(CBS Local)– President Jimmy Carter turned 96 years old earlier this month and the oldest living president has become more recognized in recent years for his faith and humanitarian work than for his presidency. The 39th President of the United States faded away from the national spotlight after his time in the White House, but he’s back in the news again as the subject of Jonathan Alter’s new Simon & Schuster book called “His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life.”
In his book, Alter tells the story behind Carter’s journey from growing up in the Jim Crow South to highest office in the land. A lot has been written about President Carter in the past, but Alter spent time with Carter, his wife Rosalynn, President Barack Obama, the late President George H.W. Busch and Vice President Walter Mondale in order to provide the full scope of the 39th President’s life.
“It was one of the great experiences of my life,” said Alter, in an interview with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith. “I went to Memphis with both Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and I built a house with them for Habitat For Humanity. I spent time in Plains, Georgia, which is a very small community of just a few hundred. Most recently before he got a little sick, he [Carter] would mow the grass and eat off of paper plates at church suppers. It’s a very modest life. When they’re in Atlanta for one week a month, they sleep on a Murphy bed. This is a guy who after he left the presidency, he didn’t take any corporate board memberships or corporate speaking fees. When he would take a fee for a speech, it would go to The Carter Center. He’s pretty much what you imagine in how he leads his life.”
Alter provides several intimate details about President Carter like his three different smiles, wit and the major wins and losses of his presidency. The author wanted to make sure his book provided a comprehensive view of who Carter has been personally and professionally.
“Mostly, he met the moment. He started campaigning in 1975 and that was six months after Richard Nixon was forced to resign. During the Saturday Night Massacre, one of his aides called him up and said Jimmy you’re going to be president. This was at a time when no one was talking about him. Carter ran on a moral message and a message of renewal. Actually, Joe Biden was his first supporter in the Senate. Biden is sounding some of the same themes. Carter was talking about a government as good as its people, more decency and healing the country after Watergate. Then he [Carter] said, ‘I promise I’ll never lie to you as president.’ After the lies of Nixon and LBJ before that, this was a really refreshing message. Carter exaggerated and made a number of political statements as president, but he did not lie,” said Alter.
As Alter alluded to with the connection between President Carter and former Vice President, the past has a way of informing the present in so many ways. The author believes working on Carter’s story helped him to deal with everything going on in the country at the moment.
“I remember I went to the Carter Library after Trump announced his presidency and the Carter Papers cleansed me of the toxins. He is the un-Trump and I’m hoping readers will find his honesty, decency and intelligence, his seriousness and purpose comfort food for the body. This is an inspiring story to read at this time. It’s not just that he’s led this epic American life. He would’ve tackled climate change if he was re-elected in the 1980s if he had a second term. It’s that there’s an inspiration that he represents right now that we can do better.”