Matthews (Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero), the host of MSNBC's Hardball, offers an anecdotal and engaging biography of Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy (1925–68), emphasizing his broad public appeal during the 1960s, when the then-junior senator was revered by the working and middle classes and minorities. The author challenges the conventional view that Kennedy was largely unaware of poverty and discrimination until he suffered the death of his brother John F. Kennedy. Rather, Matthews says, Bobby developed empathy for these groups while serving as an enlisted seaman. As a child, Kennedy sought but did not win his father's approval, giving him an appreciation for the underdog. This book offers a sketchy recounting of Kennedy's life, from his troubled youth, through his years working for Sen. Joe McCarthy and running John's successful 1960 presidential campaign to his own fatal campaign for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. Matthews includes interesting stories about his own years as a graduate student and participant in antiwar rallies, and what Kennedy meant to him during that time. VERDICT Both Evan Thomas's Robert Kennedy, and Larry Tye's Bobby Kennedy are deeply researched, comprehensive biographies. Matthews's less substantial but more personal work will appeal to general readers who want to understand the spirit of the times.—Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA2017-09-17
Recounting Robert Kennedy's political career.Hardball anchor Matthews (Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, 2013, etc.) was much inspired by the Kennedy brothers. "All that youth and hope and sense of change: you couldn't be alive and not feel it," he writes. Having chronicled John F. Kennedy's life in two books (Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, 2011, and Kennedy and Nixon, 1996), the author now turns to Bobby, revealing his essential role in his brother's success and the trajectory of his own life in politics. The story is familiar: as the third son of an "overbearing, manipulative, and ever critical" father, Bobby longed for Joseph Kennedy's approval. He spent his youth in awe of his two older brothers, quietly honing a ruthlessness, decisiveness, and "righteous pugnacity" that would serve him well when he managed Jack's political campaigns, worked for Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and became a senator and presidential candidate himself. Bobby made enemies easily and for life. As his sister Eunice remarked, he had "a gift for estrangement." No one on Bobby's enemies list was as despised as Lyndon Johnson. When JFK invited Johnson to be his running mate, Bobby was enraged: "the stored-up hatred for the Texan…couldn't be appeased." The antipathy was mutual. After Kennedy's assassination, Johnson saw himself as next in line for the presidency in 1968, but as early as 1963, Johnson saw Bobby as "an inside threat to his obtaining the prize he'd signed on for." Matthews highlights Bobby's growing empathy for the poor, downtrodden, and marginalized and defends his entry into the 1968 presidential race, a decision made after Johnson had dropped out and anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy established a strong lead. Bobby, writes the author, was driven by "conscience and compassion" and by the heartfelt conviction that he could continue his brother's progressive agendas. Historian Arthur Schlesinger described Bobby as "a romantic stubbornly disguised as a realist," a judgment that Matthews underscores.A brisk, admiring portrait that burnishes the Kennedy image.“Chris Matthews evocatively brings the man and his moment back to life. It is a story that needs to be told again as a heroic counterpoint to the Trump era’s fundamental disrespect for the idea that politics can be a noble profession.”
–John Avlon, The Daily Beast
“Considerable insight from beginning to end”
–The New Republic
“A brisk, admiring portrait that burnishes the Kennedy image.”
“Cogently illustrates leadership qualities Kennedy possessed that are sorely lacking in today’s divisive culture.”
“If you love reading about politics, if you ever loved the Kennedys or were fascinated by them, if you love biographical history or if you just like a good yarn about a brooding soul who turns into an uplifting, magnetic force—Chris Matthews’ “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” Should be your next read. It’s well-researched, dramatically told. It brings those times—Camelot and after—back to life.”
–Lesley Stahl, Correspondent for 60 Minutes
"Matthews is skilled at weaving tension and conflict throughout the book. One doesn’t just read the words, but experiences the tension and emotions....The depth of Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit provides insight into this man’s spirit and what drove him to greatness. Matthews does an excellent job of pulling Bobby out from behind any family shadows to give us an in-depth portrait of what could have been."
–New York Journal of Books
"Readers witness the evolution of Kennedy’s soul. Through tragedy after tragedy we find the man humanized."
–Associated Press (AP)