The Virtues of Aging

by Jimmy Carter

Do not read The Virtues of Aging because Jimmy Carter was once President of United States, read it because the man has been pausing to assess what is important for a long, long time. This book is a product of his careful reflection.

When Carter was voted out of the White House, he was just 56. Embarrassed, on shaky financial footing, facing an empty nest at home, and fearing their productive lives were over, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter asked, "What are we going to do with the next twenty-five years?"

President Carter should have asked, "What will I do with the next 35 years of my life?" Although the President assumed he had 10 or 15 years “if he was lucky“ (Carters did not live long), he is now almost 40 years past the time he exited the White House. In this book he reflects on the advantages and admirable qualities of growing old.

President Carter speaks with frankness, humor, and introspection as he assesses both joys and the challenges of growing older. You’ll learn about the Carter’s relationship on practically every front from finances to grand parenting to sex to retirement careers to how they invest their free time. 

The Virtues of Aging is not strictly a memoir on aging. It is full of interesting research, though I suspect some of it is dated given the 1998 publication. While a few data points may have changed, the topic is timeless. Carter asks:

So then, when are we old? The correct answer is that each of us is old when we think we are – when we except an attitude of dormancy, dependence on others, a substantial limitation on our physical and mental activity, and restrictions on the number of other people with whom we interact. As I know from experience, this is not tied very closely to how many years we’ve lived. Page 11

This book accepts the concept of "old," but it is a manifesto that years need not define productivity, enjoyment, or purpose. It is great help to anyone who is ready to accept the reality of growing older but not the limitations and setbacks often associated with it. 

Four reasons to read The Virtues of Aging:
1. President Carter will surprise you with his candor and honesty. I could never see President Trump writing this book in this kind of style. Carter does not pontificate. He shares life. In the process he leaves few stones unturned. 
2. President Carter will engage and teach you with stories. His collection of anecdotes is delightful. He will take you from Plains, Georgia to the world stage and back to his home town.
3. President Carter will point you to others who have aged well. I found The Virtues of Aging very informative, particularly as I learned from "Some Remarkable Old People" (chapter 13).
4. President Carter will give you great advice. This is not a "Let me tell you what you need to hear!" book, but the more time you spend with Mr. Carter the more you want to hear from him. I particularly enjoyed chapter 8, "Seventy, Going on Eighty," which highlights the customs and habits that shape the lives of the Carter's in their advanced years.