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John McCain: An American Odyssey [Paperback]

Robert Timberg
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Paperback, August 17, 1999 --  

Book Description

August 17, 1999 068486794X 978-0684867946
From the Naval Academy to the POW camps of Vietnam to Capitol Hill and possibly to the White House -- one of America's most remarkable men

In 1998, at the dedication of the National Prisoner of War Museum in Andersonville, Georgia, former Attorney General Griffin Bell, a Democrat, introduced Senator John McCain, the featured speaker and a Republican, with these words: "We often hear people now say, where are our heroes, where have all our heroes gone? Well, Senator McCain is an authentic, living American hero."

So begins Robert Timberg's gripping and penetrating biography of Senator John McCain, the man who may someday be President of the United States. In "John McCain: An American Odyssey, " Timberg provides a riveting account of McCain's remarkable life -- from his rambunctious childhood and his madcap escapades as a U.S. Naval Academy midshipman to his grim experiences as a combat pilot and POW in Vietnam, where he was held prisoner by the North Vietnamese for five and a half years. Most importantly, the author illuminates Senator McCain's postwar evolution into one of our country's most distinguished political leaders and a formidable presidential candidate. Inspired by the success of "The Nightingale's Song" (selected by "The New York Times" as a "Notable Book of the Year" in 1995 and by "Time" as one of that year's five best nonfiction books), "John McCain: An American Odyssey" probes more deeply into the life of this hugely colorful, straight-talking American original. It is a rich and captivating portrait of one of America's most fascinating and provocative public figures -- a man who has captured the imagination of millions of Americans and who will continue to be a most prominent figure on the American political landscape.

Editorial Reviews Review

If, as you're reading John McCain: An American Odyssey, you feel a sense of déjà vu, don't be alarmed--you may very well have read this book before. Robert Timberg has extracted from his 1995 book The Nightingale's Song, which dealt with several Naval Academy graduates who went on to serve in Vietnam, those passages that involved Senator John McCain, a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2000 presidential elections. To this Timberg has added some new, updated material.

Roughly half of this story is covered in McCain's own memoir, Faith of My Fathers, including McCain's early military career and an internment in a North Vietnamese POW camp that lasted nearly six years. But it's presented here from an objective, journalistic perspective (and Timberg's own stint at Annapolis informs the sections on the Naval Academy immeasurably). But there's also strong material on McCain's political career, from his first campaigns in Arizona through the dark days of his involvement in the "Keating Five" scandal of the early '90s up to his role in 1999 as a critic of American involvement in the NATO attack on Serbia (which, McCain said, wasn't strong enough).

From Booklist

To buy or not to buy: that is the question. Librarians may recall Timberg's The Nightingale's Song (1995), which took a nuanced look at the U.S. Naval Academy and its role in American life by examining the careers of five graduates: McCain; Iran-contra figures Oliver North, John Poindexter, and Bud McFarlane; and novelist and former navy secretary James Webb. In this volume, the author draws on his earlier McCain research but adds "new chapters on McCain's boyhood and youth, on the Keating Five scandal, and on the years since that ordeal ended," as well as a recast Prologue and a new Epilogue. Timberg, himself an Academy graduate, was White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun during the Reagan administration; he is now deputy chief of that paper's Washington bureau. Where interest in the Arizona senator's presidential candidacy is strong, this focused volume may be popular, especially because McCain's own recent work (Faith of My Fathers ) covers only the military careers of the senator and his father and grandfather. Mary Carroll

Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Fireside (August 17, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068486794X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684867946
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,441,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A riveting book about a true American hero September 6, 1999
By A Customer
It is quite refreshing to read a biography of a political figure who hasn't been involved in a sex scandal and is truly an American hero. In this day and age we apply this tag to public figures from rap stars to baseball players, when none have accomplished or endured anything along the lines of John McCain. Timberg chronicles the senator's life from his roudy days in high school to his five and a half year imprisonment in a Vietnamese POW camp, all the way to his election as a Congressman, senator, and presidential candidacy. Facing numerous challenges, the largest of those being the years of torture and abuse at the hands of his captors, McCain manages to overcome the spectre of both his father and grandfather being four star admirals and carves out his own niche while maintaning individuality, integrity, and a deep sense of personal responsibility. Timberg graphically describes the events which transpired during his years in Vietnam, the horrendous conditions, and McCain's steadfast desire to not be given any preferrential treatment. The book is also filled with hilarious anecdotes along with many observations from Timberg himself regarding McCain's involvement in Vietnam, the Naval Academy, and involvement in the Keating Five scandal. A somewhat biased book, but a great book nonetheless on a truly remarkable American figure who could very well end up as our next president.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid introduction to an intriguing man February 1, 2000
Love him or hate him, John McCain is one of the most interesting and provocative public figures in America today. This book, by Robert Timberg, does a nice job of introducing McCain to the voting public, much of which knows little about this presidential candidate. Timberg's book is short - you can read it in a day - but it is surprisingly deep and well-researched. Timberg's judgement of McCain is positive, although not gushy. You will come away from this book not only with a better understanding of Senator McCain but a better appreciation of his positive impact on our country.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John McCain: An American Odyssey December 17, 1999
An excellent objective account of John McCain. I was looking for as unbiased book on this presidential hopeful as possible. I found it in this book. Although somewhat biased myself, I appreciated the candid remarks about his renegade attitude and well publicized short temper. I firmly believe that this book will help one form his/her own opinion of McCain rather than attempt to lead you in one direction or another. If nothing else, after reading this book, you will surely walk away with an appreciation if not admiration for what John McCain went through as a 5 1/2 year POW in Viet Nam.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars John McCain: An American Odyssey March 18, 2000
By A Customer
I read this book before McCain withdrew from the Presidential race. Though there was some "selling of the candidate," I found the book to be mainly quite objective. I wish I could feel so informed about all candidates and will try in the future to read biographies before I vote. I now see that as my responsibility.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warts and all April 26, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Written at a time when John McCain was preparing for a presidential run in 2000, this book can hardly considered up to date. Nevertheless, it paints a useful picture of the man who figures to be the Republican standard bearer in 2008. If a better biography (leaving aside McCain's memoir) is available, I am not aware of it.

"An American Odyssey" is by journalist Robert Timberg (Baltimore Sun), also a graduate of the Naval Academy but in a more recent year. The portrayal of McCain is sympathetic - military tradition of his family, distinguished service record, heroism as a prisoner of war, passion for doing what he thinks right. No wonder that so many people who crossed paths with McCain remember him with affection and respect.

This is not a puff piece, however, and many incidents are related that show McCain in a less than a flattering light - disrespectful of authority, impulsive, lacking a clear sense of direction. I found this aspect of the book invaluable, as it provides a basis for evaluating the character flaws (terrible temper, broken by North Vietnamese captors, etc.) that critics have attributed to McCain.

Timberg's conclusion: here is a man with flaws, no "early bloomer" for sure, but when the chips were down he did far better than most of us would have done. Crucially, McCain emerged from the dark days of the Vietnam War with a determination to look ahead rather than wasting the rest of his life in anger and regret.

My recommendation: read the book and decide whether you agree.
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Topic From this Discussion
John McCain was not eligible to be President
It was U.S. territory in those days moron. Pick up a history book.
Jan 13, 2013 by Paul Bless |  See all 2 posts
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