Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy [NOOK Book]


No figure in American public life has had such great expectations thrust upon him, or has responded so poorly. But Ted Kennedy -- the youngest of the Kennedy children and the son who felt the least pressure to satisfy his father's enormous ambitions -- would go on to live a life that no one could have predicted: dismissed as a spent force in politics by the time he reached middle age, Ted became the most powerful senator of the last half ...
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Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy

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No figure in American public life has had such great expectations thrust upon him, or has responded so poorly. But Ted Kennedy -- the youngest of the Kennedy children and the son who felt the least pressure to satisfy his father's enormous ambitions -- would go on to live a life that no one could have predicted: dismissed as a spent force in politics by the time he reached middle age, Ted became the most powerful senator of the last half century and the nation's keeper of traditional liberalism.

As Peter S. Canellos and his team of Boston Globe reporters show in this revealing and intimate biography, the gregarious, pudgy, and least academically successful of the Kennedy boys has witnessed greater tragedy and suffered greater pressure than any of his siblings. At the age of thirty-six, Ted Kennedy found himself the last brother, the champion of a generation's dreams and ambitions. He would be expected to give the nation the confidence to confront its problems and to build a fairer society at home and abroad.

He quickly failed in spectacular fashion. Late one night in the summer of 1969, he left the scene of a fatal automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island. The death there of a young woman from his brother's campaign would haunt and ultimately doom his presidential ambitions. Political rivals turned his all-too-human failings -- drinking, philandering, and divorce -- into a condemnation of his liberal politics.

But as the presidency eluded his grasp, Kennedy was finally liberated from the expectations of others, free to become his own man. Once a symbol of youthful folly and nepotism, he transformed himself in his later years into a symbol of wisdom and perseverance. He built a deeply loving marriage with his second wife, Victoria Reggie. He embraced his role as the family patriarch. And as his health failed, he anointed the young and ambitious presidential candidate Barack Obama, whom many commentators compared to his brother Jack. The Kennedy brand of liberalism was rediscovered by a new generation of Americans.

Perceptive and carefully reported, drawing heavily from candid interviews with the Kennedy family and inner circle, Last Lion captures magnificently the life and historic achievements of Ted Kennedy, as well as the personal redemption that he found.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (1932-2009) was the youngest, longest living, most scandal ridden, and arguably most influential of the triumvirate of Joseph Kennedy's sons. This 400-page Boston Globe team biography, now fitted with new chapters, covers his life from elite upbringing to lengthy political career to Chappaquiddick debacle and multiple, multigenerational family tragedies. At times, this scintillating bio reads like a true story begging to become a movie. A hardcover bestseller; now updated in paperback.
Chris Cillizza
…an insightful biography
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This biography delves deeply into Senator Kennedy's nearly half-century legislative career-but it's the personal dramas that prove the most enthralling; tracks are organized such that listeners bored by the politics can click ahead for a quit exit back to Hyannisport, Georgetown, Palm Beach or Chappaquiddick. Skipp Sudduth imbues his narration with feeling, recounting the numerous tragedies (the death of all three of Kennedy's brothers, his son's cancer and subsequent leg amputation, his nephew JFK Jr.'s fatal plane crash and now his own brain tumor) with quiet dignity. Despite the countless trials, this is anything but depressing listening; the resilience and indomitable optimism of the subject himself is well-conveyed by this enjoyable recording. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Canellos and his team of Boston Globe reporters begin this insightful and informative biography of Ted Kennedy with the 2008 news of his malignant tumor, then chronicle his childhood, relating anecdotes and discussing his good humor, generosity, trials and tribulations, ambitions, many tragedies, and more. The reporting draws from candid interviews with the Kennedys and their inner circle. One of the book's most interesting components is its description of Kennedy's relationship with his wife, Victoria Reggie. Actor/musician/narrator Skipp Sudduth (Just After Sunset) engagingly relays both the personal and professional milestones of the senator's life; strongly recommended. [Audio clip available through; the S. & S. hc, published in February, was a New York Times best seller.-Ed.]
—Carol Stern

