cover image Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932–1975

Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour, 1932–1975

Neal Gabler. Random House, $40 (928p) ISBN 978-0-307-40544-9

Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy was not a callow afterthought to his larger-than-life brothers, but “the most consequential legislator of his lifetime” and an embodiment of liberalism’s strengths and tragic weaknesses, according to this sweeping first installment in a planned two-volume biography. Cultural historian Gabler (An Empire of Their Own) recaps Kennedy’s many years of patient, incremental lawmaking on immigration, the Voting Rights Act, health insurance, and campaign finance. He also situates Kennedy in a larger narrative about the dismantling of the “post–New Deal modern liberal consensus” as liberalism’s “moral authority” was undermined by the Vietnam War, which Ted Kennedy was slow to oppose; by public perceptions of liberals’ ethical laxness and irresponsibility, which were stoked by Kennedy’s handling of the car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick in 1969; and by liberals’ failure to bridge the gap between their civil-rights agenda and the racial resentments of the white working-class part of their base. There’s plenty of drama and pathos, including a riveting recreation of physical attacks on Kennedy by mobs of Boston anti-busing protesters, but Gabler pierces the haze of glamour surrounding the Kennedy clan to get at the substance of the politics they personified. This elegantly written and shrewdly insightful account is a must-read for political history buffs. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Oct.)