Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer *85 (Basic Books)

The Author: Balmer, a religious historian and Episcopal priest, is the chair of the religion department at Dartmouth and the author of more than a dozen books, including Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, which was adapted into an Emmy-nominated PBS documentary.

The Book: Today, evangelical Christianity and conservative politics seem inextricably aligned. But in 1976, the presidential campaign of Democrat Jimmy Carter succeeded in part by gaining the support of evangelical voters who had long avoided politics. In the ensuing years, these newly engaged evangelical voters were co-opted by conservative leaders from the extreme religious right. By the time of the 1980 presidential election, support for Carter from evangelicals had all but dried up. Redeemer examines the life and faith of Carter, exploring how the rise and fall of his political fortunes mirrored the transformation of American religious politics. Balmer casts Carter as the last great standard-bearer for an important strand of American Christianity.

Opening Lines: “I honestly don’t recall when I first heard of Jimmy Carter. But I do remember that by the time I arrived in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 1975 to work as an intern on Capitol Hill, I was more than a little intrigued by the former governor of Georgia.”

Review: Redeemer is a “sympathetic account of a president too often overlooked, embedded in a rethinking of the rise of the religious right,” writes Kirkus Reviews. Harry Stout, a professor of religious history at Yale University, writes that Balmer “charts a unique course” in this “brilliantly argued and thoroughly substantiated biography of Jimmy Carter.”