Saturday, October 17, 2009

Review: True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy

I have always been a fan of the entire Kennedy clan, so it is hard for me to be objective when 'reviewing' this book. It is well written with typical Kennedy lyric prose; it is well-organized into sections that are somewhat different from a typical lineal time-line autobiography; it contains dozens of photographs that are not the standards we're used to seeing; and most important, it gives us an insight into a man who may be the least known of the famous family. 

When I say least known, I don't mean unfamous or not well-known, but more private in terms of sharing his thoughts and inner motivations.  The influence of his parents, and his older brothers is beautifully explained, as well as his love of sailing,the sea (hence the title) and his home state Massachussetts.

We are treated to stories about his relations with his parents, all his siblings and their spouses, his children and grandchildren, both his wives, his dozens of nieces and nephews, and his close friends.  In these, his introspection shines, as he opens the door to his feelings and emotions which have often been tucked away from public view.

His respect for the Senate, and his pride in having served there for so long and so well, are quite evident, providing us with some of the most eloquent prose in the book, although here the book could have done with a bit of editing down...there was lots of detailed information about meetings, and phone calls and bargains struck that probably could have been pared a bit.  At times I had to force myself not to flip to the next page or paragraph.

His love for his family is especially evident in the chapter where he speaks of the period 1994-1999, of being buffeted by the deaths of his mother at age 104, his nephew Michael in a skiing accident, Jackie Onnasis, and his nephew John Kennedy Jr in a plane crash -- all within five years.  As the surviving patriarch, he is called upon to eulogize all of them, a feat that requires him to keep his own grief somewhat tucked in. 

In the end of this he quotes his father in a letter Joe Kennedy Sr wrote to a grieving friend on the loss of his son:
"There are no words to dispel your feelings at this time, and there is no time that will ever dispel them...I cannot share your grief, because no one could share mine.  When one of your children goes out of your life, you think of what he might have done with a few more years, and you wonder what you are going to do with the rest of yours.  Then one day, because there is a world to be lived in, you find yourself a part of it again, trying to accomplish something--something that he did not have time enough to do.  And, perhaps, that is the reason for it all.  I hope so."

Ted Kennedy continues:  "I wish that life were simpler.  I wish that loved ones didn't have to die too young.  I wish that tragedy never haunted a single soul.  But to wish all that is to ask for an end to our humanity.  God, family, and country sustain us all."

His indomitable spirit, inherited from parents, and nourished by his experiences in this incredible family, has left us all enriched.  His memoir provides us with the inspiration to continue his work.

Thanks to Hachete Books for making this review copy available and for letting me host the giveaway we completed last week.


  1. What I wonderful review and beautiful quotes. I purchased this one for my mom and when she gets done reading it, it will be my turn.


  2. Tina...what a terrific review and a real tribute to Ted; Thanks

  3. Lovely review ... he was truly a great man.

  4. I love your review, you've expressed your feelings about the book very beautifully. The quotes you have selected are nice, especially the last one. This sounds like a fine portrait of the man.

  5. I had such respect for this giant of a man that I couldn't possibly be objective either. I had wondered whether the book would be the usual "I did this and aren't I wonderful bio" but now I know I'll read it. Ted had huge flaws as well, but history will see him as one of the great Americans.


  6. Talk about a man who turned his life around. What a difference he made. Can't wait to read this one.


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