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Jimmy Carter offers frank thoughts on time in White House

"WHITE HOUSE DIARY," by Jimmy Carter, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 592 pages, $30

We have former U.S. President Richard Nixon to thank for Jimmy Carter's recent book.

When Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, first met Nixon, Nixon asked Rosalynn if she kept a journal, and she replied "No, sir."

"You'll be sorry" was Nixon's answer. The conversation made a lasting impression.

Carter took the advice to heart when he entered the White House in 1977. Every day of his presidency, Carter made several entries in a private diary, recording his successes, failures, doubts, disappointments, moments of gratification, and times and personal relationships with key people in the world.

The former president's diary is frank and unvarnished. Carter's complete diary is some 5,000 pages. In "White House Diary," the selection of entries is condensed down to 592 pages, with Carter hand-selecting, and sometimes clarifying, excerpts he considered interesting or pertinent.

Context is added to key moments from Carter's presidency, including the negotiations that led to the Camp David Accords and the Iran hostage crisis. Interactions with world movers and shakers such as Ted Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Joe Biden, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin are also brought to the fore.

"White House Diary" allows readers to see the personal side of Carter, his administration and his family. It's fascinating to learn unfiltered Carter's thoughts on the Middle East, and peace and human rights.

Tales of getting his hair cut, teaching Sunday school and bowling in the basement with his daughter, Amy, who was only 9 when Carter took office, further humanize the former president.

Of local interest are references to the Mormon church's use of volunteers for missionary work, the church's gift of a fairly complete genealogical record and a discussion with LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson.

Even though "White House Diary" only contains 20 percent of its source material, it's still a dense read. Short entries and diverse tone help move the pace forward, however, it will take most readers a while to make their way through.