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Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics Paperback – August 25, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: RANDO (August 25, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812976215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812976212
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #736,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Joe Biden was first elected to the United States Senate in 1972 at the age of twenty-nine and is recognized as one of the nation’s most powerful and influential voices on foreign relations, terrorism, drug policy, and crime prevention. Senator Biden grew up in New Castle County, Delaware, and graduated from the University of Delaware and the Syracuse University College of Law. Since 1991, Biden has been an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law, where he teaches a seminar on constitutional law. He lives in Wilmington, Delaware.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1- Impedimenta

Joe Impedimenta. My classmates hung that nickname on me our first semester of high school when we were doing two periods of Latin a day. It was one of the first big words we learned.  Impedimenta—the baggage that impedes one’s progress. So I was Joe Impedimenta. Or Dash. A lot of people thought they called me Dash because of football. I was fast, and I scored my share of touchdowns. But the guys at an all-boys Catholic school usually didn’t give you nicknames to make you feel better about yourself. They didn’t call me Dash because of what I could do on the football field; they called me Dash because of what I could not do in the classroom. I talked like Morse code. Dot-dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dash-dash. “You gu-gu-gu-gu-guys sh-sh-sh-sh-shut up!”
My impedimenta was a stutter. It wasn’t always bad. When I was at home with my brothers and sister, hanging out with my neighborhood friends, or shooting the bull on the ball field, I was fine, but when I got thrown into a new situation or a new school, had to read in front of the class, or wanted to ask out a girl, I just couldn’t do it. My freshman year of high school, because of the stutter, I got an exemption from public speaking. Everybody else had to get up and make a presentation at the morning assembly, in front of 250 boys. I got a pass. And everybody knew it. Maybe they didn’t think much of it—they had other things to worry about—but I did. It was like having to stand in the corner with the dunce cap. Other kids looked at me like I was stupid. They laughed. I wanted so badly to prove I was like everybody else. Even today I can remember the dread, the shame, the absolute rage, as vividly as the day it was happening. There were times I thought it was the end of the world, my impedimenta. I worried that the stutter was going to be my epitaph. And there were days I wondered: How would I ever beat it?
It’s a funny thing to say, but even if I could, I wouldn’t wish away the darkest days of the stutter. That impedimenta ended up being a godsend for me. Carrying it strengthened me and, I hoped, made me a better person. And the very things it taught me turned out to be invaluable lessons for my life as well as my chosen career.

I started worrying about my stutter back in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in grade school. When I was in kindergarten, my parents sent me to a speech pathologist at Marywood College, but it didn’t help much, so I went only a few times. Truth was, I didn’t let the stutter get in the way of things that really mattered to me. I was young for my grade and always little for my age, but I made up for it by demonstrating I had guts. On a dare, I’d climb to the top of a burning culm dump, swing out over a construction site, race under a moving dump truck. If I could visualize myself doing it, I knew I could do it. It never crossed my mind that I couldn’t. As much as I lacked confidence in my ability to communicate verbally, I always had confidence in my athletic ability. Sports was as natural to me as speaking was unnatural. And sports turned out to be my ticket to acceptance—and more. I wasn’t easily intimidated in a game, so even when I stuttered, I was always the kid who said, “Give me the ball.”
Who’s going to take the last shot? “Give me the ball.” We need a touchdown now. “Give me the ball.” I’d be eight years old, usually the smallest guy on the field, but I wanted the ball. And they gave it to me.
When I was ten, we moved from the Scranton neighborhood I knew so well to Wilmington, Delaware. My dad was having trouble finding a good job in Scranton, and his brother Frank kept telling him there were jobs in Wilmington. The Biden brothers had spent most of their school days in Wilmington, so it was like going home for my dad. For the rest of us, it felt like leaving home. But my mom, who was born and raised in Scranton, determined to see it as my dad did; she refused to see it any other way. This was a wonderful opportunity. We’d have a fresh start. We’d make new friends. We were moving into a brand-new neighborhood, to a brand-new home. This wasn’t a hand-me-down house. We’d be the first people to ever set foot in it. It was all good. She was like that with my stutter, too. She wouldn’t dwell on the bad stuff. Joey, you’re so handsome. Joey, you’re such a good athlete. Joey, you’ve got such a high IQ. You’ve got so much to say, honey, that your brain gets ahead of you. And if the other kids made fun of me, well, that was their problem. They’re just jealous.
She knew how wounding kids could be. One thing she determined to do when we moved to Wilmington was hold me back a year. Besides being young and small, I’d missed a lot of school the last year in Scranton when I’d had my tonsils and adenoids removed. So when we got to Wilmington, my mom insisted I do third grade over—and none of the kids at Holy Rosary had to know I was being held back by my mom. That was just another of the ways Wilmington would be a fresh start.
Actually, we were moving to the outskirts of Wilmington, to a working-class neighborhood called the Claymont area, just across the Pennsylvania state line. I still remember the drive into Delaware. It all felt like an adventure. My dad was at the wheel and my mom was up front with him, with the three of us kids in back: me, my brother, Jimmy, and my six-year-old sister, Valerie, who was also my best friend. We drove across the state line on the Philadelphia Turnpike, past the Worth Steel Mill, the General Chemical Company, and the oil refineries, all spewing smoke. We drove past Worthland and Overlook Colony, tightly packed with the row houses that the mills had built for their workers not long after the turn of the century. Worthland was full of Italians and Poles; Overlook Colony was black. It was just a mile or so down the road to Brookview Apartments and our brand-new garden unit. A right off the Philadelphia Pike, and we were home.
Brookview was a moonscape. A huge water tower loomed over the development, but there wasn’t a tree in sight. We followed the main road in as it swept us in a gentle curve. Off the main road were the “courts.” One side was built, but the other was still under construction. We could see the heavy machinery idling among the mounds of dirt and red clay. It was a hot summer day, so our car windows were rolled down. I can still remember the smell of that red clay, the sulfurous stink from the bowels of the earth. As we arced down the main street toward a new home, my mom caught sight of these airless little one-story apartments. They were the color of brown mustard. My dad must have seen my mom’s face as she scanned her new neighborhood. “Don’t worry, Pudd’,” he told her. “It’s not these. We have a big one.”
He pulled the car around to the bottom of a bend, and without getting out of the car, he pointed across an expanse of not-quite lawn, toward the big one. Our new home was a two-story unit, white, with thin columns in front—a hint of Tara, I guess—and a one-story box off each side. “There it is,” he said.
“All of this?” Mom asked.
“No, just the center,” my dad said. Then, “Don’t worry, Pudd’, it’s only temporary.”
From the backseat I could tell my mom was crying.
“Mom!? What’s the matter, Mommy?”
“I’m just so happy. Isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it beautiful?”