Kirkus Reviews
A respectful but not stuffy portrait of Edward Kennedy, the playboy of legendary appetites turned senior statesman. Upon learning last spring that Kennedy had been stricken with cancer, John McCain lauded him as "the last lion of the Senate," adding that "he remains the single most effective member of the Senate if you want to get results." By this account, assembled by Canellos and a team of seasoned reporters from the Boston Globe, McCain's encomium seems right on the mark. Kennedy has been notable in pushing through a wide variety of laws and programs, particularly ones that concern health, education and workers' rights. It was not always that way. The writers portray the early Kennedy-the last of four brothers and nine children, and often the target of withering criticism-as just shy of being a wastrel, ejected from Harvard for cheating on a Spanish exam and fond of the night life. A stint as an enlisted man in the Army-during which his father pulled strings to keep him from the battle lines in Korea-helped turn him around, but he still got arrested for reckless driving even as he was preparing to serve as his brother Jack's campaign manager. Thrust into the family trade, Kennedy "walloped his Republican opponent, grabbing three-quarters of the vote" in the 1964 Senate race, and he slowly began to build a resume as a serious, studious politician-a reputation blunted but not squashed by scandals such as Chappaquiddick. Most striking about this sturdy account is Kennedy's well-practiced habit of crossing the aisle to disarm his Republican opponents with a combination of charm and arm-twisting. One unlikely ally was Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who came to Congress with a specific agendaof fighting Kennedy on every front. Another was President George W. Bush, whom Kennedy aided in pushing through the No Child Left Behind legislation-though he later "blamed Bush for reneging on his side of the bargain."A balanced, nuanced, warts-and-all portrait. Author tour to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.
From the Publisher
"In 400 brisk but detail-rich pages, the book...sketches a poignant portrait." — The New York Times Book Review

"If you want a peek inside America's royal family, this is a must-read, with details that only Boston Globe reporters could know." — Tim O'Brien, The Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A balanced, nuanced, warts-and-all portrait." — Kirkus Reviews

"A timely if not revelatory portrait of a flawed figure who 'never expected to become the custodian of his family's sorrows' but found a way to transcend the role." — Alex Altman, Time

"A readable, relatively objective study of the once most-vilified man in contemporary American politics." — The Washington Times

"With the publication of Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy, we get a fresh look at how this man's gothic imperatives — blood loyalty and inherited duty — would make him the greatest U.S. senator of modern times." — Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball and author of Kennedy & Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America

"Last Lion is a fine biography, a graceful summing up an extraordinary life that is not yet over. It shows little sign of having been written by a team of seven, and it does not carry the tone of an obituary. With its anecdotes and political tales, it captures the wit, humor, and grace of Ted Kennedy and establishes his place, 'as much a part of the Capitol as the dome or the Rotunda beneath it.'" — Ken Bode, The Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439148730
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 2/17/2009
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 602,737
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Peter Canellos is the Washington bureau chief for The Boston Globe and oversees all national coverage for the paper, where he has worked since 1988 covering local, state, and national politics.
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Read an Excerpt


At 8:19 a.m. on Saturday, May 17, 2008, the dispatcher at the Hyannis Fire Department received a call that generations of rescue workers had anticipated with a mixture of fear and excitement: An emergency at 50 Marchant Avenue. Seemingly everyone in the department knew that address by heart. The Kennedy compound.

The village fire and rescue unit had answered calls at the compound, a sprawling collection of New England-style clapboard homes, many times before. Medics had treated members of the Kennedy clan for broken bones and cut legs after accidents on the beach or the touch-football field. Like everyone else in Hyannis Port, the rescuers recalled their encounters with the Kennedys with both pride and discretion. The family had been through so much, and their hurts -- both physical and political -- had been felt in Hyannis Port, as well. The Kennedys were protected here.

But it soon became clear to the ten firefighters on duty that Saturday, as they listened to the 911 call being broadcast through the station house, that this was going to be more than a sporting injury. A woman's voice explained to the dispatcher that Ted Kennedy himself, the family patriarch, had fallen ill at the home that once belonged to his parents.

Arriving at the house, the ambulance pulled up beside a billowing tent that had been set up for a reception scheduled for later that day honoring people involved in a charity bike race, hosted by Ted's nephew Anthony Shriver. Uncle Teddy, as he was known to dozens of his nieces and nephews and their progeny, was always eager to help the younger Kennedys with their civic efforts. He saw these good deeds as part of the family's legacy, and himself as the essential caretaker of that legacy.

He had exhorted his own kids, and the many for whom he functioned as a second father, to carry on the tradition of service established by his famous brothers Jack and Bobby, as well as the ritual caretaking that went with it. Even if, in truth, Jack and Bobby had done relatively little hand-to-hand greeting of everyday constituents -- and neither particularly enjoyed it -- the gregarious Ted had spent forty years hosting and attending charity events, shaking hundreds of thousands of hands and relating the same anecdotes about his fabled Hyannis Port home: these are the stairs down which young Jack would run to the beach; there is the window of Mother's room.

