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Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century Paperback – September, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Boston Globe reporter Farrell's biography of Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill (1912-1994) is much like the subject himself: large, rambling, sentimental and thoroughly fascinating. Farrell, a winner of a George Polk Award, traces O'Neill's career from its beginning in the 1930s in the rough-and-tumble world of Boston politics to his ascendancy to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1977. O'Neill was often seen as a genial bear of a man, and Farrell shows that beneath this surface lay a complex personality built of equal parts insecurities and a sharp, pragmatic intellect. Yet O'Neill never wavered in his beliefs that "all politics is local" and that New Deal-style government programs could help the folks back in the district live better lives. O'Neill's career is, then, intertwined with the once basic Democratic ideal of activist government. Greatness came late in O'Neill's life, when as Speaker, he faced off against another genial Irish politician, Ronald Reagan. If Reagan sought to bring to a close the New Deal legacy, O'Neill sought to save it. And if the Reagan Revolution won, O'Neill, contends Farrell, softened its effects, made it less severe and more humane, and made himself a folk hero in the process. With wonderful detailDfrom describing ward politics in Boston to deal making in CongressDO'Neill's story is also the story of America in the past half-century, and the tale is thoroughly mesmerizing. Illus. not seen by PW. (Mar. 21) Forecast: While this tome is hefty, Farrell's highly accessible writing style and a continued fascination among the public with O'Neill should garner a large audience for this book, especially but not only in his home state of Massachusetts (the late congressman's 1987 memoir sold 360,000 copies).
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

While politicians have been characterized as mere horse traders, there are occasional statesmen like Tip O'Neill, Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1977 to 1987, an era of dramatic reform. Reacting to the Watergate scandal, liberals shaped the House into the most democratic political institution in the chamber's history, curbing the speaker's powers in the process. O'Neill, the Boston politician who had replaced Jack Kennedy when the latter moved to the Senate, climbed the leadership ladder like many others. But unlike other speakers, O'Neill also became a national leader. Farrell, an award-winning White House correspondent for the Boston Globe, manages not only to capture O'Neill's inner motivations but also to convey the intricate environment of the unwieldy modern House. Beautifully written, lively, and highly informative, this book excels not only as the best available biography of O'Neill but also as the most readable book for those who want to understand modern Congress. Political junkies will savor it, the public will learn from it, and academics will want to use it in their classrooms, especially when it becomes available in paperback.DWilliam D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books (September 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316185701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316185707
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,080,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Aloysius Farrell (www.jafarrell.com) was born and raised in Huntington, New York and suburban Washington, D.C. He graduated from the University of Virginia and embarked on a prize-winning career as a newspaperman, most notably for The Denver Post and The Boston Globe. He has covered every presidential campaign since 1976, two wars and the troubles in Northern Ireland. He moved to Washington for the Globe and served as White House correspondent and Washington editor, among other assignments. He has also driven an ice cream truck, shined shoes, waited tables, cared for the animals in a medical laboratory, worked as a construction worker, labored on an Israeli kibbutz and served as a gallery guard at the Masters golf tournament. In 2001 he published "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century," a biography of the late Speaker of the House which won the Hardeman prize for the best book on Congress. An excerpt was included in "Pols: Great Writers on American Politicians," a 2004 anthology edited by Jack Beatty. Farrell's biography of the great American defense lawyer, "Clarence Darrow: Attorney For The Damned," won the 2012 Los Angeles Times book award for the best biography of the year. He is currently working on a biography of Richard Nixon.

