Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography


In this groundbreaking biography, historian and journalist Burton Hersh combines a lifetime of research and reporting with a lively mixture of never-before-told anecdotes to create a broad yet unfailingly intimate portrait of the politician who would be universally acknowledged as one of the twentieth century’s greatest American legislators.

Hersh was acquainted with Kennedy since his college days, and the result here is a unique series of revelations that serve to reinterpret ...

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Edward Kennedy: An Intimate Biography

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In this groundbreaking biography, historian and journalist Burton Hersh combines a lifetime of research and reporting with a lively mixture of never-before-told anecdotes to create a broad yet unfailingly intimate portrait of the politician who would be universally acknowledged as one of the twentieth century’s greatest American legislators.

Hersh was acquainted with Kennedy since his college days, and the result here is a unique series of revelations that serve to reinterpret the senator’s public and private personas. Conditioned by deep-seated fears that he was an afterthought within his own powerful family, Kennedy developed a genius for conciliation and strategizing that made him a dramatically more effective political figure than either of his older brothers.

Here finally is the definitive version of the incident at Chappaquiddick, the details of which Kennedy himself filled in for Hersh shortly after it occurred. This book also delivers the first full report of the vendetta between Kennedy and Richard Nixon, exposing the behind-the-scenes manipulations to which Kennedy resorted to drive Nixon from office during the Watergate scandal.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A vivid protagonist who never quite escapes the pull of family and fate anchors this novelistic portrait of the late Massachusetts senator. Journalist Hersh (Bobby and J. Edgar) makes Kennedy his own statesman--a born politician and authentic liberal who combined a capacity for conciliation with a talent for ruthless maneuvering. But Kennedy never entirely shook off the hold of Kennedyness: the shadow of his domineering father, who he feared might have him lobotomized like his sister Rosemary if he didn’t measure up; the ghosts of his dead brothers; the dread of assassination; the “predatory” sense of entitlement, especially to booze and women; the clan’s epic bad luck. The author meticulously recounts Kennedy’s political wrangles and legislative initiatives, but his approach is literary rather than wonkish; drawing on Hersh’s decades-long acquaintance with the family, the prose brims with sardonic humor and indelible sketches of, say, Bobby’s “misery-wrinkled little hawk’s face” or Jackie’s uncomfortable campaign appearances as a “remote Vogue cutout before... seemingly endless files of scrubwomen.” The result is an entertaining, psychologically acute rendition of a man and a mystique. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Edward Kennedy

"Hersh, a Harvard classmate of the future senator . . . makes good use of sources going back six decades to paint a personal portrait." —Jonathan Alter, The New York Times Book Review

“For readers exhausted at the thought of another Ted Kennedy biography, this one is beautifully written and exquisitely detailed with plenty of new material drawn from investigation and interviews with Kennedy and his family, friends, and colleagues, as well as some impressions by historian Hersh, a friend of Kennedy’s since childhood. There’s the family history: driven Joe Kennedy, about whose philosophy of cutthroat competition, Hersh writes: “Nothing here the Corleones wouldn’t rubber-stamp.” Ted was born last in a large brood of overambitious, outsize personalities, so he developed the skills for gregariousness and conciliation that would serve him well in politics. All the usual history is here: the dirty politics of each Kennedy’s career climb, the assassinations of John and Robert, Ted’s stoic taking up of the Kennedy mantle, Chappaquiddick, the drinking, the affairs, and redemption, but it is fleshed out with previously undisclosed ruminations by Kennedy and the people who knew him well. Hersh also offers new insights on the accident that nearly destroyed Kennedy’s political life, the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne. Part 1 contains mesmerizing analysis of the personal dynamics between the famous Kennedy brothers and Ted’s self-doubts and eventual mastery of the political game. Part 2 focuses on Kennedy’s growth in the powerful position of “shadow president,” the man who, though he failed to achieve what at one time had been considered inevitable, nevertheless wielded enormous political power and influence. Totally riveting.” —Booklist (starred review)

