Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver

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Overview

R. Sargent Shriver has arguably touched more lives than any living American. He led the famed "Talent Hunt" that recruited President Kennedy's cabinet. He created and launched the Peace Corps. He spearheaded the War on Poverty. He founded Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Legal Services for the Poor, and -- together with his wife -- the Special Olympics. In addition, as ambassador to France under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, he single-handedly eased America's strained relations with Charles de Gaulle during a ...
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Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver

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Overview

R. Sargent Shriver has arguably touched more lives than any living American. He led the famed "Talent Hunt" that recruited President Kennedy's cabinet. He created and launched the Peace Corps. He spearheaded the War on Poverty. He founded Head Start, Job Corps, VISTA, Legal Services for the Poor, and -- together with his wife -- the Special Olympics. In addition, as ambassador to France under Presidents Johnson and Nixon, he single-handedly eased America's strained relations with Charles de Gaulle during a crucial period of the cold war. As former President Bill Clinton has said, "In my lifetime, America has never had a warrior for peace and against poverty like Sargent Shriver." Yet for all his many accomplishments, Shriver's name is surprisingly little known. Why? Because from the moment he married JFK's sister Eunice in 1953, Shriver had to steer a difficult course between independence and loyalty to the Kennedy family that tended to obscure his achievements. In Sarge, the first full-scale biography of this remarkable man, Sargent Shriver takes his deserved place at center stage during an extraordinary time in American politics.

With a finely tuned sense of the era, Atlantic Monthly senior editor Scott Stossel documents Shriver's early interest in international affairs as America grappled with a burgeoning sense of global responsibility after World War II. He tracks Shriver's evolution from a young World War II navy veteran to an employee of the towering Joseph P. Kennedy, at once his boss and future father-in-law, who pressed his daughter Eunice to marry after years of courtship by Shriver. When Sarge and Eunice did marry, the professional and personal spheres of his life merged in a unique way that few could have handled. From then on, Shriver labored to navigate family politics while charting his own ambitious course.

And what a course it was. To look at the lasting legacy of the Kennedy and Johnson eras is to see Shriver's mark everywhere. Between 1961 and 1968, Shriver launched agency after agency, program after program with an energy and a cumulative impact not seen since FDR's New Deal. This book recounts the dramatic founding of the Peace Corps, which became the crown jewel of the New Frontier, and provides the first comprehensive account on record of the successes and political tribulations of Johnson's War on Poverty. Here, too, are new revelations of the aggressive behind-the-scenes jockeying for power, as Bobby Kennedy and LBJ each vied to claim JFK's mantle -- a mantle that, as Stossel shows, Sargent Shriver may in some sense have been best suited to assume. This is also a story of what might have been and of what nearly was: In his riveting account of the 1968 Democratic national convention, Stossel reveals that if Kennedy family politics had not gotten in the way, Shriver (and not Edmund Muskie) might have been Hubert Humphrey's running mate -- and changed the course of history by beating Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew.

Drawing on exclusive access to Shriver family papers and on hundreds of hours of interviews over seven years with Shriver, this is the first and likely the only authorized biography we will have of a Kennedy family member of JFK's generation. Like Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, Sarge raises important questions about government in our time and about whether "electability" and "effective leadership" can coexist in the same person. In this brilliant debut, Scott Stossel delivers the full measure of the man, making this life-and-times biography required reading for anyone interested in 20th-century American history.

