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on March 14, 2001
THIS is the way high school history texts should be written. You read Clymer's bio on EMK (Edwardd M Kennedy) and, without realizing it, come away with a world of knowledge about Ted Kennedy, his brothers John and Robert, as well as almost every other relevant figure in U.S. and world history since the 1940s. By recounting the political history of the Kennedy family, and EMKs initially minor, but overall dominant, role in it, we learn about the political history of the United States in the past 50 years, and come to realize - astonishingly - that TED Kennedy is responsible for so many more accomplishments than either of his more famous brothers. More importantly, the text is a fair, objective assessment of EMK. Clymer does not shy away from the scandals like his expulsion form Harvard, the tragedy at Chappaquiddick and the rape trial of EMKs nephew in 1991. He deals with these issues head on, in detail, and lets the reader decide how to judge Kennedy - framing the paradox that IS Ted Kennedy - a man who has deal with more personal tragedy than most Shakespearean characters and sporadic personal failings, but who has spent 5 decades shaping US policy on domestic and international issues. There are so many great details in this book about JFKs early campaigns, the 1960 presidential election, Ted's Senate races in '62 and '64, the 1968 presidential election, Ted's work in the Senate in the 70s and international human rights efforts in Poland, Soviet Union, and South Africa, the 1979-80 presidential campaign, the Bork and Thomas Supreme Court nominations, and his work under Reagan, Bush and Clinton. You learn so much about the different presidencies and the leaders in Congress and US history that you cannot help but feel edified. This book is not a cheering section for EMK, but an articulate, thoughtful, objective history with just the perfect blend of detail, inertia and humor. Should be the standard for political biographies.
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on November 22, 1999
Finally a work on Teddy Kennedy that is not worshipful or hateful. It is a fascinating and objective look at a man who has shaped American domestic politics for the past 40 years. JFK and RFK may be the martyrs but EMK is the one who has had the most impact!
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on November 10, 2000
Picking up this dense portrait of the senior senator from Massachusetts, many readers would be tempted to turn straight to Chapter 12: Chappaquiddick. But that would be missing the point. Clymer, a veteran New York Times correspondent, does present a detailed account of the 1969 Martha's Vineyard accident that left Mary Jo Kopechne dead.
And the book includes key lowlights such as Kennedy's expulsion from Harvard for cheating and the night in 1991 when he rousted two young nephews out of bed for a night of drinking that led to rape charges against one of them, William Kennedy Smith (who was later acquitted).
What is remarkable is that despite these foibles and his family's tragedies, Kennedy has emerged as one of the era's most effective lawmakers, a champion of causes such as health care and civil rights.
Though Clymer occasionally gets bogged down in minutiae, he nevertheless gives us a readable and worthy account of a flawed and fascinating politician.
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on November 2, 2000
Don't believe the hype generated by the right wing, Kennedy is a superb legislator and should rank as one of the nation's great patriots.
As an unflinching voice for the underserved and underepresented, Kennedy is the epitomy of compassion at a time when members of his own party (the New Democrats)have appropriated some (but not all!) of the GOP's reactionary social polices. More than anybody, Kennedy deserves credit for staving off Newt and Trent's assuault on America and working to expand existing civil rights statues.
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on April 1, 2000
I've often found that biographies are best written after the subject's career has finished. Since Ted Kennedy's career has no end in sight, that poses a problem for anyone wanting to paint this work in progress. Adam Clymer succeeds. First, he focuses on Kennedy's substantive accomplishments rather than the gossip that more interests writers like Joe McGinniss (The Last Brother) or Richard Burke (The Senator). Second, he isolates aspects of Kennedy's legislative style, such as giving credit to others and working across party lines, that serve as generalizable lessons. Third, though the book is fairly long, it moves quickly. Ted Kennedy already has a much longer public life than most, so there is much more to write about. Clymer doesn't make the mistake of wallowing in unnecessary details just to show us all how much research he did. Fourth, although Clymer does not gloss over Kennedy's shortcomings, he is also open in his admiration of Kennedy's accomplishments. The last several pages compare both, and then the whole package against other accomplishments of great senators. The message is clear that Ted Kennedy is a titan. The evidence is hard to refute. Critics of Kennedy differ on issues of fundamental value rather than issues of effectiveness or sheer impact. Ted Kennedy deserves a biography like this, and those of us interested in his long career deserve to read it.
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on December 22, 2000
Teddy Kennedy is one of the most fascinating American political characters in the last half-century, yet Clymer's book somehow succeeds in making him boring and dry. It's not that I objected to a bland description of Kennedy's legislative accomplishments over the last thirty years (which is what three-fourths of this book is); it's just that I gained no extra insight into the man and what drives him. I have great respect for Clymer's reporting skills with the New York Times, yet it seemed as if this book were written simply by merging a couple hundred memorable quotes from Kennedy's career with stale recitations of Senate bills, cloture votes, and parliamentary maneuvers. It would have been nice to learn a little more about the behind-the-scenes activities behind some of these great public debates, such as Bork, Thomas, Ireland and of course, the Kennedy campaign in 1980. Instead, each is treated like a very, very long newspaper article that doesn't ever end. I had high expectations for this book because I like Clymer's reporting, but I agree with another reviewer that the great Kennedy biography has yet to be written . . .
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on December 28, 1999
The author had incredible access, not only to Sen. Kennedy, but to his friends and family. His political career is amazing that is largely overshawdowed by his brothers. The book takes us through the last forty years of American and World History and reminds us how Kennedy has been there through it all. Clymer spends too much time with the detail of Senate work, but overall, it is a compelling read.
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VINE VOICEon August 13, 2004
In this book, Adam Clymer offers us a well-written, detailed portrait of the life and career of Edward Kennedy, a man who has long labored under the shadows cast by his ambitious family. Burdened by the expectations the came with the family name and tarnished by the self-inflicted wounds of scandal, he nonetheless persevered to become a force in the United States Senate, one whose career the author ranks as one of the greatest in the history of the institution.