Customer Reviews

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TIP O'NEILL is best of all.
John B. Maggiore
The author did his best in an amazing attempt to describe a legend in American politics.
Farrell's book is very well-written.
R. W. Rasband

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Much like its subject, this book is large, heavy, and packed with Irish blarney and great stories. The career of Speaker O'Neill spanned the New Deal, World War II, the Vietnam War, the great movements of the 60's, the crises of the 70's, and the Reagan Revolution of the 80's. Farrell covers it all in just under 700 pages, but you won't mind or notice because the prose flows effortlessly. It's all here: the personalities, the egos, the sleight of hand, the clashes, the politics of O'Neill and the other colorful, larger than life, forceful, and flawed people who made up Congress in the tumultuous years of the 20th century. The chapters on how O'Neill came to oppose the Vietnam War and favor Nixon's impeachment are especially good. The final chapters on how he put off retirement to be the Democratic Party's national voice against the Reagan Administration after the disastrous 1980 election are poignant without being mawkish. But even though Farrell clearly likes his subject (what's not to like?) this is not simply a political book or Democratic party propoganda. When O'Neill behaves ruthlessly, opportunistically, trims on principle (not very frequently), or takes a casual view of campaign finance ethics (very frequently), Farrell takes it all down faithfully. What emerges is a full portrait of a very human politician--his family, his friends and enemies, his finances, his values, and even his diets! Unlike most political books, this one is worth getting, even in hardcover.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Joseph M. Giardiello on May 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Let's get one thing straight right now: It is impossible to write a book about an important contemporary political figure and not let your personal bias show through.
And John Farrell in Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century is no different. Throughout, even when chronicling some of the less than honorable dealings of the former Speaker, Ferrell's personal belief in the ideals and goals of Tip O'Neill show through. For instance, the book accepts the O'Neill mantra that the middle class was somehow created by the Democratic Party.
But that doesn't make it any less enjoyable to read.
O'Neill is presented as he actually was. A man ahead of his time, part of his time, and ultimately, a dinosaur given one last chance to shine in the Reagan years.
By far, the most enjoyable part of the book is the telling of Tip's early years. While some may find it hard to believe Tip's home state of Massachusetts was ever Republican, O'Neill was the first Democratic Speaker of the Massachusetts house in history.
As he climbed his way up the U.S. House leadership, O'Neill was an ardent anti-Communist who was one of the key members to finally tire of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and switch to oppose the war.
Farrell also clearly outlines the lost opportunities of the Carter years. Initially, the House leadership was eager to work with a Democratic president after 8 years of Nixon and Ford. The honeymoon didn't last long as the "Georgia Boys" and old mules on the Hill quickly found themselves involved in time-wasting power struggles.
There are some drawbacks. Aside from the author's bias that is easy enough to discern, the book glosses over some important events of the 1980's. For instance, the S&L mess, which O'Neill bears a large part of responsibility for, is covered in less than one paragraph.
But overall, it is a quick read, despite it heft, and you'll be wishing for more by the time you turn the last page.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Farrell has created the definative biography on Tip O'Neill, the larger than life Speaker of the House in his first book. "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century" is one of the best non-fiction works I have read in a very long time. The length is a little daunting - 754 pages - but by the time I finished it, I wished that there were 754 more pages to go. Farrell's honest journalism has created a masterpiece!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By LAM on August 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John A. Farrell's "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century" earns a place with the finest works of journalism and political history - first because the author sets himself two lofty goals, and second because he accomplishes both of them in grand fashion. First, Farrell's book is a wonderful portrait of a preeminent New Deal politician - a man who not only came of age in the Great Depression, but who also found his political moorings there. The central goal of Tip O'Neill's political philosophy was aiding his constituents, block-by-block and neighborhood-by-neighborhood. Farrell makes clear that the former Speaker had an intimate connection with the folks who elected him, and that, however high he rose, O'Neill was always eminently down-to-earth and approachable. In reading this book against the backdrop of a political culture has been overtaken by endless polling, focus groups and televised spinmeisters, it's reaffirming to know that there was a time not so long ago when a major politician chatted up voters in a local barbershop, or steadfastly bought his suits at the same haberdasher decade after decade.
A second, but no less significant achievement of Farrell's book, is as a detailed political history of the last century. If one only considers the two political figures that bookended O'Neill's career - at the start, Boston Mayor and flamboyant rogue James Michael Curley and at the end President Ronald Reagan - that gives a strong sense of just how much politics and public life changed over that 50 or so years.
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