Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words (Review)

There are some books that are right for certain times. Certain books that if you don't read them as a child, you won't ever appreciate properly if you try to read them as an adult. Books that when you pick them up and read them affect you in such a way that they never would have if you'd read them a year ago...or a year from now. For me I think, Robert Kennedy: In His Own Words is such a book. When I was in high school I did a huge research paper on Robert Kennedy. I got really interested and started reading more and more even after the paper was finished. One of my good friends gave me this book as soon as it came out in a trade paperback edition back in 1989. But for whatever reason--the demands of college, perhaps--I never read it. I kept it on the TBR pile and kept putting it off. That was a mistake.

It's not that I'm not interested in RFK anymore. I am. I read a really good book about him last year, Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir by Jack Newfield, and was totally caught up in the history again. But this book is a very different thing. It is composed of transcripts of interviews conducted in 1964, 1965 and 1967 with RFK as part of an oral history for the John F. Kennedy Library. There are a lot of details about events that took place before I was born and which, in the years since my intense research, have grown very fuzzy in the memory. I would have appreciated this book so much more if I had read it when the research was much fresher.

But, that said, this is still a very good book. When it came out, I'm sure it made quite a splash. It gave the reading public the never-before-published inside view of what went on in the White House and the Attorney General's office during the JFK presidency. Details of the Bay of Pigs and the civil rights campaign and early years of Vietnam straight from the the president's most trusted adviser. Through most of the interviews, Kennedy has a very matter-of fact tone--a man just telling what happened and how he participated. Then there are sections that are very touching which give a view of the deep respect and friendship that had grown up between the two brothers. He shares the hopes and aspirations that he and JFK had for what they hoped would be JFK's second term in office. He also speaks quite openly--and irritably--about Lyndon Johnson and about how their very tenuous relationship deteriorated so rapidly in the days after his brother's assassination. And he ends with tentative musings about what might be ahead for him.

A very informative book. Chock full of details. A valuable resource for anyone interested in the presidency of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy's involvement during those years...or both. Three stars....if I had been able to read this sooner, I'm sure I would have rated it higher.

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