Such a judgment certainly reflects Clymer's bias for his subject. But he does make a convincing case for the influential role that Kennedy has played in the Senate over the past three decades. Clymer conveys Kennedy's love for the Senate, which he argues was reflected in his half-hearted attempts for the White House in the 1970s and 1980s. While some may argue that his failure to win the nomination makes any effort to minimize his presidential campaigns a case of sour grapes, Clymer demonstrates how Kennedy thrived in the Senate in a way his brothers - who seemed to treat their careers there as little more than platforms from which to launch their bids for the White House - never did.

Yet Clymer's biography is not without its flaws. As some reviewers have noted, the book occasionally bogs down in the minutiae of legislative maneuvering, the deals and rules that play such an important role of Kennedy's career (and his mastery of which is one of the keys to his influence). Even more troubling, though, is Clymer's inability to reconcile successfully the powerful senator with the dissolute personal character. He acknowledges Kennedy's personal problems but refers to most of them in passing only, which has the effect of reducing Chappaquiddick to an isolated incident rather than the most tragic example of the personal conduct which has defined the man in the minds of many Americans.

In spite of this, Clymer's book stands as an excellent biography of Edward Kennedy. Detailed, insightful, and well-argued, it will remain for some time the best book about the Kennedy brother who might turn out to have been the most important and influential one of them all.
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on January 13, 2000
Adam Clymer has done what few writers of the Kennedys have been able to accomplish --- he has put myth-making and revisionist rhetoric aside to give a fair and balanced account of Senator Kennedy's career. Love him or hate him, Ted Kennedy is, as Clymer reports, one of the great legislators in American political history.
Senator Kennedy's skills are highlighted whether he is setting the agenda in a Democratic majority or protecting his commitment to the poor, national health insurance, education, and civil rights from a Rebublican majority. Clymer clearly shows that this success is based on a simple principle -- put together a first-rate staff and then work harder than your opponents to push forward your agenda. The Kennedy name helps, but its the hard work and attention to detail that sets the Senator and his staff apart from the rest.
Finally, it was refreshing, and at times touching, to read how Senator Kennedy's friends and foes, as well as his family members, reflect on the impact he has had on their lives and on the lives all of those he has tried to serve in this country.
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on June 25, 2008
Like all of us Teddy's life has been good and bad. I have not gone through deaths of his brothers in such a tragic way. I especially loved Robert. His long tenure in the senate is historic even though I have disagreed with a lot of his beliefs. He also lost 2 sisters tragically. and all of his children have been affected by cancer. His first marriage ended in divorce and alcohol has been a factor of many events. The event in July of 1969 influenced national and personal politics. Overall, he has been blessed with both good fortune and tragedy unspeakable. This book explores them all. And that he has been responsable for 16 children. And now he is in the fight to save his own life. Life has dealt him some really sad things and this book like life is worth your reading.
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