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81 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kennedy Emerges As A Work In Progress
Of all the books written about Robert Kennedy, this one is by far the most even-handed and objective. Evan Thomas approaches his subject with neither the hero worship of previous Camelot chroniclers nor the detraction of revisionist historians. The Robert Kennedy that emerges from Thomas's research, his pouring through RFK's personal papers, and his interviews with...
Published on September 18, 2000 by suzy murray

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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Muddled and unfocused
The life and times of Robert Kennedy beg for a coherent and in depth book .... unfortunately this is not it. Living in the shadow of his presidential brother, the shadow of his oldest brother killed in WWII and the all encompassing shadow of his father, RFK was able to chisel out an identity of his own in US history before his tragic death. Hoping to gain some...
Published on September 11, 2006 by JoeV


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81 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kennedy Emerges As A Work In Progress, September 18, 2000
Of all the books written about Robert Kennedy, this one is by far the most even-handed and objective. Evan Thomas approaches his subject with neither the hero worship of previous Camelot chroniclers nor the detraction of revisionist historians. The Robert Kennedy that emerges from Thomas's research, his pouring through RFK's personal papers, and his interviews with those who knew Kennedy is a complex one. Thomas shows us that RFK was capable of being both expediant and just. For example, Thomas examines RFK's decision during his brother's 1960 presidential campaign to secure Martin Luther King Jr.'s release from jail and lets us see that RFK's efforts might have been motivated by both the political rewards such a move might yeild as well as the injustice of King's situation and a devotion to the principles of the United States Constitution. We see a man who, as Thomas writes, was "capable of...internal contradictions-not contradictions, really, but parallel instincts that coexisted within him." Thomas also gives us a portrait of a man who was changing throughout his life, evolving from a morose, sullen boy, hot-tempered and eager to fight, to a philosophical man of reflection who carried greek plays and the works of Albert Camus in his briefcase and whose sense of the injustice in the world grew stronger as he grew older. Here Thomas provides us with an RFK who was very much a work in progress, and therein, suggests Thomas, was the real tragedy of his death, that RFK was cut down before he could evolve fully into the philosophical crusader against injustice he was becoming.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars impressive scholarship, some new insights, September 7, 2000
By A Customer
After several new studies on the life and career of Robert Kennedy in the past 3 years, Evan Thomas had a tall order in offering a work with something new to say. Thomas had a distinct advantage over other recent authors, however: access to RFK's personal papers. What is somewhat surprising is how small a part of the source base for his biography references to Kennedy's papers are. Perhaps this should not be surprising given RFK's disinclination toward self-disclosure. Thomas also conducted a very impressive number of interviews with Kennedy associates, and he utilitzes these to good effect. What emerges is a work of great balance and breadth, and following the lead of James Hilty's judicious assessment of some areas of Kennedy myth, Thomas debunks many popular ideas about RFK and humanizes him. What I found lacking in the book is some sense of the vitriolic nature of opposition to Robert Kennedy, or any analysis of devotion to the man on either the popular level or that of his subordinates. While detachment in a biographer's perspective is important, a greater sense of Kennedy's milieu was absent. Two final critiques: Thomas doesn't really make a case for where Kennedy fits in the big picture of American history (perhaps evidence of Thomas as journalist as opposed to historian), and he slights Kennedy's senatorial career, the largest part of his public life (if not the most important). Overall, the book is very well done, and his use and range of sources is commendable.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GOOD ANALYSIS - ADDENDUM, September 12, 2000
Luckily for me, my neighborhood bookstore had this book by September 5, 2000. I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Mr. Thomas gives a very credible, in-depth analysis of Robert Kennedy and, to his credit, treats him with respect. One thing that I neglected to mention in my first review is Mr. Thomas' trenchant view on Robert Kennedy's pursuit of mafiosi. The late Senator's father was reported to have had mafia sympathies. Whether or not he did, Joe Sr.'s third son was the only one determined to quell the mafia. Suggesting that Robert Kennedy, then a man in his 30s was showing an albeit delayed rebellious side to the old patriach was indeed thought provoking. Most accounts of the late Senator's life describe him as being a "dutiful" son, an "obedient" and even "deferential." It is a refreshing viewpoint on the part of Mr. Thomas and certainly a valid one.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An even-handed approach to a complex man., December 7, 2000
By A Customer
Evan Thomas successfully catches the complexity of Robert Kennedy. Thomas' book enables the reader to understand the myriad of different influences which resulted in the RFK who so captivated this country for a short period of time in the 1960s. Thirty-two years after his death at age 42 it is often forgotten that for every American who saw RFK as a hero, there was another American who saw a demon. In an America where politicians struggle to avoid powerful emotions and controversial positions Robert Kennedy embraced them. What Thomas captures is that the embrace was not always intentional. Robert Kennedy's very nature compelled him to be a lightning rod for emotion.