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Editorial Reviews

David Kusnet
In this lengthy but lively biography, the journalist Scott Stossel explains in exhaustive detail how Shriver translated vague mandates to found an international service program and wage war on poverty into the creation of some of the most successful social programs of the past half-century.
The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
This is a superbly researched, immensely readable political biography by Stossel, a senior editor at the Atlantic Monthly. Although Sargent Shriver (b. 1915) was never victorious in electoral politics, he emerges here as one of the more adept and dedicated public servants of the 20th century. His early professional direction was determined less by his own ambition than by his relationship to the Kennedys through his marriage to John and Robert Kennedy's sister Eunice. Suspending his own political aspirations to devote his efforts to John's 1960 presidential campaign, he went on to serve as the first director of the Peace Corps. Worried about charges of nepotism, Shriver agreed to serve only if Kennedy put his nomination before the Senate for review. In the minds of many, he would never emerge from his connection to the Kennedys, but his legacy, as Stossel argues convincingly, is impressive in its own right. Shriver headed the War on Poverty for President Johnson, which led to the eventual creations of VISTA and Head Start, and other services for the poor. He later served as ambassador to France, created the Special Olympics, ran for vice-president with George McGovern in 1972, and was a candidate for the presidential nomination in 1976. While some may find Stossel's view of Shriver hagiographic, that may have less to do with Stossel than with his subject, an inspiring figure whose life reaffirms the power of politics and government to effect positive, creative change. Set against a century of totalitarianism, war and gross inhumanity, Shriver's devotion to the "empowerment of impoverished groups" is a model of integrity and idealism. 40 b&w photos. Agent, Ron Goldfarb. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Sargant Shriver is best remembered for running in 1972 for vice president with Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in an inept campaign that ended the dominance of their party. Stossel, a senior editor at Atlantic Monthly, offers a sweeping portrayal of Shriver, which demonstrates that despite this ill-fated election, he was one of the most highly regarded political leaders of his time. Shriver married Eunice Kennedy, the President's sister, and, as Stossel convincingly shows, his career was both bolstered and constrained by his membership in the Kennedy family. Without the support of Joe Kennedy, the family patriarch, he would not have had the chance to be a player in high-level politics. However, Shriver's career was also hindered by the Kennedy political pecking order. He did achieve great success as the founder and director of the Peace Corps, director of the War on Poverty, ambassador to France, and founder of both Head Start and the Special Olympics. Stossel also includes compelling stories about Shriver's World War II heroism and his nerve-fraying role planning President Kennedy's funeral. Shriver is well served by this first-rate biography, which portrays him as a distinguished leader. Highly recommended for most public and academic libraries.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An overstuffed but highly readable biography of the liberal stalwart who founded the Peace Corps, Head Start, Special Olympics, and many other good causes. Sargent Shriver was a long-suffering soldier in difficult crusades, writes Atlantic Monthly editor Stossel; a devout Catholic and the scion of Confederate heroes, he felt it his duty, as he wrote while serving as an editor at the Yale Daily News, to "believe that things can be accomplished; that those who have ideals and are willing to work for them can attain their ambitions; in short, that the world is not too much with us but by sincere and untiring effort can be made a better place to live in." Shriver's collegiate idealism never faded, though it shifted at points; his service in the US Navy in WWII, for instance, removed any glamour he might have found in war, though he forever remained a tough anticommunist and Cold Warrior. Indeed, writes Stossel, it was Shriver who brought Robert McNamara into the Kennedy administration, "having been impressed, some years before, by a report on McNamara and the other 'whiz kids' hired by the Pentagon as a management consultant in the 1940s." Shriver himself came into the Kennedy fold, famously, through marriage to Eunice Kennedy, and served as Joseph Kennedy's eyes and ears at the Chicago Merchandise Mart for many years, building valuable political contacts in the business community. "Shriver," writes Stossel, "could be sensitive about his relationship to the Kennedy family" and once snapped at a reporter that his relationship to President Kennedy was "a fact of life, why think about it at all? I'm perfectly capable of looking after myself." So he was, Stossel writes, steering the sometimesunwilling Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon to do good deeds, though never attaining elective office himself. Throughout it all, Stossel depicts Shriver without a halo, though he contends, with other observers, that Sargent and Eunice Shriver will one day be beatified by the Catholic church. A careful and capable portrait, of much interest to advocates of activist, beneficent government and students of the Kennedy era alike.
From the Publisher
“In this lengthy but lively biography, the journalist Scott Stossel explains in exhaustive detail how Shriver translated vague mandates to found an international service program and wage war on poverty into the creation of some of the most successful social programs of the past half-century.”—Washington Post

“Required reading for anyone interested in the political affairs of 20th-century America and the story of the Kennedy dynasty.”—Robert Dallek, author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

“This is a superbly researched, immensely readable political biography.”—Publishers Weekly

“A careful and capable portrait, of much interest to advocates of an activist, beneficent government and students of the Kennedy era alike.”—Kirkus

