‘Bobby Kennedy, A Raging Spirit’ by Chris Matthews was published by Simon and Schuster in 2017. COURTESY PHOTO

Bobby Kennedy, A Raging Spirit
by Chris Matthews
Published by Simon and Schuster 2017
Pages 377 Price $17

In this powerful yet sensitively written book, Bobby Kennedy comes alive again. From altar boy, to ambassador’s son, to struggling student at Milton Academy and Harvard, he lived in the shadow of his older brothers. After facing the traumatic loss of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, becoming the leader of his family, and winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, Bobby decided to run for president himself. Chris Matthews writes with moving passion in the prologue of the book, “ Eighty days after announcing for the presidency Robert Kennedy was killed by a bullet just as his brother had been.” The enormous tragedies which the Kennedy family has endured  over the years are beyond words, but the author relates the biggest tragedy is that Bobby did not get a chance to be recognized as the great human being and leader that he was.

Matthew states,”There are two main characters in Bobby’s story. One was his father, Joseph P. Kennedy, arrogant and  autocratic, whose single minded goal was to propel his first born all the way to the White House and whom Bobby could never please. The other main character in Bobby’s life story was his brother Jack, whom he idealized.”

Matthews points out poignantly how hard Bobby tried to please his father. He wasn’t the intellect that Jack was and he wasn’t the athlete in the family either. He had difficulty in school but he got along and finally got into Harvard. He made up for Jack’s easy intellectual accomplishments by working hard and making good decisions. He became the decision maker in his family. His loyalty to his family was devout. As a decision maker he made the hard decisions that got his brother Jack into the White House.

Matthews states that “Over my years in Washington I have seen the rarity of hero worship, few are recognized. Yet Robert Francis Kennnedy is quietly revered as the genuine article. As difficult as he was to figure out and at many times to deal with, in matters of justice people believed he’d do exactly what he said he would.”

Matthews has been following our country’s politics since the early 1950’s. He was a young boy when General Eisenhower  entered the White House. Then in 1960 he was riveted in watching John F. Kennedy debate Richard Nixon. Then Kennedy became President. In a controversial move Jack named Bobby as the Attorney General of the United States. Bobby made decisions to send federal troops into Alabama to open up the university. Jack was the great light in the family, but Bobby was the protector of that light and an important decision maker.

Matthews writes with compassion, respect, and awe of the Kennedy family in this book. He states, “When Jack Kennedy was president in those upbeat early years of the 1960’s, and when Bobby ran for president, the special Kennedy atmosphere captured the day. There was a spring in the country’s step.”

I agree with Matthews. I remember voting for John F. Kennedy. He was the first president that I was allowed to vote for at 21 in those days. It was so exciting. Excitement was in the air along with a certain sense of hope. We do not have that atmosphere in America today. Positive atmosphere starts at the top with the leadership in the White House.

There are conflicting views on Bobby’s reaction to Jack Kennedy’s call to Mrs. Martin Luther King Jr. offering sympathy when King was jailed. At first Bobby felt they might lose votes because of that call. Then he thought it over and realized the abuse of power which the judge made by not allowing King bail was outrageous. He understood his brother did the right thing with a call to Mrs. King. Later Bobby called the judge himself and found someone to arrange bail. There are many things the public never knew about Bobby Kennedy that Matthews reveals in this warm and meaningful book.

For example, it was Bobby’s father who pressured him into being an assistant  counsel in the McCarthy hearing investigation in 1952. Bobby disagreed with McCarthy and finally resigned in 1953. Jack also had difficulties with his father on issues but both brothers loved their father unconditionally even knowing he had made some mistakes in judgement, especially about an important  issue in World War II. Joseph P. Kennedy thought Hitler was not a threat and wanted to compromise. That was an issue that both Jack and Bobby wanted buried but was a fact.

Joseph Kennedy was not a man who allowed disagreements among his sons.. It was Kenny O’Donnell, a close family friend and trusted political campaign aid, who became a peaceful intermediary in the family in getting along with their father. Each son had to find his own way in search of their own identities as leaders, regardless of having many advantages.

Matthews shows the amazing things that Bobby did dealing with many issues including going against Jimmy Hoffa and exposing union exploitation and corruption. Going against Hoffa was another position his father was against. Bobby opposed discrimination against  immigrants, people of color, and opposed the Vietnam War, all positions  in which he stood alone.

