cover image Ted Kennedy: A Life

Ted Kennedy: A Life

John A. Farrell. Penguin Press, $40 (752p) ISBN 978-0-525-55807-1

Biographer Farrell (Richard Nixon: The Life) untangles in this masterful account the complex blend of political dexterity, recklessness, and unflagging support of the less fortunate that defined Ted Kennedy’s rise from overlooked youngest son of a political dynasty to “Lion of the Senate.” According to Farrell, Kennedy grew up “awed by the achievements of his father and brothers and vexed by self-doubt.” Only 30 years old when he took his brother John’s former seat in the U.S. Senate in 1962, Kennedy remained in that role until his death in 2009, fighting in his final months for the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Kennedy took early stands on civil rights, Farrell writes, but came into his own after the tragic assassinations of his older brothers. Farrell’s evenhanded account documents Kennedy’s “craven” behavior following the car crash on Chappaquiddick Island that left Mary Jo Kopechne dead, but gives equal weight to his accomplishments as an anti-apartheid advocate, an early champion of gay rights and AIDS funding, and a crusader for healthcare reform. The book shines in its vivid accounts of backroom political dealmaking, as Farrell enlivens his exhaustive research and expert analysis with a novelist’s pacing. The result is the definitive one-volume biography of a consequential American lawmaker. (Oct.)