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Publisher's Summary

From one of America’s most respected journalists and modern historians comes the highly acclaimed, “splendid” (The Washington Post) biography of Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States and Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian.

Jonathan Alter tells the epic story of an enigmatic man of faith and his improbable journey from barefoot boy to global icon. Alter paints an intimate and surprising portrait of the only president since Thomas Jefferson who can fairly be called a Renaissance Man, a complex figure - ridiculed and later revered - with a piercing intelligence, prickly intensity, and biting wit beneath the patented smile. Here is a moral exemplar for our times, a flawed but underrated president of decency and vision who was committed to telling the truth to the American people.

Growing up in one of the meanest counties in the Jim Crow South, Carter is the only American president who essentially lived in three centuries: his early life on the farm in the 1920s without electricity or running water might as well have been in the nineteenth; his presidency put him at the center of major events in the twentieth; and his efforts on conflict resolution and global health set him on the cutting edge of the challenges of the 21st.

“One of the best in a celebrated genre of presidential biography,” (The Washington Post), His Very Best traces how Carter evolved from a timid, bookish child - raised mostly by a Black woman farmhand - into an ambitious naval nuclear engineer writing passionate, never-before-published love letters from sea to his wife and full partner, Rosalynn; a peanut farmer and civic leader whose guilt over staying silent during the civil rights movement and not confronting the white terrorism around him helped power his quest for racial justice at home and abroad; an obscure, born-again governor whose brilliant 1976 campaign demolished the racist wing of the Democratic Party and took him from zero percent to the presidency; a stubborn outsider who failed politically amid the bad economy of the 1970s and the seizure of American hostages in Iran but succeeded in engineering peace between Israel and Egypt, amassing a historic environmental record, moving the government from tokenism to diversity, setting a new global standard for human rights and normalizing relations with China among other unheralded and far-sighted achievements. After leaving office, Carter eradicated diseases, built houses for the poor, and taught Sunday school into his mid-nineties.

This “important, fair-minded, highly readable contribution” (The New York Times Book Review) will change our understanding of perhaps the most misunderstood president in American history.

©2020 Jonathan Alter. All rights reserved. (P)2020 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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What listeners say about His Very Best

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Unbiased biography of a complex president

Very illuminating biography of a complex, brilliant, and amazingly energetic man. Jimmy Carter certainly has always given “his very best”. Although Carter has flaws, and the author illuminates those flaws, this book points out the many accomplishments of his presidency, many which have been overlooked. For instance there has never been a president who has done more for the environment. and human rights. He has worked most of his life to make the world a better place. Unlike most presidents, he has admirably not enriched himself after his presidency and has worked tirelessly to make the world a better place. Definitely worth reading.

20 people found this helpful

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A Candid Assessment

Looking fondly on the past as one's life approaches twilight is normal, but that doesn't render its perspectives incorrect. Such is the hindsight which shapes my reflections on the Carter presidency. After over 30 years of daily hammering on talk radio and single-purpose TV "news" channels, an entire generation of Americans born after President Carter left office will tell you Jimmy Carter was the worst president in our Nation's history. History will judge him far more kindly, and this book and others, recent and forthcoming, herald that reassessment. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see kicking Carter to the curb put us into the exit lane for the off-ramp from the positive course the United States was on. Yes, we had problems but at least we were working on them and making process, and at least we cared about each other. That off-ramp put us on a boulevard of broken dreams, where we are stuck gaping at the trappings and distractions of our consumerist, me-first society, wishing we could find a way to turn around and find an on-ramp to put us back on course. Realizing the course, however imperfect, was better than the course we're on is a positive first step, and this valuable biography can help.

14 people found this helpful

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a great biography

After a general prologue covering Jimmy Carter's career highlights, the book began with Carter's childhood in rural Georgia. The book grabbed a hold of me then, and never let go. Carter's life is fascinating, and this book brought alive the man and the political leader. His unexpected rise to power in Georgia and the country is fascinating. His post-presidency was as interesting as his any part of this book. This book is so well written, and covered Carter's strengths and weaknesses. I put this book up there along with classic presidential memoirs like McCullough's Truman and John Adams. This is history at its most readable. In addition, the narrator was outstanding. This book was more than 30 hours, and I was not bored for a second. While Carter had his political bumps, he is an inspiring human being. If you like history, you should read or listen to the book! I have rated hundred of books, and to me, this is one of my rare 5 star ratings.

7 people found this helpful

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Still Looking

If you are looking for an evenhanded treatment of Carter, keep looking. The book is very interesting and comprehensive. It is well worth the read. But, the author is guilty of biased interpretation of events, bending over backwards — sometimes way over backwards — to construct things in Carter’s favor. Listening reminded me of the reasons I did not like Carter and of the reasons I came to admire him.

6 people found this helpful

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Disappointed author’s bias shows through

I admire Jimmy Carter for his character and determination. What is difficult to handle about this book is the persistent and consistent liberal bias the author brings to the story. I have read or listened to 24 presidential biographies and this is without a doubt the most politically biased one. I suppose because this is recently written it may become the new normal but that is disappointing to me. The reason I didn’t give it a lower score is because the author does write an interesting story that is easy to stay with.

3 people found this helpful

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One of My Favorites

A well-written narrative about the life of a legend. I enjoyed every minute and I highly recommend this book to all.

3 people found this helpful

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Ineffective, I think not.

Turns out, he wasn’t an ineffective president, but was a peace-monger (he is the only POTUS who’s presidency included NO wars, NO military attacks, & NO occupations), environmentally conscious, long-term, cerebral planner... in a country (my parents included) that wanted to believe in a fantasy Trickle Down Economics & futuristic Strategic Defense Initiative.

‪The book isn’t a praise fest. It is also highly critical, but overall... it is about a human being who’s positive impact will live on long after he is gone.

If JC is our example, we should all be doing much more to make the world a better place.

1 person found this helpful

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Enjoyable, but more politically biased than most

Really glad I listened to this in my quest to "read" all of the presidential biographies. Alter does a thorough and commendable job, and his writing style is excellent. I found his failure to even attempt to conceal his obvious political bias off-putting. While most biographers are hardly neutral on their subject, this is the first time in my experience with US presidential biographies that the author lost so much objectivity. While it is normal to discuss the presidents immediately before and after the subject, Alter veered off into blatant criticism of the Republican presidents that followed Carter up to the present. No matter how many people hate Trump, he should not be so prominently featured in a biography of a president from 40+ years ago. It came across as vindictive and unprofessional.

The narrator did a good job, except when he was trying to read in Carter's Southern accent .

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It’s the bias in the accent that get in the way

The author lets his liberal bias get in the way and makes assorted cheap shots conservatives that he dislikes. It does not help the story move forward.

The narrator’s terrible attempt at a southern accent completely undermines the performance

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Absolutely Fantastic

it's hard to judge a president by the media and as a citizen. it's easy to see from the time that Carter's left office in the public eye all that he's done but the media coverage of his presidency was weak and made him look weak. this book set out details explaining that this is far from the truth. I'm glad you have read this book. and I hope other books on ex-presidents that I read lead me to the same conclusion. the things were attempted but couldn't get done because of political reasons but president had the best of the nation at heart.