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RFK: A Memoir

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As one of the most complex, charismatic and controversial figures of our times, Robert Kennedy occupies a remarkable and paradoxical place in the American imagination. On the right he has been idolized by Rudy Giuliani and memorialized by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who renamed the Justice Department after him. On the left, his admirers say he represented the last hope As one of the most complex, charismatic and controversial figures of our times, Robert Kennedy occupies a remarkable and paradoxical place in the American imagination. On the right he has been idolized by Rudy Giuliani and memorialized by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who renamed the Justice Department after him. On the left, his admirers say he represented the last hope of revitalizing the liberal tradition. But who was Robert Kennedy? To acclaimed reporter Jack Newfield, who worked closely with him during his last years, RFK was a human being far different from the myths that surrounded his name. "Part of him was soldier, priest, radical, and football coach. But he was none of these. He was a politician. His enemies said he was consumed with selfish ambition, a ruthless opportunist exploiting his brother's legend. But he was too passionate and too vulnerable ever to be the cool and confident operator his brother was." In this haunting and memorable portrait we see what kind of man died when Robert Kennedy was shot. And what kind of leader America lost.


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As one of the most complex, charismatic and controversial figures of our times, Robert Kennedy occupies a remarkable and paradoxical place in the American imagination. On the right he has been idolized by Rudy Giuliani and memorialized by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who renamed the Justice Department after him. On the left, his admirers say he represented the last hope As one of the most complex, charismatic and controversial figures of our times, Robert Kennedy occupies a remarkable and paradoxical place in the American imagination. On the right he has been idolized by Rudy Giuliani and memorialized by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who renamed the Justice Department after him. On the left, his admirers say he represented the last hope of revitalizing the liberal tradition. But who was Robert Kennedy? To acclaimed reporter Jack Newfield, who worked closely with him during his last years, RFK was a human being far different from the myths that surrounded his name. "Part of him was soldier, priest, radical, and football coach. But he was none of these. He was a politician. His enemies said he was consumed with selfish ambition, a ruthless opportunist exploiting his brother's legend. But he was too passionate and too vulnerable ever to be the cool and confident operator his brother was." In this haunting and memorable portrait we see what kind of man died when Robert Kennedy was shot. And what kind of leader America lost.

30 review for RFK: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bev

    I have been interested in Robert F Kennedy since the high school history class where we were assigned an in-depth research paper. We had recently covered this period of history and I was drawn to the figure of RFK. At that time, I read from many biographies and other histories of the time...both those pro-Kennedy and those against. I soon became one of many who believe that Bob Kennedy could have made a difference (Yes, Bob. He never liked "Bobby.") Jack Newfield's memoir covers the last few year I have been interested in Robert F Kennedy since the high school history class where we were assigned an in-depth research paper. We had recently covered this period of history and I was drawn to the figure of RFK. At that time, I read from many biographies and other histories of the time...both those pro-Kennedy and those against. I soon became one of many who believe that Bob Kennedy could have made a difference (Yes, Bob. He never liked "Bobby.") Jack Newfield's memoir covers the last few years of Kennedy's life--from the assassination of his brother to his own death in 1968. Newfield began his relationship with Kennedy a critic and wound up one of his biggest supporters. Newfield's memoir poignantly shows the changes that Kennedy experienced. Changes that took him from the "ruthless" younger brother of the President--who hounded the Teamsters and took on any one who would criticize his brother--to the compassionate presidential candidate who had a real chance to unite the black population and white, working class America. Ever since then historians have been wondering "what might have been." Kennedy after JFK's assassination is revealed as a "sensual" politician. The pain he suffered in losing a brother made him more open to the pain of others. He didn't want statistics. He didn't want aides bringing him information on the plight of the poor blacks in Bedford-Stuuyvesant in New York or the migrant workers of the south and California. He had to go and see for himself. And after he went, he was changed. Kennedy became a real "people's politician" after he went out into America and saw how its citizens were living. Many people of the time who were anti-Kennedy try to claim that this change in RFK was purely opportunistic. But reading the speeches quoted in this memoir, I cannot see what grounds they had for saying such things. The change in Kennedy is gradual, as if he's feeling his way into new territory--but the speeches get stronger and stay consistent through to the end. Even when it seemed his new stance would hurt him politically (and, given the charges made by his detractors, it certainly did to some extent), he continued to follow his conscience. A conscience which said after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all . We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge. our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land." And a conscience which preferred this quote from Camus: "Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children." To which he added: "And if you don't help us, who else in this world can help us?" This book obviously didn't change my mind about Robert Kennedy. But reading it did remind me of what I had learned about him twenty (or so...) years ago and taught me even more. I've given this book four and a half stars out of five. This review was first posted on my blog Please request permission before reposting any portion. Thanks.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Scott Hopkins

