cover image A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O'Donnell

A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O'Donnell

David Groff, Helen O'Donnell. William Morrow & Company, $26 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-688-14861-4

Kenneth (Kenny) O'Donnell often appears in the background of Oval Office photographs taken during the Kennedy administration: an unsmiling figure whose nickname--his daughter writes in her biography of her father--was ""The Cobra."" O'Donnell, friends with Bobby Kennedy from their days on the Harvard football team back in 1946, was so defined by his relationship with the Kennedy family, according to his daughter, that after Bobby's assassination, both he and his wife fell into alcoholism and early death in the late 1970s. The author recalls that Bobby was her father's best friend and that after the assassination his presence hung over their house ""like a ghost."" In 1951 O'Donnell, who was born in 1924, went to work on Congressman John Kennedy's Senate campaign and was involved in every election after that. The author was six when Bobby was shot and 15 when her father died; her stories here were related to her by JFK's ""Irish Mafia,"" surviving Kennedys and tape recordings her father had made. She recreates his life totally in reference to the careers of John and Robert Kennedy, suggesting that her father had no life of his own. The main body of the book--told in the third person--is serviceable and heartfelt. What makes this account so emotionally involving are the first-person introduction and epilogue that detail the disintegration of the O'Donnell family. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (June)