By: Frye Gaillard
Reviewed by: David T. Morgan
The University of Georgia Press, 2007
The reader searching for a definitive biography of the thirty-ninth president of the United States will not find it in Frye Gaillard’s Prophet From Plains. What he or she will find is the portrait of Jimmy Carter’s presidency and post-presidency, the picture of a rare man who dared to make human rights the cornerstone of his policies as president, and an elder statesman who, after leaving the White House, refused to play it safe. Indeed, he set out full throttle to improve the lives of all people, particularly the less fortunate. The fact that his involvement in building houses for poor people, attacking dreaded diseases (like guinea worm), and monitoring foreign elections to keep them honest caused controversy did not faze Carter because he believed he was right. David C. Carter’s insightful foreword gives the reader a preview of the tack Gaillard will follow.
Hardly anyone has argued that Jimmy Carter was an effective president, and Gaillard certainly notes Carter’s failures. Even so, the author finds much to praise about Carter’s presidency and singles out his successful diplomatic effort in bringing about the Camp David Accords, which, in Gaillard’s mind, deserves considerable applause and recognition. Carter’s reluctance to compromise, admits Gaillard, hampered his presidency and made it difficult for him to achieve much. However, that is part of this complex man of good ideas who had a burning desire to get things done, but who refused to give an inch when he believed he was right. Since it was Carter’s deep religious faith that guided him in all decisions, his mind was made up for good, once he made it up.
All in all Gaillard is convinced that Carter will be judged far more favorably by historians in the future than he has been judged by his contemporaries. Moreover, his humanitarian achievements, which won for him the Nobel Peace Prize (not a minute too soon from Gaillard’s perspective), will cement his reputation as one of the most compassionate and well-meaning men ever to sit in the Oval Office.
Prophet From Plains is a worthwhile book. Gaillard’s felicitous writing style makes it easy and enjoyable to read.
David T. Morgan is a professor of history, emeritus, at the University of Montevallo and the author of eight books.