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Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy (Hardcover)


Product Description
No figure in American public life has had such great expectations thrust upon him, or has responded so poorly. But Ted Kennedy -- the youngest of the Kennedy children and the son who felt the least pressure to satisfy his father's enormous ambitions -- would go on to live a life that no one could have predicted: dismissed as a spent force in politics by the time he reached middle age, Ted became the most powerful senator of the last half century and the nation's keeper of traditional liberalism.

As Peter S. Canellos and his team of Boston Globe reporters show in this revealing and intimate biography, the gregarious, pudgy, and least academically successful of the Kennedy boys has witnessed greater tragedy and suffered greater pressure than any of his siblings. At the age of thirty-six, Ted Kennedy found himself the last brother, the champion of a generation's dreams and ambitions. He would be expected to give the nation the confidence to confront its problems and to build a fairer society at home and abroad.

He quickly failed in spectacular fashion. Late one night in the summer of 1969, he left the scene of a fatal automobile accident on Chappaquiddick Island. The death there of a young woman from his brother's campaign would haunt and ultimately doom his presidential ambitions. Political rivals turned his all-too-human failings -- drinking, philandering, and divorce -- into a condemnation of his liberal politics.

But as the presidency eluded his grasp, Kennedy was finally liberated from the expectations of others, free to become his own man. Once a symbol of youthful folly and nepotism, he transformed himself in his later years into a symbol of wisdom and perseverance. He built a deeply loving marriage with his second wife, Victoria Reggie. He embraced his role as the family patriarch. And as his health failed, he anointed the young and ambitious presidential candidate Barack Obama, whom many commentators compared to his brother Jack. The Kennedy brand of liberalism was rediscovered by a new generation of Americans.

Perceptive and carefully reported, drawing heavily from candid interviews with the Kennedy family and inner circle, Last Lion captures magnificently the life and historic achievements of Ted Kennedy, as well as the personal redemption that he found.

About the Author
Peter Canellos is the Washington bureau chief for The Boston Globe and oversees all national coverage for the paper, where he has worked since 1988 covering local, state, and national politics.

"a definitive look at Senator Kennedy's life", February 18, 2009
By K. M. "literary devotee" (California)


Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy reaches its "definitive look" goal with a balance of stately respect for its subject and uncompromising disclosure of available information. This biography begins with the 2008 news of Edward Kennedy's diagnosed malignant glioma and then rewinds to his childhood, relating anecdotes about his clowning, good cheer, and bad spelling, among other things. The years in boarding schools, at Harvard, in military service, at Harvard again, and in law school receive their due. As a newly-minted lawyer, he worked on brother Jack's campaigns for the U.S. Senate and then the presidency. With John F. Kennedy in the White House, a not-yet-thirty Ted didn't get much help (at least overtly) from either JFK or the attorney general, Robert Kennedy, when he campaigned for a Senate seat. His first election victory in 1962 marked the beginning of an unbroken string of re-elections and forty-six years (and counting) in the most exclusive club in the world.

LAST LION neither digs up new knowledge nor relies on new interviews. Instead, it modestly triumphs as a synthesis of already available but scattered mainly journalistic material. Author Peter S. Canellos engagingly and fluently covers both the personal and professional milestones of Senator Kennedy's life. He, Canellos, doesn't avoid the controversies and scandals such as the Harvard cheating episode and, of course, Chappaquiddick. In fact, he consigns about thirty-four pages to events surrounding the Mary Jo Kopechne death, including Kennedy's statement that, " 'I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to police immediately.' " But this isn't a tabloid expose or a hack job; the author presents the facts, but generally the steady tone of LAST LION is empathetic and admiring in a low-key manner.

Ted Kennedy's personal life -- his marriage to Joan that ended in divorce, his years of returned bachelorhood and "dating," and then his marriage to attorney Vicki Reggie in 1992 -- also receives its due but isn't stressed out of proportion. Often mentioned -- and rightfully so -- is Kennedy's surrogate fatherhood to his many nieces and nephews. The children of John and Robert Kennedy needed someone to attend their first communions, their school and sports events, and he, they testify, was always there. As LAST LION notes, however, the children could not escape their own share of scandals and problems.

Canellos doesn't fixate on (or gloss over) the watershed assassinations of President Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. In the long term, their deaths forever remain personal tragedies for the youngest brother, but they also put pressure on him to "finish" their legacies in the White House, leading to several attempts to secure the nomination before he resolved to remain a legislator. Many stories of Kennedy's kindnesses to fellow senators and his ability to reach across the aisle to get legislation passed are also a part of LAST LION, particularly in the last decades after Kennedy decided " '...the pursuit of the presidency is not my life. Public service is."

In all, Kennedy has authored "roughly 2500 major bills." George Washington reportedly told Thomas Jefferson, " 'We pour our legislation in the Senatorial saucer to cool it.' " Kennedy has had other ideas. Canellos writes, "...Ted marshaled all the Senate protocols and courtesies to the service of a quietly aggressive political agenda." In the 2008 presidential election, Kennedy refused to endorse a Democrat for some time, but finally, to the dismay of many Hilary Clinton supporters, he rallied to Obama's side. And President Obama has said of him, " 'He is somebody who battled for voting rights and civil rights when I was a child. I stand on his shoulders.' "

Ted Kennedy inspires passionate feelings from both his supporters and detractors. Whichever camp you, reader, fall into, this book is recommended. Ted Kennedy's determination to live a public life in government under hardships of his own and not his own making is attentively and thoughtfully documented in LAST LION. 4.5 stars.

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