cover image Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Rise of Conservatism

Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Rise of Conservatism

Neal Gabler. Crown, $40 (1,280p) ISBN 978-0-593-23862-2

Ted Kennedy (1932–2009) spent the second half of his life fighting for liberalism against a gale of conservative politics, according to the magisterial conclusion (after Catching the Wind) to Gabler’s two-volume biography of the Massachusetts senator. Surveying Kennedy’s career from the 1970s onward as the postwar liberal consensus gave way to the harsh conservatism of Ronald Reagan and the tepid centrism of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Gabler styles his subject a legislative genius who expertly manipulated the “chemistry” of senatorial relationships to advance liberal initiatives on health care, civil rights, education, and immigration. An intricate, astute study of political power brokering comparable to Robert Caro’s profile of Lyndon Johnson in Master of the Senate, the book is also an elegy for the Camelot liberalism Kennedy personified in both his advocacy for the downtrodden and the scandals and louche amorality his detractors—somewhat unfairly, Gabler argues—tarred him with. Though massive, it’s engrossing thanks to Gabler’s elegant, evocative prose (“When [Kennedy] really got on a roll, when he was jabbing an opponent in faux indignation, and his voice rose even higher, sometimes trilling in exaggerated astonishment at the opponent’s transgressions... he could bring a crowd to its feet.”). This smart, illuminating, and stirring portrait of a liberal champion fascinates. Agent: Joy Harris, Joy Harris Literary. (Nov.)