Keonaona's Reviews > True Compass: A Memoir

True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy
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Oct 14, 2009

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Read in October, 2009

These memoirs were based partly on an oral history Kennedy had been doing for a few years, and the way the text jumps from topic to topic reflects that--especially toward the end, when an entire presidential election season can be covered in a few paragraphs; you could miss it if you blink. But to be fair, it would have taken a few thousand pages to be truly comprehensive. It's impressive that he discusses those personal subjects he does touch on, including his brothers' assassinations and--of course--Chappaquiddick.

I enjoyed the glimpses into Kennedy family life, though while lifting the lid he maintains his family's privacy (it's clear that his mother was quite the character!); but I was most intrigued by the occasions when he discusses the workings of the Senate and of the government in general. His discussion of various presidents and his colleagues in both the House and the Senate made me wish that he had had more time for that comprehensive memoir. While overall the tone of the book is genial--which I guess is much the way he was in life--the section on Jimmy Carter stands out for its toughness. And the anecdote he tells about Ronald Reagan and shoes nicely sketches out how frustrating those years must have been.

Kennedy's faith and patriotism shine through. He loved the Senate; he had studied its history and its intricate structures and because of the length of his service was much its institutional memory; he legislated for the long run, understanding that legislative change can rarely happen all at once; he was proud to serve not just the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but the nation as a whole. In the end, you must give your respects regardless of whether you agreed with his politics.

Part of what's interesting is thinking about the publishing process itself: he was placed under contract for the book in the fall of 2007, about two months before he endorsed Obama and half a year before he suffered the seizures that revealed the cancer that killed him. The original intention had been to publish in 2010. What might this book have been had 2008 been a different kind of year?

It was a good read, even if--especially toward the end--it glosses a bit over events. I'm sorry anew that he's gone.

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