Reaching my ninetieth birthday is a good time to look back on moments that changed my life and reflect on some of the memories that are especially important to me. Some of these events affected me profoundly or taught me lessons, large and small. Others are amusing, and some make me contemplate who I was at that time. There are some that I enjoyed and savor, and others that I wish had never happened or that I could change.
I spent four of my ninety years in the White House, and they were, of course, the pinnacle of my political life. Those years, though, do not dominate my chain of memories, and there was never an orderly or planned path to get there during my early life. At each step in my career, I made somewhat peremptory decisions about the next one.
I had no idea of returning home during the eleven years when I served in the navy, or of running for political office while I was farming and expanding my business. I ran for Congress and then shifted to governor to fill a competitive urge, and then really enjoyed making decisions as a top government executive. I saw the presidency as a way to accomplish specific goals that I considered important, decided four years in advance to be elected, and my entire family joined in the all-out campaign.
With hard work and favorable circumstances, I was chosen, and I relished the challenges and opportunities to make important decisions as president. I always tried to address the issues forthrightly. I wanted another term, but seemed to be plagued with a series of misfortunes when the time for reelection came. I look back on those four years with peace and satisfaction, knowing that I did my best and had some notable accomplishments. Vice President Mondale summarized our administration by saying, “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace.” I would add, “We championed human rights.”
Teaching, writing, and helping The Carter Center evolve during more recent times seem to constitute the high points in my life. I don’t think I have changed much in this entire process, but I have learned some helpful lessons, and they are the primary subject of this book.
I have written a number of books about some of my experiences, including my boyhood on a farm, my religious beliefs, my outdoor adventures, our time in the White House, and major projects of The Carter Center during the past thirty-four years. I still receive between fifteen hundred and three thousand letters each month, varying according to how controversial my latest statements or writings have been, but there are always a number of them from readers of these earlier books who wish to share their similar experiences with me. There is a list of these books on page iii for readers who desire to pursue any of these subjects more deeply. I have also commented in op-eds and published speeches on a number of important political issues, especially in an attempt to bring peace in the Middle East and to promote human rights. Many of them are posted on the website www.cartercenter.org.
Some of the more personal and intimate events of my life are covered here for the first time, including my years on battleships and submarines, my seventeen years as a farmer involved in local community affairs, my reasons for entering politics and eventually running for president, the campaigns themselves, some of the unpublicized things that happened to me or my family during our years in the White House, special people, my relationships with other presidents, and how Rosalynn and I have spent our more private times since the Washington years.