“In the end it was Ted Kennedy, the scapegrace kid brother, who stood for something, passed important laws, defended liberal principles, and had the most substantial career. No one has known Teddy longer, followed that career more closely, or written more seriously or at greater length about the last Kennedy than Burton Hersh. His new book on Teddy draws on all its predecessors and adds substantial new material to create a magisterial political biography of the Kennedy who added real substance to the fleeting promise of his brothers.” —Thomas Powers

“I think your readers will enjoy the trip. As a would-be historian, I was much impressed by the extent and depth of your research, by its specificity of detail, and by your skill in presenting a scene and pinpointing the Dramatis Personae . . . I think you are admirably even-handed. You have written a warts-and-all biography, not a hagiography, although you aren't disloyal to your man. In the end, the hero eclipses the slob, but you don't slight his moral infirmity and you present him without tears . . . let me commend the biography's structure and thoroughness, its solidity and pace. I hope it gets the attention it deserves.” —Daniel Aaron, from a letter to the author

Library Journal
Ted Kennedy admirers remember him as the senator most skilled in garnering bipartisan support for many bills passed during his 47 years in the Upper House, while his detractors revile him for scandals that they believe showed a flawed character. Hersh (Bobby and J. Edgar), a longtime acquaintance of Kennedy's—they graduated from Harvard together—has written a "unified biography," which combines parts of Hersh's previous three books on the Kennedys, refers to interviews with Kennedy's advisors and to conversations with Kennedy himself, and draws on Kennedy's own memoir, True Compass. The resulting detailed account of interesting insights into Kennedy's personal and political life is frequently bogged down by wordiness. Especially insightful are Hersh's take on Chappaquiddick, which mentions phone calls that a distraught Kennedy made to his mistress, and how Kennedy worked with his friend House Speaker Tip O' Neill to make President Nixon's resignation inevitable during Watergate.Verdict If readers persevere over Hersh's rambling style, they will find a book that casts light on the glamour, triumphs, and tragedies of the late senator's life and on the Kennedy family. Primarily for Kennedy enthusiasts and historians of the era.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582437613
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 8/30/2011
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 672
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.70 (h) x 1.80 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Strongly Recommended for Any Supporter or Detractor of the Kennedy Family

    This is a thoroughly researched book by an acquaintance of Edward "Ted" Kennedy. Burton Hersh did a splendid job juxtaposing the personal trials and tribulations, vices and virtues of Senator Kennedy as a champion of American liberalism and the "Lion of the Senate." What the reader gets from this intimate biography is a portrait of a Kennedy who lived within the shadows of his fallen brothers Jack and Bobby's legacies, yet he grew to become one of the most skilled politicians and legislators in American history. This political maturation of Ted Kennedy even exceeded the political skills of Jack and Bobby. However, this book would not be complete without researching the many personal failings of Ted Kennedy. Ted's love of everything French: wine, cheese, and women took on an American metamorphosis of vice: excessive drinking, excessive eating, and his fair share of sleeping with women. The often misunderstood and media frenzied Chappaquiddick accident is dealt with thoroughly in Hersh's book, and it reveals a side of Ted Kennedy that often gets overlooked by detractors of him. Without revealing too much content in this book, the reader will evidently find in the end that Senator Kennedy sought redemption from his personal shortcomings. It is up to the reader to decide if Ted Kennedy found that redemption. The reader will also find why certain legislative issues, e.g. healthcare insurance, voting rights, civil rights, education, etc., drove Senator Kennedy to push such bills through Congress often, but not always, by working across partisan lines with conservatives and other Republicans. Hersh offers revealing anecdotes of Senator Kennedy's private experiences with healthcare--particularly health insurance--and why he strove his whole legislative career to see universal health coverage become a reality in America. Most importantly, the reader should walk away from this book with a deeper, more down-to-earth "human" understanding of Ted Kennedy. Those who know the Kennedy family well will say that Ted Kennedy could relate to the common, mid-class American man and woman much easier than his siblings. Part of that may come from being the youngest of nine children, but it may be due to Teddy's unique life experiences!

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