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I know that I'm not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but words cannot adequately describe how much this book irritated me. I'm an avowed liberal who works in the US for 6 months a year, so the autobiography of the last significantly political Kennedy should interest me. That's why I bought it after all. It didn't.

As soon as I sat down, it became apparent that this book isn't anything more than a puff piece where Kennedy spends 532 pages skimming through his life, putting the most positive spin on everything he had to address (the fact he drank like a fish and how that might have contributed to his nephew's rape arrest for example), and ignoring the rest (Chappaquiddick is dealt with extraordinarily briefly, despite the fact it's a term that symbolises his life now).

In America, Garrison Keillor signs off his "Lake Wobegon" monologues with the description of the town as a place where "the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average." That statement could be used to sum up this entire book. There is no self-awareness, let alone self-analysis here. He genuinely seems to believe that most people should see him as he sees himself, as some bastion of the common man who should be seen through that light only.

For those of you who have issues with him, he makes no excuses. He makes no attempt to excuse any of his actions. He tells us repeatedly through the book that he is who he is, and won't demean himself by explaining areas of his life he chooses to ignore. If that's the case, why write the book?

It's also worth noting that the editor didn't manage the book well. Kennedy half tells a number of stories that eventually gets told, and semi-repeated (often within a few pages) throughout the book. In addition, there's no linear narrative. He hops about his life like a magpie, and that seriously affects the flow of the book, and how it reads. For someone who was such a good orator, I'm surprised how poorly structured this book is.

In short, don't buy this book. The Edward Klein book about Kennedy is much better, because it approached him in a more neutral way.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Apr. 19th, 2010 08:03 pm (UTC)
Ha!
Don't believe you're a liberal. Chappaquiddick does not symbolize Kennedy's life. I think atonement might. He's very direct and open about taking fullresponsibility. I thought the book was extraordinary, human, emotional, deep and not self-serving. He never made excuses. Did you read the book? Klein's book is full of crap. Do you think Klein knew more about where Kennedy had his seizure than Kennedy did? If that's his level of sloppiness, how can we believe anything in it.
jamiebowen0306
May. 8th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Ha!
I'd like to say a few things in response to your post. I've read both the Klein and Kennedy books about Teddy Kennedy, the Evan Thomas book about RFK and the Robert Dallek book about JFK. So I think it's fair to say I'm not an illiterate when it comes to the Kennedys.

When it comes to biography, maybe I expected more than Kennedy could give. When you write about someone else, you're bound to write more dispassionately about the subject of your article. I don't mean to be flippant about that, but if you talk to anyone about anything they did and they'll start to try and hedge and fudge and justify their actions.

This tendency to "justify yourself" is worse if you describe an element of your life you are embarrassed by. That isn't a bad thing. It just is what it is. Think back to things you're embarrassed by in your life and try and honestly tell me you didn't try to justify it (even slightly). Now magnify the embarrassment you feel about your most embarrassing moment by 100 or a 1000. That has to be the level of embarrassment that Kennedy feels over Chappaquiddick or his nephew's rape trial. Given that level of embarrassment, are you seriously trying to tell me he doesn't hedge and fudge some.

In addition, it's worth noting that if you ask anyone about Ted Kennedy, the first thing they'll say is Chappaquiddick, or the rape trial or being JFKs or RFKs brother. The first piece of legislation that they mention will probably be No Child Left Behind, and hows that working out for Kennedy? Like it or not, Chappaquiddick is a life defining moment.

Finally, I am a liberal. Being a liberal is a state of mind and doesn't mean I have to "pucker up" to "liberal lions," no matter how successful they ar.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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