Over time, as the number of people who actually knew Jack and Bobby dwindled, the brothers lived on in Ted's retelling of their lives, and their actual personalities and concerns became almost indistinguishable from his. And while Ted insisted that all the good deeds that people associated with the Kennedys were generated by his brothers and his parents, Joe Sr. and Rose, and that he was merely the custodian of their memories, people lately had begun to think otherwise. Ted, the often discredited, seemingly unworthy younger brother, was shaping Jack's and Bobby's legacies as much as they were shaping his.

When the ambulance arrived at Cape Cod Hospital, just three miles from the compound on the other side of picturesque Lewis Bay, Ted was unconscious. Doctors realized that the 76-year-old senator had had some sort of seizure. His wife, Vicki, his inseparable partner of sixteen years, arrived moments later in a car driven by Hyannis Fire Chief Harold Brunelle, a family friend who had rushed to the compound when he heard about the 911 call.

Chief Brunelle and Vicki found Ted in worse shape than he was when he left the house just minutes before. His morning had begun like so many others. He had used a tennis racket to hit balls to his and Vicki's two Portuguese water dogs, Splash and Sunny. Ted and Vicki took the giant dogs everywhere, from his Senate office to George W. Bush's White House, like the surrogate children of a dream second marriage that neither of them had expected, and that many people had doubted Ted was capable of having. But the surprising fact was that Ted Kennedy, who had once earned the most randy of reputations, had long ago settled down to a cozy domesticity. Splash and Sunny were only the most obvious representations of it.

After playing with the dogs, Ted proceeded with his morning routine, preparing his coffee and orange juice. Just as he was about to sit at his dining room table to read the morning papers, he started to falter. He felt ill and sat down immediately to avoid falling. It was his first seizure. The ambulance arrived five minutes later. But while en route to the hospital Ted suffered a second seizure and lost consciousness entirely.

The emergency team at Cape Cod Hospital rushed to resuscitate him, while neurologists tried to determine what caused the attack. A stroke was the obvious suspect, but initial tests were inconclusive. After less than two hours, the doctors determined that Ted was strong enough to make the trip to Boston, where the more powerful scanners at Massachusetts General Hospital could probe deeper into the senator's brain in hopes of finding the cause of his seizures.

The ambulance drove him another three minutes to Barnstable Municipal Airport -- the 600-acre airfield which the Navy used to train torpedo bomber pilots during World War II and where Ted himself had landed thousands of times, always returning home to Hyannis Port. This, too, was the airport at which his nephew John F. Kennedy Jr. had been expected to arrive on his final plane trip in 1999, a tragedy that still reverberated through the family.

In the four decades since Bobby's death, when Ted became the head of the Kennedy family, he had spent thousands of hours attending joyous celebrations like christenings, weddings, and graduations -- and an equal amount of time comforting relatives stricken with cancer, beset by accidents, or suffering the loss of loved ones. He had become so associated with those moments of grief that he grew into a living symbol of perseverance amid loss, as famous for his aching eulogies as for his dream-shall-never-die political exhortations. The death of John F. Kennedy Jr. -- John-John, the child of Camelot -- was, in many ways, the most painful of them all, the extinguishing of a flame that had been lit at Arlington National Cemetery on a cold November day in 1963.

Now, it was Ted himself being carried by stretcher onto a MedFlight helicopter for the 65-mile trek to Mass. General. It was a gray, wet morning that did not yet hint of warm summer to come, as the helicopter rose above the sea where Ted had spent countless hours on his distinctive 1940s-vintage schooner, the Mya.

As the helicopter arced over Plymouth, en route to Boston, phones began ringing in the homes of Kennedy relatives in Massachusetts and around the country, part of an elaborate system that family members had devised to notify each other in the event of yet another crisis. As the word fanned out, those closest to Kennedy quickly began converging on the hospital. His younger son, Representative Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, the only other family member still in elective office, got the call in Washington and flew to Boston immediately. His elder son, Teddy Jr., who had lost a leg to cancer as a child and became an activist for people with disabilities, was with his family in Connecticut. His daughter, Kara, also a cancer survivor, was with her family in Maryland. Caroline Kennedy, the niece who had become exceedingly close to her Uncle Teddy after the deaths of her parents and brother, rushed to the hospital immediately from her secluded second home outside New York City.

While the family gathered in a private room, waiting for the initial round of test results, word began to trickle out to the much larger family that had grown up around Ted, the vast network of thousands of former staff members and loyalists reaching all the way to the Supreme Court, where his former Judiciary Committee aide Stephen Breyer was a stalwart of the court's liberal wing.

