Audiobooks are ebooks. Listening is learning
. In an effort to raise awareness among readers and all who work with books about the versatility of digital literacy, NSR occasionally publishes audiobook reviews of titles of exceptional quality to draw attention to the subtle (but consistent) ways in which formats are blurring in digital environments. Enjoy this week’s pick.
Title: Bobby Kennedy
Subtitle: The Making of a Liberal Icon
Duration: 20 hours
Reviewed for NSR by Michael Rogers (Babylon, New York)
Almost half a century after his June 5, 1968 murder, Bobby Kennedy still lingers in his brother’s shadow. As Tye ably shows, however, if not for an assassin’s bullet, Bobby likely would be the Kennedy son lauded as the great president. The public remains so ensconced in the “Camelot” myth surrounding JFK/Jackie that Bobby’s more impressive résumé has been ignored. If Bobby lived to be president, the 1960s might not be remembered for the turmoil that roiled the nation. The Civil Rights horrors still making terrible headlines might have been put to rest, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam perhaps would have halted sooner.
But how did this billionaire’s son born into unfathomable privilege who began his political career as a commie-buster for tail-gunner Joe McCarthy morph into the patron saint of liberalism? His journey is a remarkable story of perseverance, tragedy, and personal growth.
He was the runt of the Kennedy litter and deemed “girlish” by mother Rose, a label that made Bobby push himself harder. Bobby was still a small boy when first-born son Joe Jr. died in World War II, causing his father’s determination to have a son in the White House shift to Jack, a sickly, bookish intellectual, who grudgingly accepted the yoke, while Bobby simply was expected to play the lead role in supporting his brother’s political endeavors. No one did it better! Bobby became the campaign manager, personal confidant, and trouble-shooter from hell! He perceived his role as all-encompassing: from sealing envelopes, to knocking on doors, to leaking disparaging information about Jack’s opponent to the press (Tye credits Bobby with introducing the smear campaign). Bobby’s detractor’s labeled him “ruthless” because of his laser-focused determination to win at any cost, no matter how hard, how much it cost, how long it took—or who got hurt.
Whereas Jack, who several times had flirted with death from illness and his noted military service, joyfully embraced the perks of being a rich man’s son with all the splendors of wine, women, and song (especially the women), Bobby was nose to the grindstone, believing that success was achieved through hard work, although he, too, enjoyed his share of un/married affairs and repeatedly utilized his father’s connections to his advantage. After successfully managing Jack’s Massachusetts’s senate campaign, Bobby went to work for his dad’s crony Joe McCarthy. Bobby’s innate hatred of communism fueled his fervor for rooting out reds in the U.S., but clashes with henchman Roy Cohn made his time with the Wisconsin senator short while teaching him the invaluable lesson of covering his ass by doing his homework himself without cutting corners—Bobby always dotted his I’s and crossed his T’s; habits that served him well.
Tye shows that Bobby was stubborn, unforgiving (Joe Sr. observed that, “when Bobby hated you, you stayed hated”), and entered politics with a trunk full of biases but learned quickly to keep an open mind and change his opinion based on knowledge acquired first-hand. In principle he was vehemently anti-Communist but travelled throughout Russia to learn for himself what life under Soviet rule was like by going among the people, an act repeated in Japan and other locales. Unlike many in power, Bobby was interested in the thoughts of the young and visited colleges to meet students wherever he went.
Bobby liked to fight—he claimed it cleansed him—and never backed down from trading punches (literally and figuratively) with bigger, tougher opponents from college football bruisers to teamsters czar Jimmy Hoffa. His iron determination and ability to withhold judgment until researching the issues made Bobby a champion of causes unlike any other. When hearing that Americans were living in astounding poverty and squalor in the south, he investigated, visiting black families in dirt-floor shacks with only molasses for every meal. He knew the wealthy and privileged turned a blind eye to the sufferings of others less fortunate, so he forced himself to look and to act.
Tye details how Jack’s death emotionally destroyed Bobby—he lost his brother, confidant, and best friend. The blazing fire of his will was reduced to smoldering ash that took years of stoking to reignite. JFK’s death also halted Bobby’s influence with the White House—Lyndon Johnson kept him as attorney general but hated him (the feeling was mutual).
Bobby never fully overcame Jack’s death, but learned to move forward with a determination of keeping his brother’s legacy alive through his own actions. Clinching the NY senate seat was his path back to Washington (although LBJ already had passed many of the Civil Rights, education, and anti-poverty legislation Jack started).
As Tye amply illustrates, Bobby was a doer; promises meant nothing unless fulfilled. He worked hard, played hard, and was equally loved and hated by his political peers and the populace he served. The narrative, which incorporates much new information, is well balanced; Bobby’s achievements are praised while his many faults are equally well cataloged. It’s a detailed, even-handed portrait of Bobby as a hard-charging, no bullshit politician and a loving and dedicated husband and father. Narrator Marc Cashman reads in a documentary-style tone that is a perfect match for the material.
In the current, seemingly insane political climate gripping America, Tye’s account couldn’t be more timely, and is a strong addition to biography, history, and political science collections.
Special thank you to Michael Rogers, former Media Editor and audiobook reviewer at Library Journal, for contributing this and other reviews to NSR. Publishers/producers interested in getting their (newly released) audiobooks reviewed on NSR should contact Michael directly at email@example.com.