A book that is likely to be significant, Senator Edward Kennedy’s autobiography entitled True Compass: A Memoir will be released on September 14, 2009. This forthcoming 544 page book, to be published by Twelve, is said to have taken five years to complete. Contra, a book that I read recently, Ted Kennedy: The Dream That Never Died by Edward Klein does not appear to be as significant.
Back in 2005, Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post wrote an article (“Ed Klein, Drowning in Ink and Grasping for Air”) concerning Klein and his then-new book The Truth About Hillary Clinton. In his article, Kurtz wrote: “Despite the enormous hype surrounding Edward Klein’s scathing and hearsay-filled book about Hillary Rodham Clinton, the author has been ignored by all but two television shows.” I’m not positive about this, but Kurtz seemed to find some of the content of The Truth… a bit shaky.
Such is not the problem with Ted Kennedy: The Dream… Instead, the problem is that most of the interesting things in this “new” biography come from other sources and, to his credit, Klein cites those sources. It is not the credibility of this account – except in one small instance – that raises questions. The question is do we really need another biography of Ted Kennedy, an extremely ill man, at this point in time? If so, did it need to spend just a bit more than 200 pages revisiting ground that has been trod over so many times before?
There’s nothing in here, to these eyes, that clarifies exactly who Ted Kennedy is or what specifically makes the family he came from so unique and/or so significant in American history. There’s also nothing in this account that is strongly pro- or anti-Kennedy (the author has claimed to be politically neutral). If dozens and dozens of books about the Kennedys had not already been written, one might find some items of discovery here but – in the words of Jackson Browne – it’s later than it seems.
In one specific instance, Klein does appear to be in error. He writes, on page 79, of a situation where Ted Kennedy flew back from Alaska in April of 1969 – this was subsequent to the assassination of Robert Kennedy – with other U.S. senators and after possibly having too much to drink repeatedly yelled out that, “They’re going to shoot my a– off the way they shot Bobby…” Klein calls this ” a particularly revealing – and unreported incident.” Sorry, but I believe it was reported on back then in the major news magazines.
If you’ve read nothing about the Kennedys then Klein’s latest might serve as a quick way to learn some relatively recent history. But there are many, many other choices that will provide you with more information about the three Kennedy brothers and the family itself. In my view, the two best books about the Kennedys just happen to be two books (both still in print) that focused on Robert F. Kennedy. The first of these was Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and the second was RFK, A Memoir by Jack Newfield.