    I just began this book and it is apparently true what I have always thought. The era in which I have lived all my life may have been very different if Bobby Kennedy had been given the gift of years and time. He was able to define a very strong Self out of a very "fused" and enmeshed family system. From heartbreak and tragedy, he was able to choose the higher road of recovery and hope rather than despair. He stood far and above anyone else in this "clan" with a deep sense of moral obligation to t I just began this book and it is apparently true what I have always thought. The era in which I have lived all my life may have been very different if Bobby Kennedy had been given the gift of years and time. He was able to define a very strong Self out of a very "fused" and enmeshed family system. From heartbreak and tragedy, he was able to choose the higher road of recovery and hope rather than despair. He stood far and above anyone else in this "clan" with a deep sense of moral obligation to the breaking down of social class divisions.... race, poverty, housing, medical care, food, legal representation. It becomes apparent that this man did well in his short life because, in his childhood, he spent more time with his Mother than his very dysfunctional and self destructive Father. (MORE TO COME AS I READ) Fascinating read in terms of BOWEN FAMILY SYSTEMS THEORY

  3. 5 out of 5

    Raymond Thomas

    The New York Times quote on the front declares this recounting of RFK's life between 1963 and 1968 "deeply moving" but I don't think that is quite strong enough. Jack Newfield paints a vivid picture of the multitude of issues that Kennedy confronted in the years leading up to his death. His final words are some of the most emotional and revealing comments on what RFK represented. Having this account, published in the aftermath of RFK's assassination, with all of its first hand accounts and docum The New York Times quote on the front declares this recounting of RFK's life between 1963 and 1968 "deeply moving" but I don't think that is quite strong enough. Jack Newfield paints a vivid picture of the multitude of issues that Kennedy confronted in the years leading up to his death. His final words are some of the most emotional and revealing comments on what RFK represented. Having this account, published in the aftermath of RFK's assassination, with all of its first hand accounts and documented conversations/speeches is invaluable.

  4. 5 out of 5

    JRB

    Newfield succeeds to do what many other Kennedy writers fail to: espouse his care and admiration for the man without crossing into hero worship. Perhaps it's because he writes about his encounters with Kennedy in the first person and ably employs self deprecation (on both their parts). Maybe it's because Newfield is so honest about his journey from distrust to friendship. It is an emotional look at RFK's last years in a way that I suspect many of Newfield's contemporaries would share. Newfield succeeds to do what many other Kennedy writers fail to: espouse his care and admiration for the man without crossing into hero worship. Perhaps it's because he writes about his encounters with Kennedy in the first person and ably employs self deprecation (on both their parts). Maybe it's because Newfield is so honest about his journey from distrust to friendship. It is an emotional look at RFK's last years in a way that I suspect many of Newfield's contemporaries would share.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    Well-told, deeply felt, fascinating. I read this book when I was working on a Washington Post feature story about the last days of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marsinay

    Truthful to the point of being at times unflattering, but an excellent character analysis. Written by a journalist with an astute understanding of politics and current events, Jack Newfield’s absorbing memoir covers his time spent with Robert Kennedy the senator and presidential candidate. One of the best on RFK I’ve read. 4.5* (The paperback edition features a hauntingly beautiful photo taken by F. McDarrah, making it also one of my favorite covers.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I was surprised at how challenging it was to find an RFK biography. "Robert Kennedy and His Times" by Schlesinger is two volumes long and the portion I read was much more about "his times" than it was Robert Kennedy. The reviews on Amazon for "RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy" were so poor that I decided to pass on it. Finding mostly good reviews on "RFK: A Memoir" a decided to purchase it. While Jack Newfield does seem to be a fan of Robert Kennedy, his writing did not seem overwhel I was surprised at how challenging it was to find an RFK biography. "Robert Kennedy and His Times" by Schlesinger is two volumes long and the portion I read was much more about "his times" than it was Robert Kennedy. The reviews on Amazon for "RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy" were so poor that I decided to pass on it. Finding mostly good reviews on "RFK: A Memoir" a decided to purchase it. While Jack Newfield does seem to be a fan of Robert Kennedy, his writing did not seem overwhelming with bias. His memoir presents Kennedy in an objective light and is very informative about his life and career aspirations through the turbulent 1960s. Newfield's details about Kennedy's involvement in New York state politics did fail to hold my interest, but the rest of the book was a very satisfying read. Kennedy's plan for Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood was nothing short of brilliant and it is very disheartening that we no longer have politicians who think like he did on matters of people helping themselves. This is just one of many of Kennedy's ideas that make even more tragic his untimely death and that we don't have leaders like him in Washington today.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leo Jacobowitz

