January is turning into a month of reading biographies. After the Mitford sisters, I ordered another one of Lovell's bios from the public library. While waiting for it to come in, I zipped through the 400-page "Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy." The biography is the work of a group of reporters from The Boston Globe, edited by Peter S. Canellos, the paper's Washington bureau chief. If anyone would know — could know — the full story of Ted Kennedy's life, it's the Globe, which has been following the family for as long as there's been a Kennedy family to cover.
At age 36, Ted was the remaining Kennedy brother, with the weight of his family's and the country's expectations on his shoulders. It was a burden that nearly crushed him. We all watched him fail in a spectacular fashion and then spend the rest of his life redeeming himself: publicly, privately, quietly and gregariously.
I grew up Irish Catholic on the East Coast and my Republican parents voted for JFK in 1960. I was working on Bobby Kennedy's NY state primary campaign as a college student when he was killed. Since I lived through this period, I could hear all the voices — Bobby Kennedy talking in Indianapolis the night Martin Luther King was assassinated, or Ted giving his eulogy for Bobby — in my head as I read them in the book. As a result, for me this was not a book that shed a lot of new light on what I witnessed, though it opened my eyes to what I was paying less attention to: Ted's Senate career.
John McCain called Ted Kennedy the "last lion of the Senate ... the single most effective member of the Senate if you want to get results." And that's what much of the book is about: the legislation Kennedy authored, or was involved with, as well as the whole legislative process. His ability to see the big picture and to work and wait and work more to achieve the desired legislation was eye-opening. The book clearly showed why he was so effective compared to other members of Congress as well as pointing out failures of the system.
The book is brisk, factual, and generally free from bias, full of reporters' attribution of every quote and bit of critical information. The book is also thorough; reporters seemed to have talked to every staffer and many, many family members and colleagues. The only remaining question is whether I should consider that chapter now closed — or read the same events in Ted's own words in his autobiography, which was published shortly before he died in August, 2009.