The news of Kennedy's illness also spread throughout the Senate, where Ted was widely considered the body's most popular member, beloved by Democrats and Republicans alike -- despite being a target for derision in many conservative parts of the country. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, risked the ire of conservatives by describing Ted as a friend and later calling him "the last lion" of the Senate. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who had entered politics specifically to take on Ted Kennedy but gone on to become one of Kennedy's intimates, was heartsick at the news. So was Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut senator who was also born into a large Irish Catholic political family and had become Ted's daily companion when both were living the bachelor life in the 1980s and early 1990s. And there was John Kerry, for twenty-four years Kennedy's junior colleague from Massachusetts, who had grown closer after Ted worked tirelessly to help Kerry secure their party's presidential nomination in 2004. Perhaps most of all there was Barack Obama, the freshman colleague from Illinois whom Kennedy had personally anointed as keeper of the Camelot flame. Ted had logged tens of thousands of miles exhorting Democrats to vote for Obama, and may have given the untested Obama just enough credibility to get over the hump to the nomination.

Obama was campaigning in Oregon when he got the news and his first reaction, in the glow of his own amazing rise, was to express the kind of upbeat sanguinity that has repeatedly buoyed him politically. "Ted Kennedy is a giant in American political history -- he has done more for the health care of others than just about anybody in history and so we are going to be rooting for him and I insist on being optimistic about how it's going to turn out," Obama told reporters.

Meanwhile, at the Kennedy compound, the celebration of the Best Buddies bike race went on, with donors, volunteers, and celebrities, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, filling the tent. Anthony Shriver, hosting the event on his uncle's lawn, declared, "One thing you can say about the Kennedys is that we're warriors." He added later that day, "I'm 100 percent confident that he'll be fine."

* * *

Only three days later, the doctors issued a simple statement announcing the devastating diagnosis: Kennedy had a brain tumor, a malignant mass located in his left parietal lobe, the area of the brain that controls movement on the left side of the body and helps form speech. The news, reverberating among the general public for whom Ted Kennedy had been a fixed point, for good or bad, for decades, set off a surprising reaction: People began to look again at Kennedy as a man, and as a leader of unusual accomplishment.

Mass. General itself, like many other world-class hospitals in Boston and elsewhere around the country, is an unrevealed monument to Ted Kennedy's influence: it was he who quadrupled federal spending on cancer research back in the early 1970s, he who secured the funds for generations of scientists through the National Institutes of Health, and he who relentlessly expanded the federal role in paying for the health care of children, the poor, and the elderly. The dramatic infusions of cash had transformed health care in America, enabling research centers like Mass. General to devise new treatments for the deadliest of diseases.

Without Ted's efforts to boost funding through NIH, Medicare, and many other programs, Mass. General as it is now known would not exist. Nor would the great research hospitals lining Boston's Longwood Avenue. Nor would the outstanding hospitals in other parts of the country, like Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina. Political leaders and historians had long acknowledged Ted's eminent role in expanding health-care treatments, but everyday citizens often failed to make the connection between Ted's health care policies and the great institutions they funded.

Now, facing his own battle, Ted would eventually make a surprising choice, bypassing Mass. General to have surgery performed by the famed neurosurgeon Allan Friedman at Duke, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. As in many decisions, he was guided by memories of his father, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., who always believed in seeking out the most advanced researchers, wherever he could find them. As in so many other ways, the political and the personal were interwoven into Ted's fight for his life.

Indeed, as he walked out of Mass. General after receiving his diagnosis, with Vicki and his extended family around him, he was a picture of enthusiasm. He was going home.

As the SUV carrying the senator and his wife made the familiar drive down Route 3, over the Sagamore Bridge, and across the Cape on Route 6, friends and constituents arranged themselves on the quiet streets surrounding the Kennedy compound. The people were there to wish their neighbor well, to show their faith in him. Now, in his eighth decade, he had become someone he had never been before: someone you could count on.

It wasn't always so. It wasn't true when he was growing up, when his own father -- who loved him dearly -- expressed doubts about his intelligence. It wasn't true when he first ran for the Senate, when his own brothers thought he was taking on too much too soon. It wasn't true when tens of millions of voters looked to him as the only possible antidote to the pain of the 1960s, making him the focus of their dream of restoration of Jack's unfulfilled presidency, and he fell short of the task.