    Apparently the author, Jack Newfield, who was a journalist with the Village Voice back in the 1960s, was no fan of RFK during his lifetime. Interestingly, Newfield paints a very flattering and heartfelt portrait of this complicated and often tortured leader. RFK became my hero for life after reading this novel at a young age. It seems unlikely that the American electoral system could ever produce an American President this flawed, this heroic and this brave. In our country engorged and bloated w Apparently the author, Jack Newfield, who was a journalist with the Village Voice back in the 1960s, was no fan of RFK during his lifetime. Interestingly, Newfield paints a very flattering and heartfelt portrait of this complicated and often tortured leader. RFK became my hero for life after reading this novel at a young age. It seems unlikely that the American electoral system could ever produce an American President this flawed, this heroic and this brave. In our country engorged and bloated with with headline grabbing, scandal loving media being consumed by an equally superficial and dim-witted public, we wouldn't even notice, nor care nor appreciate the exquisite historical poetry of a white Presidential candidate, surrounded by black men quoting Aeschylus and mourning the death of Martin Luther King? We'd turn the channel...."Asschuh who? Survivor's On!"

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mikey

    This was like reading several different works in one. Some are good, others are rather boring. I enjoyed the last third or so of the book which details the run-up to the 1968 Democratic Primary and Bobby's assination. I was fairly bored though during the longwinded section on New York Democratic Politics. Considering I knew very little about RFK, I found it informative, albeit a bit dense at times. This was like reading several different works in one. Some are good, others are rather boring. I enjoyed the last third or so of the book which details the run-up to the 1968 Democratic Primary and Bobby's assination. I was fairly bored though during the longwinded section on New York Democratic Politics. Considering I knew very little about RFK, I found it informative, albeit a bit dense at times.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Nada

    Well-documented, and profound. However, somewhat in the middle of the book it felt as if Newfield was a bit unreasonable with his high expectations of RFK like he's judging him based on his own standards but that did not last long as he quickly picked up his grounds and by the end of the book it left me feeling overwhelmed with everything I've read. Informative and well-told. Well-documented, and profound. However, somewhat in the middle of the book it felt as if Newfield was a bit unreasonable with his high expectations of RFK like he's judging him based on his own standards but that did not last long as he quickly picked up his grounds and by the end of the book it left me feeling overwhelmed with everything I've read. Informative and well-told.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Heath

    Newfield, a journalist who had an incredibly close relationship with RFK, gives one of the most passionate, microscopic views into RFK's withdrawn determinism between the gunshots of Dallas and Los Angeles. Newfield, a journalist who had an incredibly close relationship with RFK, gives one of the most passionate, microscopic views into RFK's withdrawn determinism between the gunshots of Dallas and Los Angeles.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    The best book on Robert Kennedy. Heartfelt, moving, deeply sad.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Just could not get into it did not hold my interest

  14. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    Some amazing info and quotes in this bio, but the chapter on NY state politics really drags it down. Nevertheless, with such an inspiring subject, it was a great read.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Nick Dwyer

    very good. honest, easy to read at most times. stuck to the facts and the authors own experiences(being a friend of rfk's). enjoyed it alot very good. honest, easy to read at most times. stuck to the facts and the authors own experiences(being a friend of rfk's). enjoyed it alot

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jordy

    skimmed for class

  17. 4 out of 5

    Seán

    Jack Newfield was the man.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin Hicks

  19. 4 out of 5

    Garry Wilmore

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bob Brooks

  22. 5 out of 5

    Marla

  23. 5 out of 5

    Matt Koranda

  24. 4 out of 5

    Philomenamenon

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

  26. 5 out of 5

    Hans Hoffmann

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Chambers

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

  29. 4 out of 5

    Fawaz Ali

  30. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Pina

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