Thomas' picture of RFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis is perhaps the most compelling part of the book. More so than any other Kennedy biography this book displays a man, not yet 37 years old, dealing with the possiblity that his own actions might bring about the deaths of millions. Thomas effectively shows how amazing it was that Kennedy was not frozen into indecision or bullied into a military response by others with more credentials. Thomas captures a man driven to his limits and functioning effectively.
Thomas, although apparently an admirer of Kennedy, effectively protrays the darker side of his life. However, what comes out of this biography that is missing in others is the context of Kennedy's actions which are so criticized today. For example, Thomas does not excuse the recklessness of the early days of the Kennedy administration that resulted in the clandestine attempts on Fidel Castro's life. Unlike other biographys, written by Kennedy admirers, Thomas shows that RFK probably was aware that others were actively seeking this result rather than simply stating that no direct evidence of his knowledge or involvement in these plots has ever been produced. However, Thomas doesn't stop there, as other more critical biographys have done. Instead Thomas looks at the forces at play which resulted in RFK's involvement in the plots. This is done not to excuse Kennedy's conduct but to explain it.
At the end the reader is left to wonder what Robert Kennedy, who almost certainly would not have even gotten the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, would have done with the rest of his life. You don't have to admire or hate Robert Kennedy to recognize what a fascinating story that might have been.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars RFK: the eternal "stranger", May 5, 2001
Evan Thomas has written an excellent, fair-minded, admirably even-handed biography of Robert Kennedy, and, given the mythos that surrounds the Kennedys, that alone is a significant accomplishment. Thomas also happens to be a fine writer, and this book is a pleasure to read (with the exception that at times I found it very hard to tell which "Kennedy" Thomas was talking about). However -- and I'm not saying that this is Thomas' fault - after nearly 400 pages, I still can't say I understand the "younger brother full of pain." For instance, I still have essentially no clue - assuming that RFK had not been assassinated, had won the Democratic nomination for President in 1968 (unlikely), and defeated Richard Nixon in the general election (also unlikely) - what kind of President he would have made. And, probably wisely, Thomas takes the safe, responsible road and does not speculate on this but simply ends the book with RFK's assassination. Too bad. I would have enjoyed Thomas' speculations very much, and this is an unfortunate flaw in an otherwise first-rate book.
As portrayed by Thomas, RFK is, to paraphrase Churchill, a mystery, an enigma, and a riddle. What made this guy tick? Thomas speculates, which is about all he can do given the subject and the availability of solid information, but really, who knows? Was RFK a liberal, moderate, conservative, all of the above, or something else altogether? Again, after reading Thomas' book, I still can't say. Which was the "real RFK" - the young assistant to Senator Joseph McCarthy's communist witchhunts or the older man who came to admire Che Guevara and Cesar Chavez? The young man who -- as Attorney General -- went along with J. Edgar Hoover's wiretaps of Martin Luther King and had little interest in the civil rights struggle, or the older man who made a triumphant, inspirational tour of black South Africa (and the inner cities of the USA)? A realpolitik, ruthless, back-channel conniver? Or an idealistic, insecure, brave, inspirational leader? And on and on the contradictions, complexities, and confusions go, as Thomas tries valiantly to make sense of it all.
In sum, this is an excellent book that I highly recommend, about a fascinating, important person who, ultimately, may simply be unknowable. So, I find it highly appropriate that one of RFK's favorite books was Camus' "The Stranger," because that is what RFK was, and possibly always will be.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough and moving look into a great man�s life, January 9, 2001
I just finished Robert Kennedy a few minutes ago and I had to write a review while it was still fresh in my mind. I cried throughout the last five pages or so. I am a 19-year-old male college freshman and I am very interested in politics. I first became interested in RFK a year or so ago. I read Schlesinger's biography of Kennedy and loved it. But I believe that Thomas' was better. Much better. It was more succinct and not as drawn out, just like Bobby and was more up to date. Thomas' writing was superb and while reading, I didn't necessarily love the book, I could not put it down. RFK stood for many of the things that I stand for and I have considered him my hero or idol for the past year but I now know that he is my hero. I implore everyone to read Thomas' book so that you can get a glimpse on the complex loving man who has over the past 32 years became a myth, an equal to his slain brother. The last line moved me and brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart. I'll let you read it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written birgraphy of a challenging figure, November 3, 2002
By 
Eric V. Moye (New York, by way of Dallas) - See all my reviews
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Robert F. Kennedy was a compelling figure, and like too many others, struck down in the prime of his life. Like most who suffer a tragic end early, his life is filled with "What ifs?"
His life was paradoxical. He was hated by some, being a staffer for the Red-baiter, Joseph McCarthy, and so-called liberals would not let his work for McCarthy be forgotten. "Ruthless" was the adjective given early on, as his bigger brother's hatchet man during the 1960 Presidential campaign and during the 1,000 days of Camelot. But during this time, his association with McCarthy was forgiven as Kennedy's compassion for those less fortunate than him came to the forefront.

