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Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Last Brother by Joe McGinniss

The Last Brother The Last Brother by Joe McGinniss

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Joseph P Kennedy, father of brothers Joseph, John, Robert, and Edward believed: "It's not what you are that counts, but only what people think you are."

That sums up what the myths surrounding the Kennedy family are all about. Created by the Kennedys and furthered by an adoring media, Americans came to elevate the Kennedys to the status of royalty for over 3 decades. It is from this point of view that Joe McGinniss has written The Last Brother: The Rise and Fall of Teddy Kennedy. McGinniss states in his Author's Note at the end of his book that he wanted to write an account that took into consideration what it felt like to be Edward Kennedy; or to have some understanding and empathy for what it was like to deal with the pressure of being the fat little brother who wasn't up to competing with his older, more accomplished siblings. For the most part, I think McGinniss did what he set out to do in that regard; but, there were times when McGinniss came dangerously close to suggesting we have sympathy for Edward Kennedy.

McGinniss begins his book with the assassination of President John F Kennedy. He illustrates from this grim example how little Teddy Kennedy knew of his family's plans for the future and what exactly those plans entailed. The father of the Kennedy clan, Joseph P Kennedy, was the mastermind behind a plan to bring the Kennedy name to power in the US as a dynasty unto themselves. Through his fortune he was able to manipulate or outright buy any outcome he wanted in any given situation. Joseph Jr, Jack, and Bobby each understood and were primed for their specific roles in the plan. Having come along almost as an afterthought to the family, Teddy was given no specific outline of his role, and from childhood on he more or less flew by the seat of his pants. When his brother Jack was assassinated, he had no idea what to do, where to be, nor any idea how to perform. He was unprepared to serve his family in any capacity at all much less become an example to his country of how royalty behaves under fire.

The material presented as fact in McGinniss' book is a matter of public reacord, and the bibliography McGinniss lists at the end of the book is extensive. He did his research. What gets somewhat murky is assuming McGinniss knows what Ted Kennedy thought which motivated him to behave as he did through the many crises in his life. And it is within some of those passages that it seemed to me there was occasionally too much of a plea for sympathy to Kennedy. Empathy I may be able to grasp, but sympathy? Not in any lifetime.

The picture that emerges of Teddy Kennedy as viewed through the facts, in my opinion, remains one of an irresponsible, cowardly, indecisive, dissipated, philandering boy/man who came far too close to becoming President of the United States based on the myth surrounding his family name rather than the facts of his life. For that reason, I'd recommend reading this book just to see the process by which something like this can happen. One would hope the lesson learned would be to never allow a man like Ted Kennedy or a family like his to so invade the national interests of our country again because there are no messiahs in the political spectrum or any other spectrum for that matter. Unfortunately, it appears that lesson was not learned and it continues to happen all over again.

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