That Noise You Hear Is a Stampede of Writers Rushing into Print with Their Jimmy Carter Books

Last winter, as he won primary after primary, the cry went up across the land, “Who is Jimmy Carter?” Ask a question like that these days and you get a book. In fact, a whole shelf of them is on the way to supplement Why Not the Best? which was written in 1975 by the candidate himself. Bantam picked that one up from its small Southern publisher and has turned it into a near bestseller with 548,000 copies in print. The books noted on these pages are probably only the beginning. Theodore White is of course at work on his fifth Making of the President. Martin Schram of Newsday is rushing out a paperback account of Carter’s primary campaign. And from two professors at MIT will come a psychohistoric study of the Georgia peanut farmer entitled Carter on Our Minds. And practically every political reporter who has ridden the Carter press bus is out shopping for a publisher. While the candidate has been most accessible to writers, the Carter camp so far is not commenting on the books that are out. “Frankly,” one aide explains, “no one’s had time to read them.”

He asked 50 people to keep diaries

Political reporter Richard Reeves is writing Convention, “a Ship of Fools about the Democratic Convention, the closed universe for four days.” He deployed eight researchers to cover the floor and the ancillary politics. He also asked 50 people—delegates, policemen, hookers and bartenders—to keep diaries of their lives during the convention. Reeves himself debriefed Jimmy Carter and his aides. Scheduled to be out in time for the inauguration, the book is “about America and power and how it works,” Reeves says. “It will start with a delegate getting off the plane at LaGuardia and will end with him getting on five days later. And the book probably will be about the next President of the United States.” The son of a New Jersey judge, Reeves, 39, began casting his critical eye at local politics in 1960.

“There were two groups of politicians there,” says Reeves, “those who sold out and those who went to jail.” Reeves, a contributing editor to New York magazine, shuttles between New York and Washington. He is the author of a 1975 book about the incumbent President entitled A Ford Not a Lincoln.

Turner wrote I’ll Never Lie in 11 days

“It’s natural for people to capitalize on Carter as a money-making venture. I sure hope that I’m not excluded,” says Boston Globe reporter Robert W. Turner, who covered the primary campaign for eight months. He wrote ‘I’ll Never Lie to You’: Jimmy Carter in His Own Words in 11 days, and it was rushed into publication by Ballantine before the Democratic Convention. “I was fascinated and troubled by a lot of things Carter said on different occasions,” says Turner. “He can create an extraordinary mood. He’s like a soothing fundamentalist preacher.” The book is made up of Carter quotes on childhood, family, the South, civil rights, the issues and other politicians. They were compiled from newspaper and magazine articles, Georgia state archives and private papers, plus Turner’s own long interview with the candidate. “The book reveals Carter’s will, temper, opinions and way of operating,” says Turner. “I also hope it demonstrates the times he shifted tone or position, although he did it less than the other Democratic candidates. The problem is that he claims he never does it. So, do you praise him because he shifts so little or condemn him because he says he doesn’t and he does?”

She never talked to the subject himself

Leslie Wheeler wrote Jimmy Who?: An Examination of Presidential Candidate Jimmy Carter for Barron’s because the publisher asked her to. “I figured it was a good opportunity. I’d never written a book before,” says Wheeler, a 31-year-old education writer and granddaughter of the late Sen. Burton K. Wheeler of Montana. A resident of Great Barrington, Mass., Wheeler spent a week in Georgia with Carter’s friends and family (“Miss Lillian is bored with all the interviews she’s had”), talked to reporters who covered Carter and read, read, read. She never did interview the candidate himself. Wheeler, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University, says she started out knowing little about Carter and finished “feeling pretty positively toward him. When he says he’ll do something, he should be taken at his word.”

Words and pictures on ‘Country Jimmy’

The first coffee-table book on the candidate is The Search for Jimmy Carter, due out next month. Thomas Collins, 46, of Westhampton Beach, N.Y. is the author. Charles Rafshoon, an Atlanta photographer who is the brother of Carter’s advertising manager, was picture editor (and many of the photos are his). The 8½x11-inch, 192-page paperback will have an initial printing of 70,000 and sell for $5.95. “The book is an attempt to understand Jimmy Carter,” Collins says. “It puts strong emphasis on his country origins.” Collins is a former Jesuit seminarian (“12 years—that’s three and a half times longer than Jerry Brown”) who has a wife and three children. He calls himself “a book packager.” His publisher, Word Books, also handles Jimmy’s sister Ruth Carter Stapleton, the faith healer. Collins appears to be under the Carter spell: he spent a month in Plains and did not talk to a single person who didn’t love Jimmy. In 1972 he wrote a book on Teddy Kennedy, A People of Compassion, and he says, “Jimmy Carter is the most interesting man to come along since Teddy.” Collins says his new book will have three sections: “Jimmy Country,” “Country Jimmy” and “Who Is Jimmy Carter?” Sound familiar?

The religious issue gets big play

“I can’t figure out why so many people are nervous and worried about Carter’s beliefs,” says Howard Norton, co-author with Bob Slosser of The Miracle of Jimmy Carter. “They certainly don’t want another crook like Nixon.” Written in three weeks for a religious paperback publisher, the book now has 1.2 million copies in print. Norton, 65, is a Pulitzer Prize winner (while with the Baltimore Sun) who followed Carter almost 1,000 miles before being granted an interview on the candidate’s religious beliefs. “Carter’s advisers were trying to play it down.” Norton, a Presbyterian, became a “committed Christian” 12 years ago. “I was having trouble with booze,” he explains. Slosser, 47, the editor of a religious biweekly in Washington, formerly worked for the New York Times. He admits, “Some critics say that we weren’t hard enough on Carter.” Slosser describes Carter’s battle for governor of Georgia in 1970, in which he was accused of racism, as “a campaign of expediency.” He adds, “That was the only shady part in Carter’s character we found. And he has apologized for that campaign and asked God for forgiveness.”

To Kandy Stroud, he’s ‘spectacular copy

Free-lance writer Kandy Stroud has been covering Washington since 1968 and has been on Carter’s trail since the snows of New Hampshire. After the Florida primary she decided he was “on his way and was the most interesting candidate—spectacular copy.” Stroud, a former Women’s Wear Daily reporter known for her acerbic style, is married to a pediatrician, Dr. Frank Stroud, and they have two children. She sounds almost born again after a visit to Plains, Ga. “I came back a better Christian,” says Stroud, a Catholic. “There is a tremendous dedication to Christ, more witnessing than I had ever seen.” While she also saw flashes of Carter temper, Stroud reasons, “Christ overturned tables in the temple.” She thinks Carter is “a more complex figure than LBJ and more intelligent than any other politician” she has covered. Of her book, Stroud says, “It’s impressions of the campaign. It changes every day.” The book will be titled the day after the election. It will be either How Jimmy Won or How Jimmy Lost.

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