It was, some believe, his very failings that were his secret motivation, that made him -- the senator with the least need to work hard -- drive himself harder than any of his colleagues. But he never explained himself. He always let Jack and Bobby and Joe Sr. and Rose do the explaining. He was driven, he said, to live up to their example. He knew, even as he gazed out at the friends cheering his return to Hyannis Port, and at the supportive wife by his side, that there were other, darker memories in that big old clapboard house. It was there, in 1969, that he had walked into the bedroom of his 81-year-old father, lying nearly immobile and withering away under the effects of a devastating stroke, and said, "Dad, I'm in some trouble. There's been an accident, and you're going to hear all sorts of things about me from now on. Terrible things...."

And friends could only wonder if he knew then that he would spend his life searching for redemption.

Copyright © 2009 by The Boston Globe

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Pt. 1 The Rise 9

Pt. 2 The Trials and Tribulations 143

Pt. 3 The Redemption 303

Epilogue 401

Acknowledgments 411

Notes 413

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Balanced and Objective

    Last Lion is a very objective and fair look at Ted Kennedy. Written by a team of writers from the Boston Globe, which certainly leans left and liberalism, I didn't know what to expect before reading the book. Being a a registered independent I was very pleasantly surprised to not only find the postive but also the negative traits of a very successful senator in the eyes of many who certainly has had his share of problems in life. A thorough study of Kennedy and also his family from his birth until his present unfortunate situation is given. In addition to Kennedy an objective look at the senate and politics in general was well described. When finished reading the book one also realizes what a cruel underhanded business politics really is. I couldn't put the book down and read it in a few days. It was refreshing to read a book that left no stones unturned much like The Yankee Years.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 19, 2009

    More than a biography

    This book is more than a biography, it's also somewhat of a political history of the last fifty years. While Ted Kennedy's life and the people and events that influenced it was interesting, his relationship with the various presidents during his tenure and the changes he made in his approach to his job and his family were telling and ultimately will be part of his legacy. As far as forming an opinion about Senator Kennedy ,there is no questioning his commitment to public service but one has to question his commitment to family when by his own admission his personal behavior was not exactly the role model he should have been as a father or high profile public official. I must admit the book was never dull and any political junkie will like it

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2009

    A story of political and family resilience

    Good, balanced chronology of Ted Kennedy's life, written like an elongated news story without bias. You have to admire him after reading this book, regardless of your political affiliation

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Joining The Chorus

    Another vote for this book as a great political biography. The Ted Kennedy story is told warts and all, but above all one gets a picture of the man and his career that is informative and readable. Not to be missed by anyone who likes politics.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2012

    Interesting read

    Very informative

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Great Read on Ted Kennedy

    This book was so great and I really enjoyed reading it. I have loaned it out to several friends and they all felt the same way.
    Ted Kennedy wasn't a very complex man. He started out as a selfish, spoiled child, and was indulged by everyone in his family (with the exception of his older brother, Robert). He got into trouble and never knew how to accept responsibility for his actions.
    But, as many do, he changed in the last two decades of his life. He really got it together and began the actions of a man seeking redemption. Redemption from earlier failings and disappointments. His final years were spent trying to make a difference in the lives of many of the downtrodden have-nots in this country. He succeeded in championing the most liberal of causes and I am always proud to see a man turn himself around and become the man he was meant to be. It wasn't easy being the 'father' to all those nieces and nephews left behind by all his siblings. But, he proved to be a Man for all Seasons and this country was Lucky to have him serve in the U.S. Senate. This book tells his story, warts & all. I recommend this to all, fans & critics alike. Very enlightening.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Kennedy was an Amazing Man

    Teddy kennedy was an amazing man who DID LIVE UP TO THE EXPECTIONS OF AMERICA! Take for example his 1980 democratic concession speech. After look at his speeches and all he has done for America it is clear the the author purposly ignores FACT, and reason to suit his own patheic political claims.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    An outstanding biography!

    An outstanding biography of an amazingly complex individual.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Nothing was ever Ted Kennedy's fault.

    Boy! This has to be one of the sappiest biographies ever written. It becomes obvious very early on that the crew from the Boston Globe who wrote this book is nothing more than an adoring fan club of Ted Kennedy. One reviewer said the book includes warts and all. Sure it brings up most of Ted's many shortcomings but sooner or later you learn that whatever Ted may have done wrong, it was always someone else's fault. The book starts out with how he and his siblings were terribly neglected by their parents. Daddy Joe was off screwing Hollywood movie stars and Mommy Rose was in Paris shopping to get even. All the while the kids were at home being reared by nannies. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the Boston Globe fan club, these two flawed people were the most wonderful parents children could ever have. The pitiful irony doesn't stop there. Throughout the book, we are dragged through the tragic life of a man who selflessly dedicated his life to public service. Gag me with a spoon!

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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