cover image WHEN I WAS A YOUNG MAN: A Memoir


Bob Kerrey, Robert Kerrey, J. Robert Kerrey, . . Harcourt/James H. Silberman, $26 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100474-4

Kerrey, former Nebraska governor and senator, is currently president of the New School University. He opens this moving autobiography by recalling his idyllic Nebraska childhood. At 10, he discovered that his father had a brother who'd disappeared during WWII. Years later, Kerrey promised his father he would uncover the truth about his uncle's death. "As I searched, I discovered many things I should have known before and many I wish I had known." He traces the family's history and details his own postwar childhood of church sermons, nights alone in his tree house, movies, music, paper routes, baseball and bicycling. As a University of Nebraska graduate pharmacist, he was employed at Iowa pharmacies. In 1967, at Officer Candidates School, he made the "difficult decision" to become a frogman; while training at Coronado Bay in California, "I thought the navy had sent me to paradise." At age 25, Kerrey arrived in Vietnam. Only weeks later, he was seriously wounded, losing part of a leg, and he spent a year recovering at Philadelphia's naval hospital. Kerrey explores his doubts about accepting the Congressional Medal of Honor—"I knew that many men got nothing for bravery far greater than mine"—and concludes with the results of his investigation into the mystery of his uncle's disappearance. Kerrey's deceptively simple writing style has great strength, and he presents his personal memories against the larger backdrop of antiwar protesters and other events of the period. Although the Vietnam missions fill only 30 pages, an army of readers will embrace this inspiring story, and many will eagerly await future chronicles of Kerrey's later life. B&w photos not seen by PW. (June 6)

Forecast:This is a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Military Book Club, the History Book Club and the Literary Guild. Harcourt has planned Memorial Day and Father's Day promos, online publicity, a radio satellite tour and author appearances in New York City, Nebraska and Washington, D.C. All this, along with Kerrey's visibility as president of the New School, should boost sales.