13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2001
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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2001
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.
21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2001
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!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2001
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. O'Neill began his career in a time when concern about the size of government was subsidiary to the goals it was intended to accomplish; a time when politicians and the public were trained on eradicating societal ills such as poverty, homelessness, joblessness, illiteracy and so on. By the time O'Neill left public life, the size and efficiency of government, particularly spending on domestic social programs, was a drum for self-proclaimed fiscal hawks to bang. Speaker O'Neill left public life in a time when Social Darwinism and exploitation of the "alienated voter" defined political discourse; a time when selfishness, greed, retrenchment from public life, and resentment of the veterans, the poor, the sick, and the mentally ill were rampant. So thoroughly denuded were the ideals of O'Neill's earlier career that President Reagan could connect with a wide swath of voters by repeatedly telling a false story about a Chicago "welfare queen" who rode around in a limousine and who ate lobster for dinner every night. Farrell shows O'Neill as someone who railed publicly against Reagan and his ilk, and who considered the President, "an Irishman who forgot where he came from." Indeed, Farrell includes wonderful color about O'Neill and his wildly divergent private and public relationships with Reagan. In the end, Farrell's book succeeds because it brings its subject into full bloom; he paints pictures not only of O'Neill, but also of the times in which he lived and politicked. And that is what lifts this biography to the level of greatness.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2001
Tip O'Neill was a man of many words, many stories, and much character. In the cynical world of politics, where trust and conviction are in short supply, Tip O'Neill stood head and shoulders above the rest (and still does). O'Neill placed loyalty and honesty above all else and made politics into an art form. He was the Picasso.
This is a great book about a great man. That may be the best way to recommend this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2003
This book is an excellent resource for all who aspire to be politicians and wish to learn the the way the political process really works in our nation. John Farrell does an excellent job in profiling Tip O'Neill and putting O'Neill's actions and principles in the context of the issues of his day (i.e. the New Deal, the Vietnam War, Watergate and other issues). When doing this, Farrell uses the phrase " it was in this backdrop.... When writing a biography, it is crucial to explain the currrent events that impacted the world of those being profiled. Farrell mastered this principle of biography writing. O'Neill is a fascinating individual to study, i was especially taken back at how prevalent is the belief that machnine politics is always corrupt and the politicians that it produces are inept. This is not true. O'Neill was typecasted as a corrupt machine politician by some, in my view, because of his down to earth personality and some of his political tactics. The Kennedy's also used this "machine" to their advantage but they were never viewed by anyone as machine politicians. Although I am not Irish, there was clearly some anti-Irish prejudice in the attitudes of some who disliked O'Neill.This book gave me a very clear picture of Irish American history and the role politics played in its history. Farrell also touches on the ideological rift in the Democratic party. I highly recommend this book and i hope this review was useful.
Andres J. Ledesma, New York City
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Farrell's book is very well-written. He catches the human side of politics; personalities can be as important as principles in obtaining success (as Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich found out, in different ways.) The stories told here of Reagan and O'Neill's complex relationship are fascinating and revealing; they would beat the hell out of each other until 6 o'clock, and then become good friends. An object lesson that politics in a republic doesn't have to be about hate.
Farrell's book is remarkably objective and fair. It isn't the liberal screed one might expect. Farrell concludes that the Democrats *deserved* to lose the election of 1980, and Tip's partisanship played a role in the party's failures. Indeed, the second half of the book is a clear, lucid, and smart chronicle of the decline and fall of the "Democratic century". Tip's conflicts with his constituents over busing and abortion revealed how far the party had moved to the left in the 70's. And Farrell acknowledges that O'Neill's speakership coincided with the low point for liberalism in the 20th century--Reagan handed him defeat after bitter defeat.
Throughout his career Tip's human qualities kept him buoyant in whatever throuble he found himself. Farrell manages to capture how he was *both* the warm-hearted tribune of the underprivileged and the Machiavellian machine politician of the Republicans worst nightmares. The author also writes understandingly of Tip's personal travails with children and friends. This book will give you much increased wisdom about recent history, and is a lot of fun as well.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2004
John Farrell's biography of Tip O'Neill will stand as the definative book on the legendary Speaker of the House for years to come. The Tip O'Neill that emerges from these pages is a very complex man. Farrell does not needlessly canonize O'Neill or portray him as the caricature that many of his fans and detractors have painted him as. Instead, Farrell let's O'Neill's words and actions speak for themselves - and what a narrative it is!
The striking thing about Tip O'Neill that comes through in the book is how authentic he was to himself, to others, and to his principles. In one of the Democratic Party's darkest hours - the beginning of the Reagan Revolution - Tip O'Neill stood as the last Democratic titan, one who was willing to take on the slings and arrows of his critics in order to preserve all that he, and his party, worked and stood for. Regardless of your political persuasion, O'Neill's courage and loyalty are worthy of admiration. Unfortunately, they simply don't make leaders like that anymore.
As a fan of political biogrpahies, I found 'Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century' to be fair, balanced, highly readable, entertaining, inspiring, and compelling. This book is the best political biography I have read in years and I highly recommend it to all.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I had read (on 7 Jan 1996) Tip O'Neill's memoir, Man of the House: The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill and had greatly enjoyed it and when I saw this book I wondered whether it was necessary I read it--there is so much I want to read and I am not getting any younger. But I am very glad that I decided to read it. It is a great and balanced account of a fascinating life. No one interested in the polical history of the past half-century should fail to read this. I found that I could read with undivided attention even tho the TV was on! It simply caught me up, and there was never a dull page. One has to be bothered by some of the political practices which Tip indulged in but on the other hand I am sure that an honest portrayal of his opponents would indicate that they were no more scrupulous in regard to choice of tactics. This is a great, great read, and not while one gets a favorable impression of Tip this book is not hagiographical. So don't not read it because Tip was a great Democrat.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2001
Admirers of the late Speaker O'Neill will find much to like in Jack Farrell's "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century"; Farrell offers a generally adoring account of O'Neill's life, but he also does not shirk from documenting some of the Speaker's less-than-admirable public and private activities. Though welcome, this book does not offer a definitive portrait of O'Neill's life and times - Farrell gives short shrift to his subject's early life, his career in the Massachusetts state legislature, and his years as a junior congressman. Despite shortcomings such as these, "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century" provides an enjoyable account of a remarkable public figure.