“One of the truly great biographies of our time.”—Sean Wilentz, New York Times bestselling author of Bob Dylan in America and The Rise of American Democracy
“A landmark study of Washington power politics in the twentieth century in the Robert Caro tradition.”—Douglas Brinkley, New York Times bestselling author of American Moonshot
The epic, definitive biography of Ted Kennedy—an immersive journey through the life of a complicated man and a sweeping history of the fall of liberalism and the collapse of political morality.
Catching the Wind is the first volume of Neal Gabler’s magisterial two-volume biography of Edward Kennedy. It is at once a human drama, a history of American politics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and a study of political morality and the role it played in the tortuous course of liberalism.
Though he is often portrayed as a reckless hedonist who rode his father’s fortune and his brothers’ coattails to a Senate seat at the age of thirty, the Ted Kennedy in Catching the Wind is one the public seldom saw—a man both racked by and driven by insecurity, a man so doubtful of himself that he sinned in order to be redeemed. The last and by most contemporary accounts the least of the Kennedys, a lightweight. He lived an agonizing childhood, being shuffled from school to school at his mother’s whim, suffering numerous humiliations—including self-inflicted ones—and being pressed to rise to his brothers’ level. He entered the Senate with his colleagues’ lowest expectations, a show horse, not a workhorse, but he used his “ninth-child’s talent” of deference to and comity with his Senate elders to become a promising legislator. And with the deaths of his brothers John and Robert, he was compelled to become something more: the custodian of their political mission.
In Catching the Wind, Kennedy, using his late brothers’ moral authority, becomes a moving force in the great “liberal hour,” which sees the passage of the anti-poverty program and the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Then, with the election of Richard Nixon, he becomes the leading voice of liberalism itself at a time when its power is waning: a “shadow president,” challenging Nixon to keep the American promise to the marginalized, while Nixon lives in terror of a Kennedy restoration. Catching the Wind also shows how Kennedy’s moral authority is eroded by the fatal auto accident on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, dealing a blow not just to Kennedy but to liberalism.
In this sweeping biography, Gabler tells a story that is Shakespearean in its dimensions: the story of a star-crossed figure who rises above his seeming limitations and the tragedy that envelopes him to change the face of America.
Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy was not a callow afterthought to his larger-than-life brothers, but "the most consequential legislator of his lifetime" and an embodiment of liberalism's strengths and tragic weaknesses, according to this sweeping first installment in a planned two-volume biography. Cultural historian Gabler (An Empire of Their Own) recaps Kennedy's many years of patient, incremental lawmaking on immigration, the Voting Rights Act, health insurance, and campaign finance. He also situates Kennedy in a larger narrative about the dismantling of the "post New Deal modern liberal consensus" as liberalism's "moral authority" was undermined by the Vietnam War, which Ted Kennedy was slow to oppose; by public perceptions of liberals' ethical laxness and irresponsibility, which were stoked by Kennedy's handling of the car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne on Chappaquiddick in 1969; and by liberals' failure to bridge the gap between their civil-rights agenda and the racial resentments of the white working-class part of their base. There's plenty of drama and pathos, including a riveting recreation of physical attacks on Kennedy by mobs of Boston anti-busing protesters, but Gabler pierces the haze of glamour surrounding the Kennedy clan to get at the substance of the politics they personified. This elegantly written and shrewdly insightful account is a must-read for political history buffs.