Don't ask me why, but I've actually bought and read Jimmy Carter's awful book. Believe me when I say that I approached this volume with low expectations, but they were promptly surpassed. This book is so bad on so many different levels that I found myself subconsciously attempting to conceal its cover while carrying it in public, because I was actually embarrassed to be seen reading it.
I'm a slow reader and I came late to the book review party, so I won't try to rehash all the critiques about the book's biases and factual errors, as those have been extensively documented elsewhere. I will, however, share a few thoughts that occurred to me while reading it.
First of all, the book's frontispiece really set the tone for the rest of the volume. It contained two lengthy quotations, one from the Holy Bible, and another from... Jimmy Carter. No, I kid you not. What kind of person would do that? The kind of person who would also make statements like this one.
"Because Jefferson was a humble person, I feel a kinship with him."
There's a certain kind of "pompous humility" that only a deeply religious person can have, I believe. Anyway, Carter must have been terribly enamored of that particular block of prose of his. Not only did he quote it alongside the Old Testament, but he repeated it again for good measure, in toto
, at the end of the first chapter. Not as a quote this time, or with a footnote, but simply embedded right into the body of the text. As far as I know it's not a crime to plagiarize oneself*
, but that's still kinda weird.
Speaking of religion, I had forgotten the extent to which Carter wears his Christian faith on his sleeve. I remember (vaguely) that he raised a few eyebrows among the Northeastern elites when he burst on the scene in the 70s, because many of them had been unfamiliar with terms such as "born again," and didn't know what to make of a president who spoke openly of his faith in Jesus Christ.
This book was a shocking reminder. If George W. Bush went around talking about Jesus and his faith one tenth as much as Carter does in this book, he'd have been fed to the lions already. There's even one anecdote in which Carter suggests to Golda Meir that Israel's political problems might stem from Israel's secular society, that God might be angry because His people have turned their backs on Him, as happened so often throughout the Old Testament (Jimmy was a Sunday School teacher, don't you know.) No, I'm not making this up and I'm not exaggerating. It's even more bizarre to read his account of the meeting than my brief summary of it.
If you can get beyond the turgid, sanctimonious prose, the book's content is even more troubling. As I said, I won't rehash all the arguments about the history of the region, but one does have to wonder what makes a man like Carter feel compelled to find fault with Israel at every single turn, even when historical facts must be altered to allow it.
The book is shocking in its one-sidedness (Hint: If you're really trying to write an unbiased and dispassionate account of the Palestinian conflict, you might want to rethink using the word "Apartheid" in the title.) By comparison, Alan Dershowitz's The Case for Israel was much fairer and more evenhanded than Carter's screed, even though Dershowitz makes no pretense at impartiality. His book sets out to be avowedly pro-Israel, and yet Carter comes across as the shrill partisan by comparison.
It's not really surprising, though. Dershowitz is a legal scholar and he wrote a scholarly book, replete with footnotes, extensive references and a detailed bibliography. Carter's book had none of this. Carter chose instead to adopt the "Believe what I say because I'm Jimmy Carter" approach.
The problem is that more and more people don't believe him anymore. The number of Carter Center board members to resign over the book now hovers at fourteen, which is the bit of news that prompted me to write this admittedly late quasi-review.
I've never been a big Jimmy Carter fan, but I did (naively) buy into the conventional wisdom that he was intelligent, sober, well-meaning, and honest to a fault, despite the fact that he was an incompetent chief executive. Perhaps that really was the Carter of the past, but the Carter of today has devolved into a caricature of full-fledged moonbattery. Sad.
* There was actually a court case about this 15 years ago or so. IIRC, there was some dude who (like my father used to do, God rest his soul) read like a quadrillion Western novels every year. One day he was reading one of those crappy "adult westerns" and (miraculously) recognized that he'd read it before. Not the stale, hackneyed plot, mind you, but the prose itself. He went back through his stack of paperbacks, and sure enough found that whole chunks of the book had been lifted wholesale from a previous title by the same author. The book publisher was pissed off because they had commissioned a "new" work and they sued the guy. It was the first time I'd ever heard of anyone being sued for plagiarizing themselves. I never did hear how the ruling came out, however. Oh well.