Jonathan Alter ’75
March 16, 2021

An epic American life

Jonathan Alter ’75 talks about his latest book
by Allyson Irish

It was just like many of their late-night debates in Paul Revere South: Jonathan Alter ’75, a dyed-in-the-wool lifelong Democrat and future political analyst, and Frank Lavin ’75, a Republican who later served in the Reagan administration and those of George H.W. Bush ’42 and George W. Bush ’64, trading quips about their favorite political targets.

The two longtime friends reunited this past fall for an alumni Zoom event and continued their political banter, talking about Alter’s latest book, His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life.

An Emmy Award-winning author, columnist, and documentary filmmaker, Alter spent nearly six years researching and writing the biography. Having previously written about FDR and Barack Obama, Alter was inspired to look more closely at Carter after hearing the 39th president speak in 2015 at a book club event. There, Carter spoke fervently about the Camp David Accords. “It was a virtuoso performance,” Alter said.

Essentially written off as a weak one-term president, Carter’s four years are often summarized by failures: the Iranian hostage crisis and massive interest rates and the resulting inflation that depressed the nation in the late ’70s.

Alter found there was more to the Georgian peanut farmer-turned-politician—and more accomplishments—not always recognized by the public.

With unprecedented access to family, friends, and former colleagues, Alter described Carter as “a multilayered and intellectual Renaissance man.”

Trained as a naval engineer, Carter approached everything as a problem to be solved. That tenacity of purpose, Alter said, was helpful in approaching complex issues. But Carter’s disdain of networking also dogged the president in terms of political capital and at times left him floundering for the necessary support.

As for Carter’s legacy, Alter praised his diplomatic skills in coordinating the Camp David Accords, which have lasted almost 43 years, and highlighted Carter’s prescient focus on clean energy and environmental issues.

“Carter was a true environmental visionary,” says Alter. “He has led an epic American life.”

Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online

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