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590515136
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 12/27/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 800
  • Sales rank: 318,410
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Shriver sat bolt upright in his chair. His first thought was that he had misheard. His second thought was of Halloween 1938, when Orson Welles had inadvertently pitched America into a panic with his radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s War of  the Worlds, with its realistic simulation of a news broadcast announcing a Martian invasion. Could this Pearl Harbor bombing bulletin be simply another hoax, albeit a cruel and ill-timed one?
   Unsure of what to do—not knowing whether to trust his own ears—Shriver picked up the phone and called the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where his brother Herbert was stationed as a junior naval officer. “Herbert,” Sarge recalls saying when he got his brother on the phone. “Have you got the radio on?” Herbert said he did not. “Well turn it on, goddamnit,” Sarge shouted, “turn it on! The Japs have attacked Pearl Harbor!” Herbert confirmed that he was hearing the same reports over his radio set.
   With some trepidation, Shriver sounded General Quarters. In 1941 there was no Internet, no satellite communications, no CNN, no network television news—no way of knowing quickly or reliably what was going on six thousand miles away. So when Shriver flipped the switch that sounded the alarm all up and down the East Coast, sending switchboard operators aflutter trying to reach officers at their weekend country homes, or on golf courses, or at family dinners, he was initiating the first communication that most of these men were to receive regarding the attack. Moreover, when they heard the General Quarters alarm, most of them had no way of knowing why it was being sounded. Thus, within minutes of the sounding of General Quarters, Shriver’s telephone was ringing off the hook. “Shriver!” went the typical refrain. “What the hell is going on here? You better have a damn good reason for interrupting my Sunday afternoon.”

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Table of Contents

Foreword xi
Acknowledgments xvii
Introduction xxi
Part 1 Youth (1915-1945)
1. States' Rights, Religious Freedom, and Local Self-Government 3
2. The Education of a Leader 18
3. A Yale Man 31
4. War 59
Part 2 The Chicago Years (1945-1960)
5. Joseph P. Kennedy 83
6. Eunice 95
7. The Long Courtship 103
8. Marriage 111
9. Religion and Civil Rights 117
10. Chicago Politics 130
11. Dawn of the New Frontier 140
12. The Talent Hunt 173
Part 3 The Peace Corps (1961-1963)
13. The Towering Task 189
14. Shriver's Socratic Seminar 209
15. The Battle for Independence 218
16. "The Trip" 226
17. Storming Capitol Hill 233
18. Shriverizing 246
19. Timberlawn 259
20. Bigger, Better, Faster 268
21. Psychiatrists and Astrologers 277
22. Growing Pains 288
23. Tragedy 297
Part 4 The War on Poverty (1964-1968)
24. Shriver for Vice President 325
25. Origins of the War on Poverty 333
26. "Mr. Poverty" 345
27. A Beautiful Hysteria 355
28. Mobilizing for War 372
29. Wooing Congress 379
30. The Law of the Jungle 395
31. "Political Pornography" 402
32. Head Start 416
33. A Revolution in Poverty Law 431
34. "Double Commander-in-Chief" 447
35. The OEO in Trouble 452
36. King of the Hill 468
37. What Next? 481
Part 5 France (1968-1970)
38. Springtime in Paris 497
39. "Sarjean Shreevair" 507
40. The 1968 Election 513
41. Nixon in Paris 537
42. Au Revoir 551
Part 6 Democratic Politics (1970-1976)
43. The Politics of Life 561
44. International Men of Mystery 568
45. Shriver for Vice President 577
46. Shriver for President 608
Part 7 Private Life, Public Service (1976-2003)
47. Nuclear Politics 645
48. Special Olympics, a Family Affair 658
49. Faith and Hope 673
Notes 685
Bibliography 729
Index 739
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 22, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Perhaps the most comprehesive history of the creation of the Great Society and the best aspects of the Kennedy Johnson years.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2012

    highly recommended

    Well-written, comprehensive story of an extraordinary man's extraordinary life, and a view of the Kennedy-Johnson era.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2004

    A Great Book About An Inspiring American

    Sarge is without a doubt a long overdue and first-rate biography of a great American. Most seem to have forgotten what an inspiring man Sargent Shriver has been. The way in which Stossel records the war on poverty is second only to the many facits of the Shriver-Kennedy connection. Don't let the length concern you. Historians must read this; book lovers will enjoy it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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