Monday, January 17, 2011

White House Diary

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Did you know that this day was named a holiday by the Carter administration? I didn’t—until I read White House Diary by Jimmy Carter (check out that segue!).

White House Diary is an absolutely enormous book that collects the daily diary entries that Carter made during his years as president. The book is massive, but only contains about a quarter of the entries Carter made—which was a relief; the book is long enough as is. Occasionally, between entries, present-day Carter makes clarifying comments, but generally the entries stand for themselves.

The events that took place during the Carter administration are in my “black hole of history” (they happened before I was born, but after the farthest I got in history class). In that sense, reading White House Diary was a good thing for me. However, especially in the “first year” of the book, it was difficult to become engaged. The problem with the diary entry format is that almost all entries consist of daily activities (like, spoke with Jody, swam with Amy), which gets pretty dry. Though it got more exciting in the later years when the presidency started facing bigger issues (and boy were there a lot of them in the last few years), I still would’ve rather read a biography on the period. In fact, many times while reading, I thought, “this would be a great resource for a biographer.”

The best part of the book is the afterword, where Carter discusses mistakes he made and things he would have done differently in his presidency. In it (and, throughout the whole book, really) Carter struck me as an intelligent, modest, good man.

I’ve been waffling between giving White House Diary a 2 and a 3. I’m going to settle and give it a 2/5; it’s not great for casual reading, but any Carter buff (do they exist?) would enjoy it.

And now, I will leave you with the beginning of my favorite diary entry, December 25, 1978:
“On Christmas Day the Egyptians prayed that my hemorrhoids would be cured because I was a good man, and the following day they were cured. I was tempted to make a public announcement thanking the Egyptians but decided that we’d had enough publicity with my ailment.”
Turns out Carter is a funny man, too.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Jimmy Carter

Buy the Book

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