Political memoirs are to be avoided except when they work, and this one does. In True Compass: A Memoir Edward M. Kennedy went out in style. Written in a warm, engaging style that often seems like conversation, he gives his take on events but more importantly he explains the Kennedy phenomenon as only he could. This book along with the personal notes and papers he kept over the years will prove a cache for future historians. You may think you know all you need to know about the Kennedys, but this book puts you on shaky footing. This is a call to future historians to get it right.
Liberals and middlers will have positive feelings for his many political accomplishments, but the basic requirement for enjoying the book is that you revere American democracy. As an added benefit, if you like to hear about defending family values, then this book should be your bible.
EMK had the misfortune to be born into an ambitious family with an excess of Prince Charmings. Each in high fashion charged off to seek fame and crown and met tragic deaths one by one. Young Also Prince Teddy was left to compete against saintly myths. He struggled to find his calling but longevity was with the Also Prince, and in time he proved that he was of stellar qualities, a leader even if the crown was never his. He defied history and his sometime erratic performance to prove his worth. The odds are that the first three might not have done as well, certainly not all three.
The three formative influences in his life were his father, his mother, and his maternal grandfather John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald. There was of course the collective entity of the “Kennedy family.” Religious belief and faith came from his mother. Discipline, intellectual rigor, and dogged determination came from his father. The myth of the Princely brothers forced him to find missions to serve. It was, however, the life and spirit of Honey Fitz who taught him how to be a street politician who never stops campaigning until he takes his pants off at night. He learned politics was a game to relish and play with no time outs and no final quarter.
EMK was an Irish-American whose face told you that if he hadn’t sinned as yet he was going to in the near future. If you didn’t see him stumble one day, just keep watching. He learned if you can’t hide your weaknesses and mishaps, bring them out and use them. As Honey Fitz would have told him, don’t tell voters a boring story, so EMK was many things, but boring he was not. This was canny enough for the people of Massachusetts to love him from first to the last. Every voter felt he knew a lot about this man, good, bad, and whatever. He was as good as family, and you don’t vote against family. Charles Marlin