Biographer Thomas has written engaging and readable biographies of D.C legendary attorney, Edward Bennett Williams and some of the shapers of the post war world (The Wise Men). His style is very readable, with sufficient detail to give texture to the story without being too bogged down in detail as to make the book move too slowly.
Some reviewers criticize this work for not being able to explain away all of the paradoxical inconsistencies of Robert Kennedy. I think this expects too much of anyone. How can any person know all that makes a person tick? Any thoughtful individual should be expected to grow and to evolve (God help us all if this were not so). Contradictions abound in him, like in most of us.
By book's end, I did not have answers to all of the questions about Robert Kennedy. I did, however have a better feel for his years in power as well as a bit better understanding of the turbulent first two-thirds of the 1960's. As another reviewer noted, Robert Kennedy had a significant role to play in the seminal events experienced in the United States during this era. His fingerprints were to be found on decisions related to the Bay of Pigs, the zenith of the Civil Rights Movement, the Red Scare, labor relations and organized crime. He was there and impacting each of these. This balanced assessment of his role in these events is certainly enough for me to find this worthwhile.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a politician to be passionate about, January 19, 2007
By 
P. J. McDonnell (Buffalo, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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Although I was only 7 years old when he died I have talked to many people about the passion they felt for Bobby. Boy, could we use someone like that now. Although the book does not shy away from his sometime machiavellian tactics, it shows a person who was so affected by tragedy that he really cared. I see film clips of when he visited Buffalo, and the entire Niagara Square was packed with tens of thousands of people. I cannot think of anyone, short of the Bills after a super bowl win, that would garner that much enthusiasm. Evan Thomas captures that and draws the reader in. I actually felt empty when finishing the book and sad that I could think of no one today that could fill that void. Thomas also through thorough research seems to dispel the popular myth of Bobby as a womanizer. He was actually a devoted family man haunted by his brothers death but loyal to wife and children. Not so with Jack. When Bobby was in Indianapolis about to speak before a black audience it was announced that Martin Luther King had just been killed. He discarded his planned speech and relayed his own feelings of how he felt when his brother Jack was killed. It was totally ad-libbed and from the heart. Indianapolis was one of the few major cities not to erupt in violence. I wonder how different this country might be had he the opportunity to serve us.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Muddled and unfocused, September 11, 2006
By 
JoeV "Reader" (Arlington Hts, IL) - See all my reviews
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The life and times of Robert Kennedy beg for a coherent and in depth book .... unfortunately this is not it. Living in the shadow of his presidential brother, the shadow of his oldest brother killed in WWII and the all encompassing shadow of his father, RFK was able to chisel out an identity of his own in US history before his tragic death. Hoping to gain some understanding/insight of/into this man's character and evolution from a sullen child to presidential candidate and everything in between, and a chonology of such things as his involvement in the US civil rights movement, McCarthyism, Cuba (Bay of Pigs and The Missle Crisis) and his relationship in the White House with his brother JFK... I was greatly disappointed. A glaring hole in this book is any serious treatment of RFK and Vietnam. What the book does contain are snippets, quotes and anecdotes, some mildly interesting, (i.e. RFK's role in the release of Martin Luther King from prison), without any cohesiveness and very little context. And although many of the conclusions reached in this volume are valid they are simply not borne out here. The book's attempt to cover significant parallel events is at best confusing and there is also an alarming amount of armchair psychology. I hate to be so hard nosed but the subject deserves much better than this book.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not ready for prime time, September 15, 2004
By 
John Harrison (Potomac, Md. USA) - See all my reviews
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I really wanted this book to be better than it was. Evan Thomas tried to write history, but we are left with long, very long, journalism. Like any newspaper it is well written, the sentences short, the topic sentences placed first and all of the commas properly in place. The history is there. The drama is there. The "good Bobby" and the "bad Bobby" are there, but judgment and insight are what is missing. Also in reality Thomas is using Robert kennedy as a vehicle to tell the story of the late 60s. This does a disservice to both Kennedy and the 60s.

Without any evidence I simply will not believe that the man John F. Kennedy called a "monk" and for much of his life did not like socializing with because he was a moralizer, also cheated on his wife and assisted his brother in doing the same to his wife. There is no explanation, and most important no evidence of any such transgression by Robert Kennedy. In the absence of any evidence these stories become rumors, and while there may be a place for them in a magazine like People, they have no place in a serious biography, nor really do such stories rise to the level of news that is fit to print. There are way to many of them in this book.

Yes, Robert Kennedy could engage in incredibly boorish, childish, behavior. But, he was also able to go into the streets, the mean dangerous streets, after Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered and quiet those streets with a quote from memory written by a long dead Greek poet. The trip to the ghetto took courage. The recognition of the need for the trip and the speech took compassion. And, the quote illustrated enlightenment under great pressure. Robert Kennedy deserves a better book.
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Robert Kennedy : His Life
Robert Kennedy : His Life by Evan Thomas (Paperback - September 10, 2002)
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