Stuart E. Eizenstat was one of President Jimmy Carter’s closest aides. Although nominally the president’s domestic policy director, he was also involved with many other issues. He took copious, often verbatim, notes, totaling over 5,000 pages, to keep up with his workload. Those notes, combined with access to now-declassified documents, over 350 interviews and his own rich insights reveal important aspects of an often underrated administration in Eizenstat’s extraordinarily detailed and compelling insider’s account, President Carter: The White House Years. The author’s objectivity is exemplary as he points out the president’s “considerable strengths, which were so admirable, but also of his faults and idiosyncrasies, which were maddening to those closest to him,” and his own missteps. Eizenstat makes a very strong case that Carter’s term “was one of the most consequential in modern history,” despite the challenges of a post-Vietnam war and post-Watergate scandal era.
Carter was willing to take on issues that he knew would be politically unpopular because “it was the right thing to do.” He was labeled a New Democrat—a social and civil rights progressive, a liberal internationalist, but a conservative on spending.
Eizenstat takes us behind the scenes of Carter’s foreign policy successes such as the Camp David Accords and the Panama Canal treaty. Domestically, Carter’s three major energy bills changed U.S. energy policy for the better as he strongly advocated for sustainable energy and growing independence from foreign oil sources. He helped save New York City and Chrysler from bankruptcy, his Foreign Corrupt Practices Act made government and corporations more transparent, and he set aside huge tracts of public lands for national parks. This rare chronicle abounds with fine writing and enlightening insights. One could not hope for a better insider’s view.