Synopses & Reviews
An essential re-evaluation of the complex triumphs and tragedies of Jimmy Carter’s presidential legacy — from the expert biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Prometheus
Four decades after Ronald Reagan’s landslide win in 1980, Jimmy Carter’s one-term presidency is often labeled a failure; indeed, many Americans view Carter as the only ex-president to have used the White House as a stepping-stone to greater achievements. But in retrospect the Carter political odyssey is a rich and human story, marked by both formidable accomplishments and painful political adversity. In this deeply researched, brilliantly written account, Kai Bird expertly unfolds the Carter saga as a tragic tipping point in American history.
As president, Carter was not merely an outsider, but indeed an outlier. He was the only president in a century to grow up in the heart of the old confederacy, and though he held strongly to the separation of church and state, his born-again Christianity made him the most openly religious president in memory. As Bird shows, this background manifested itself in an unusual complex of arrogance, humility, and candor that neither Washington nor America was prepared to embrace. Forty years before today’s broad public reckoning with the vast gulf between America’s creed and its actions, Carter looked out over a nation torn by race, crippled by stagflation, and demoralized by both Watergate and Vietnam and prescribed a radical self-examination from which voters ultimately recoiled. The cost of Carter’s unshakeable belief in doing the right thing would be a second term — and the ascendance of Reagan.
The issues that Carter contended with in the late 1970s are still hotly debated today: national health care, growing inequality, energy independence, racism, immigration, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Forty years after voters turned him out of the White House, Carter appears remarkably prescient on the major issues facing the country in the twenty-first century, even if in his own time he was a prophet scorned.
Drawing on interviews with members of Carter’s administration as well as recently unclassified documents from his presidential library, Bird delivers a profoundly thorough, clear-eyed evaluation of a president whose legacy has been debated, dismissed, and misunderstood. The Outlier is this generation’s definitive account of an enigmatic presidency — both as it really happened and as it is remembered in the American consciousness.
“This beautifully written book will take its place alongside other superb one-volume biographies of American presidents. The Outlier will raise readers’ estimates of Jimmy Carter’s term in office.” Robert Dallek, New York Times bestselling author of Franklin D. Roosevelt and An Unfinished Life
“A grand work of revisionist history, prodigiously researched and gracefully written, The Outlier tells the story of a singular man and a unique presidency at a critical point in American and world history.” David Nasaw, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Million
“Kai Bird’s brilliant biography doesn’t just capture Jimmy Carter’s decency and courage. It reminds us what America can still learn from him today.” Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism
“Books about presidents are often fat and dull — not this one. Bird has talked to everybody and written a compelling account of the most underrated president in American history.” Thomas Powers, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of The Killing of Crazy Horse
About the Author
Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist. He is the acclaimed author of biographies of John J. McCloy, McGeorge Bundy, and William Bundy. He won the Pulitzer Prize for biography for American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer (co-authored with Martin J. Sherwin). His work includes critical writings on the Vietnam War, Hiroshima, nuclear weapons, the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the CIA. He lives in New York City with his wife, Susan Goldmark.