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5.0 out of 5 stars "a definitive look at Senator Kennedy's life", February 18, 2009
This review is from: Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy (Hardcover)
Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy reaches its "definitive look" goal with a balance of stately respect for its subject and uncompromising disclosure of available information. This biography begins with the 2008 news of Edward Kennedy's diagnosed malignant glioma and then rewinds to his childhood, relating anecdotes about his clowning, good cheer, and bad spelling, among other things. The years in boarding schools, at Harvard, in military service, at Harvard again, and in law school receive their due. As a newly-minted lawyer, he worked on brother Jack's campaigns for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency. With John F. Kennedy in the White House, a not-yet-thirty Ted didn't get much help (at least overtly) from either JFK or the attorney general, Robert Kennedy, when he campaigned for a Senate seat. His first election victory in 1962 marked the beginning of an unbroken string of re-elections and forty-six years (and counting) in the most exclusive club in the world.

LAST LION neither digs up new knowledge nor relies on new interviews. Instead, it modestly triumphs as a synthesis of already available but scattered mainly journalistic material. It engagingly and fluently covers both the personal and professional milestones of Senator Kennedy's life. Editor Canellos and the team of Boston Globe reporters who brought this material together don't avoid controversies and scandals such as the Harvard cheating episode and, of course, Chappaquiddick. In fact, the biography consigns about thirty-four pages to events surrounding the Mary Jo Kopechne death, including Kennedy's statement that, " 'I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to police immediately.' " But this isn't a tabloid expose or a hack job; the facts are presented, but generally the steady tone of LAST LION is empathetic and admiring in a low-key manner.

Ted Kennedy's personal life -- his marriage to Joan that ended in divorce, his years of returned bachelorhood and "dating," and then his marriage to attorney Vicki Reggie in 1992 -- also receives its due but isn't stressed out of proportion. Often mentioned -- and rightfully so -- is Kennedy's surrogate fatherhood to his many nieces and nephews. The children of John and Robert Kennedy needed someone to attend their first communions, their school and sports events, and he, they testify, was always there. As LAST LION notes, however, the children could not escape their own share of scandals and problems.

This biography doesn't fixate on (or gloss over) the watershed assassinations of President Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. In the long term, their deaths forever remain personal tragedies for the youngest brother, but they also put pressure on him to "finish" their legacies in the White House, leading to several attempts to secure the nomination before he resolved to remain a legislator. Many stories of Kennedy's kindnesses to fellow senators and his ability to reach across the aisle to get legislation passed are also a part of LAST LION, particularly in the last decades after Kennedy decided " '...the pursuit of the presidency is not my life. Public service is."

In all, Kennedy has authored "roughly 2500 major bills." George Washington reportedly told Thomas Jefferson, " 'We pour our legislation in the Senatorial saucer to cool it.' " Kennedy has had other ideas. The book notes: "...Ted marshaled all the Senate protocols and courtesies to the service of a quietly aggressive political agenda." In the 2008 presidential election, Kennedy refused to endorse a Democrat for some time, but finally, to the dismay of many Hilary Clinton supporters, he rallied to Obama's side. And President Obama has said of him, " 'He is somebody who battled for voting rights and civil rights when I was a child. I stand on his shoulders.' "

Ted Kennedy inspires passionate feelings from both his supporters and detractors. Whichever camp you, reader, fall into, this book is recommended. Ted Kennedy's determination to live a public life in government under hardships of his own and not his own making is attentively and thoughtfully documented in LAST LION. 4.5 stars.
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Showing 1-10 of 13 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 18, 2009 7:05:08 PM PST
Thank you for your well articulated review of this book. I can now make an informed decision regarding taking the time to read it. It's hard to find reliable books about any of the Kennedys..especially Ted. Thanks again.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 18, 2009 8:09:42 PM PST
K. M. says:
You're very welcome. I think you'll find it a responsible treatment of him -- something, I agree, that isn't always easy to get.

Posted on Feb 20, 2009 7:25:45 AM PST
Ray Newton says:
Just a small correction. This book was written by a team of 7 Globe reporters, Sam Allis, Don Aucoin, Bella English, Jenna Russell, Susan Milligan, and Neil Swidey. Peter Canellos was the editor who brought their writing together into the book.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2009 3:44:12 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 21, 2009 5:45:47 PM PST
K. M. says:
They are acknowledged in the foreword. Actually, the book was created from many, many journalistic sources, as the end notes indicate, but all of them had to be collected and organized into the fluent biography this is. Thanks, Ray, for listing the names of the principal reporters involved in the production of this book. They deserve to be noted. And in view of your post's correction, I've slightly edited my review to better reflect their contributions and to note that Canellos is the editor. :)

Posted on Feb 20, 2009 5:00:56 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 20, 2009 5:01:36 PM PST
Mike Donovan says:
I'm curious.....How does the book present the whole Roger Mudd episode? I've always felt Kennedy got a raw deal over that. It is so obvious that Kennedy was simply stuck with a question of assumption from Mudd - not that he didn't know why he wanted to be president. The fact is, he had not announced and was still saying at the time of the interview that he hadn't made up his mind. The so-called "stumbling" shown over and over is a man trying to answer a question without admitting the assumption on Mudd's part that he IS a candidate. Once he gets past the, "Were I to decide to become a candidate," there was nothing wrong with that answer. One of the most unfair twisting of events in modern campaign history. I was a Kennedy delegate that year and was infuriated that was used (without effective response) later in the primary by the Carter people and the media just ran with it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 21, 2009 10:06:43 AM PST
K. M. says:
Basically, the position of this book is that Kennedy's response suggested he really wasn't sure why he might want to run...or, if he did know, he did not express it in a coherent way. Some of his answer is reprinted in the book, and the excerpt is a very non-specific rambling about what the future should be.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 4, 2009 10:17:56 AM PST
Excellent appraisal of the book; you definitely read it, unlike too many Kennedy "authorities" who grace us with their opinions without reading the book. I reviewed Adam Clymer's book for a magazine when it was first published and found it to be a good one. It is being reissued soon.Thanks again for your insights.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 15, 2009 7:01:34 PM PDT
K. M. says:
Thank you, Karl. Appreciate it. Good to know about the Clymer reissue too. :)

Posted on Aug 30, 2009 2:45:27 PM PDT
Tweeds says:
I SO agree with Mike Donovan here! WHAT where they talking about in that Roger Mudd interview? I've seen in many times and I STILL don't get it! He was just choosing his words before he spoke. I saw no 'stumbling' and such like the media has said. Geez - give it a rest already . . .

Posted on Nov 25, 2012 5:21:09 PM PST
Don Nealon says:
The book I am looking for talks about Ted childhood,how he was raised by nannys and his troubled childhood as Rose did little in raising him
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