This is a meaningful book about a powerful man who grew in every office he held.The effect of JFK’s assassination was earth shattering to Bobby. Matthews states, “After Dallas Bobby threw himself into making a difference for those he recognized as life’s victims.The tragedy in Bobby’s life was he never got to show the great leader he had become.”

For a better understanding of one of America’s most outstanding families, and a man who was in the shadow of his brother all his life, but was equal to him in different ways, read this book, “Bobby Kennedy, A Raging Spirit.” He was a man for all seasons, who few people really knew. I recommend it highly.

***

The Paris Librarian
by Mark Pryor
Published by Seventh Street Books 2016
Pages 259 Price$ 15.95 Paperback

International intrigue is found again in the Mark Pryor mystery series about Hugo Marston, Chief of Security at the American Embassy in Paris. Mark Pryor has written 6 novels in this series. Each novel has a different mystery but Hugo Marston  remains the same. In each novel we find out new things about Hugo as well as a new mystery.

In the novel “The Paris Librarian” we find out that Marston, in addition to being Security Chief at the American Embassy, collects books as a hobby. He likes first editions and also signed copies of books.  His good friend, Paul Rogers, is the Director of the American Library in Paris and gives him tips when books will be on sale. In fact Rogers tells him there might be something coming up, a signed copy of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” Marston asks,”How much?” Rogers says $3000. Marston replies that he will think about it, knowing he does not spend that on any kind of book. However, we know Marston likes to read!!

Marston’s friend Tom Green, a former CIA agent, arranges  a luncheon meeting at a local cafe to introduce him to two women, Meryln, a socialite old friend, and her new friend Miki, a journalist, who wants to write about an old movie star, Isabelle Severin, a 90- year- old recluse still living in Paris. Miki is looking for papers of Severin’s  activities during World War II. There is a rumor that Severin was a spy for the Allies. Hugo knows everyone in Paris, or knows how to get information about everyone in Paris, and that is the motivation for the reunion in the cafe.

Hugo is going to the American Library in Paris tomorrow for their book sale and he will ask his friend Paul Rogers about possible papers in his library associated with Severin and see what he can find out.

Curious because that is Marston’s temperament, he calls his friend Rogers and asks if there are papers associated with Severin in his library. Rogers says yes. As a matter of fact Rogers is in charge of them but he hasn’t looked through all of the material yet. Plus he has a secret, he tells Marston. He is writing a book. Marston says he will be over at 11 a.m. the next morning.

Marston arrives at the American Library at 11 a.m. but cannot find his friend Paul Rogers. A crowd for the sale is milling around but it is strange his friend is not one of the people there. Marston meets Nicole, one of the reference librarians. She knows exactly where Paul writes in the morning in the basement. Nicole shows Marston where it is. Marston goes down the steps to the basement room. The door is locked and Marston hunts to find the key. He finds a person, Michael Harmouth, who has a key and they open the door. They find Paul Rogers, the Director of the American Library, dead.

Marston calls the police. While the crime squad comes over  Marston wanders through the basement and finds Miki looking at the Severin Collection which has been grouped together, but not catalogued yet. Journalists are fearless, Marston thinks, and asks what she is doing there. She is looking for information about Isabelle Severin and appears to have no knowledge that the police are investigating a death on the other side of the basement. Many plots are intricately woven as the story races on. A key character is Claire, Marston’s “girl Friday” who always saves him through some simple but logical act. If you want to find out who killed Paul Rogers and if Isabelle Severin was a spy for the Allies during Wolrd War II, you will have to read the book.

The story is exciting because the author knows Paris so well that he describes streets like he is living there. Mark Pryor is an amazing storyteller. He lives in Texas and is a district attorney there in real life. However, his memory of Paris is so indelible that he creates streets, including public buildings on corners, in such detailed description, that you would think he is living there. He certainly brings the reader into Paris, France. I recommend it highly.

— Pat Davidson Reef is a graduate of Emerson College in Boston. She received her Masters Degree at the University of Southern Maine. She taught English and Art History at Catherine McAuley High for many years. She now teaches at the University of Southern Maine in Portland in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Classic Films. She recently wrote a children’s book,”Dahlov Ipcar Artist,” and has now completed another children’s book “Bernard Langlais Revisited.”

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