Jimmy Carter's account of his Depression-era Georgia youth makes clear that despite a few goofs–accidentally freeing a mess of freshly caught fish and losing his hunting gun–the 39th President of the United States, now 76, was the sort of eager-to-please boy any parent would be proud to call son. Oh, darn. Those looking for tales of a scapegrace must look elsewhere. It's not that Carter (called Hot Shot by his beloved father, Earl) paints a rosy picture of life on the family farm. He pulls no punches about the hard work, primitive conditions and segregationist attitudes that were simply part of the landscape. He tells of traveling and going to the movies with his black boon companion, Alonzo Davis (nicknamed A.D.), and of their sitting in different sections of the train and theater. "I don't remember," he writes, "ever questioning the mandatory separation, which we accepted like breathing or waking up in Archery [Ga.] every morning."
There's plenty of warmth in Carter's account, but one can't help feeling there is too little here about young Jimmy and too much about agricultural procedures and prices, tenant farming and the more troublesome aspects of the New Deal. And too often, An Hour Before Daylight feels generic, as likely written by Opie Taylor of Mayberry as Jimmy Carter of Plains. (Simon & Schuster, $26)
Bottom Line: Pleasant reminiscence of a presidential childhood