Actually, it didn’t seem bad to me. It was a miniature version of a center hall colonial, and we had bedrooms upstairs. I had the bedroom in back, which meant from my window I could gaze upon the object of my deepest desire, my Oz: Archmere. Right in the middle of this working-class steel town, not a mile from the mills and directly across from the entrance of Brookview Apartments, was the first mansion I had ever really seen. I could look at it for hours. John Jacob Raskob had built the house for his family before the steel mills, chemical plants, and oil refineries came to Claymont. Raskob was Pierre du Pont’s personal secretary, but he had a genius for making money out of money. He convinced the du Ponts to take a big stake in General Motors and became its chairman of finance. Raskob was also a Catholic hero. He used part of his fortune to fund a charitable foundation, and he’d run the campaign of the first Catholic presidential nominee, the Democrat Al Smith. In 1928 the Democrats had political strategy sessions in his library at Archmere. Raskob went on to build the Empire State Building.
The mansion he built in Claymont, the Patio at Archmere, was a magnificent Italianate marble pile on a property that sloped down to the Delaware River. Archmere—arch by the sea—was named for the arch of elms that ran on that slope to the river. But after the working man’s families, not to mention the noise and pollution from the mills, began to crowd the Patio, Raskob cut his losses and sold the mansion to an order of Catholic priests. The Norbertines turned it into a private boys’ school. Archmere Academy was just twenty years old when I moved in across the street.
When I played CYO football that year, our coach was Dr. Anzelotti, a Ph.D. chemist at DuPont who had sons at the school. Archmere let Dr. Anzelotti run our practices on the grounds of the school. From the moment I got within the ten-foot-high wrought-iron fence that surrounded the campus and drove up the road—they actually called it the yellow-brick road—I knew where I wanted to go to high school. I didn’t ever think of Archmere as a path to greater glory. When I was ten, getting to Archmere seemed enough. I’d sit and stare out my bedroom window and dream of the day I would walk through the front doors and take my spot in that seat of learning....

