Correction to This Article
A Dec. 10 Style article about former president Jimmy Carter incorrectly said that the nation was introduced to gas lines during his administration. A few years earlier, there were gasoline shortages during the Nixon administration.
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Peace Provocateur

"Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," the latest book from the former president and Habitat for Humanity booster, has triggered angry reactions in some quarters for the title alone. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

What sealed his fate, however, was the taking of dozens of American hostages by Iranian radicals in the fall of 1979 -- and Carter's prolonged inability, punctuated by a bungled rescue mission, to negotiate their freedom.

The crisis "crippled his presidency," says Mark K. Updegrove, author of "Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House." And as Updegrove makes clear, Carter departed Washington in rough personal shape as well.

Attending Reagan's inauguration, he hadn't slept in 50 hours. He'd been working on the hostages' release, which finally came later that day. Returning home to Plains, Ga., he and Rosalynn moved into a badly neglected house, empty for a decade. Their 13-year-old daughter couldn't stand small-town life, so they had to ship her off to boarding school.

Rosalynn was angry and depressed. Jimmy's forced cheeriness didn't help. Nor did the fact that they were millions of dollars in debt, both from the campaign and because a blind trust had mismanaged their farm.

Book deals were their financial salvation.

Both Carters wrote memoirs. Jimmy's was called "Keeping Faith," and according to Steven Hochman, a historian hired to help with research, the rejected candidate found writing about his last year in Washington "tough."

Still: "Jimmy Carter is a man who always wants to have a goal," Hochman says. "That's how he became president. And he was not going to change."

The Carter Center became the primary channel for his post-presidential ambitions. Conceived and launched in the early '80s, the center mediates international disputes, monitors elections and tries to strengthen democratic institutions. It also works to destigmatize mental illness and campaigns against scourges such as Guinea worm disease, which, thanks largely to its efforts, has been nearly eradicated.

Nothing to argue with there, you might think. Yet Carter's extreme international assertiveness has at times angered his successors.

The first President Bush was "furious," as Updegrove points out, when Carter sent letters to members of the U.N. Security Council before the Persian Gulf War "urging them to vote against the use of force." President Clinton was equally enraged by what he considered Carter's off-the-reservation behavior during a successful negotiation in Haiti.

It would seem that Carter had plenty to keep him busy without a whole other career writing books. But he's never stopped turning them out, from politically oriented volumes like 1985's "The Blood of Abraham" (an earlier, less controversial tour of the Middle East) to memoirs, poetry, a children's book, a book about staying engaged while getting older ("The Virtues of Aging") and even a historical novel, which he says was the hardest to write.

Last year he published "Our Endangered Values," a sustained attack on the politics of rigid fundamentalism and on virtually everything the second Bush's administration has done; it rode the bestseller lists for months. Carter wrote with particular anger about the administration's record on human rights, which he called an "embarrassing tragedy."

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