.m. The event is free, but in order to attend you must register with the Nineteenth Century Club at nineteenthcentury.org.

Writing Matters was started by Elizabeth Berg as a speaking series dedicated to serving author, audience and community. Originally held on Saturday evenings at the Hemingway Museum, we have since moved to Sunday afternoon webinars, in partnership with the Nineteenth Century Club. While virtual for now, we look forward to the time when we can all enjoy the presentations in person, at our elegant new venue. 

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