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Customer Reviews

Read the book, it's very interesting.
Sandra L. Stahler
It is also beautifully written making the stories flow off of the page.
Mick McAndrews
Senator Joe Biden of Delaware has led a very interesting life.
Bill Emblom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Fitzsimmons on August 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
What a read. I'm only half way through the book but I feel like I've gotten one of the best (at least that I have read) eye wittness accounts to the most significant events of the past 35 years. Travelling with Avril Harriman at 36 years old for a tete a tete with Tito! Debating the power of the Soviet Union with Kissinger. The touching personal stories of how Mike Mansfield and Hubert Humphrey and others took the 30 year old widow under their wings in his first days in the Senate. Its a remarkable story if you have even the slightest interest in politics and world affairs. I knew a lot about Biden before this book, but there is something almost Forrest Gumpian about his life. And I mean that in a positive way. He has lived- and almost died- through seven Presidents and gives us his unvarnished, typical Biden-esque, take on them all. Some of the most chilling parts of the book however are his assesment of this administration. Coming from someone who has been a senator for 35 years it holds some great weight with me. But bottom line is that PTK is one of the best political biographies I have ever read. Don't expect some typical Presidential campaign policy book- "why my health plan is the best"- this is a true memoir no holds barred take on our past present and future.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By B. Withers on August 31, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Joe Biden has been making a lot of sense lately. I have been impressed by David Brooks' high opinion of his intellect and integrity. There is much about this book that I really liked. However, I looked in vain for any discussion of the Clarence Thomas hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, certainly a significant chapter in Biden's service as chair of the committee. Someone will point it out, I'm sure, if I missed it. Since the book has no index, I can't be completely sure that this epic event didn't even get one sentence. Besides the lack of index, I was distracted by the fact that quotes were given without citations or footnotes of any kind. Without such references, there is no way to verify quotes or paraphrases or to place an item into a larger context or more precise time frame. It seems a curious omission for an attorney to make and I'm surprised no one else has noted it. In the end, for these reasons, the book left me ultimately disappointed.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By S. J. Adams on September 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
My sister got me a signed copy of this book at Biden's recent book signing in Rehoboth Beach. I worked on Biden's '78 Senate race, while I was a sophomore at the University of Delaware. And yes, I am a proud NATIVE DELAWAREAN (not many people can say that!), also raised, like Joe, in New Castle County, of working class parents who believed in Joe's same "Get Up" and just do it code. Yes, the book is full of stuff from an Andy Hardy movie; yes, it's feel-good and all-American, with the faint wafting of the stars and stripes in the background, just as in the cover photo. But this is how Joe Biden really is! I worked with him and his sister Val pretty closely in the early senate campaigns, and since then I've known Tommy Vallely and some others close to Joe. And he is really like this! Passionate, committed, slightly arrogant and full of himself, "toothsome", mighty attractive, and focused. If he were from California or Texas he'd have a shot at the Presidency, even with the Kinnock slip-up. As he's from a tiny state, his chances are already greatly reduced. Whatever happens in '08, Joe Biden still makes me proud to be a Delawarean.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer2934817 on August 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit I am a huge Joe Biden fan- so you can take that into consideration in reading this review. Nevertheless, I can't tell you how amazed I am by this book. I am a fan but no sycophant. I was expecting a mildly interesting tome- a washington "index page read.". You know the book- you buy it just to flip through the index and see if there's any names you recognize and want to read about. Well this is not that book. This actually grabs you from page one- even before page one- the prologue alone is worth the price of admission. If you read Richard Ben Cramer's "What It Takes" and liked it, you will love this book too. You don't even have to be a Joe Biden fan to enjoy this book- the story of his life so far and the stories that make the man are truly worthy of your time.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Bob A. Booey on August 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
After reading this book, I feel that it's probably the most honestly written autobiography that I've ever read from an elected official. Much like his Senate floor speeches and TV appearances, Sen. Biden tells the reader how he really feels and in typical Biden style, does not pull any punches or censor himself. Joe Biden has gotten into trouble over the years because he speaks his mind and tells the truth regardless of the political consequences of doing so or how controversial his words might be at the time. Usually in the end, he ends up being right. While many politicians will watch the polls and say what they think people want to hear depending on how the political winds are blowing at the time while towing the line of political correctness, Joe Biden always tells it like it is with no filter. This habit has always been his "Achilles Heel" in the minds of some people (particularly the press). But it's guys like him who the average blue collar citizen can get behind because they know that he's real and has no hidden agenda. He didn't grow up silver spoon fed or have a famous family name. He didn't go to an Ivy League college as a legacy or have a well-connected father. He grew up a middle class kid in a small state that many people couldn't find on a map if they tried. Every year when the financial wealth of members of Congress is released to the public, Sen. Biden is always either at the bottom of the list or dead last. He has not gained financial wealth during his years as a Senator like others have because they have done favors for special interests. This man owes no favors to the lobbyists or Corporate America. He's never accepted PAC $$$ for his campaigns. He has no skeletons in his closet or else somebody would have found them by now. Sen.Read more ›
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