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review 2018-04-16 23:40
RFK & THE PEOPLES' CAMPAIGN OF 1968
The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America - Thurston Clarke

This year marks 50 YEARS since Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) embarked upon what was, at its outset, a seemingly quixotic quest for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and ultimately, the Presidency itself. 

From the time Kennedy declared himself a candidate on March 16, 1968 in the Senate Caucus Room (where 8 years earlier, his older brother, Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy of Massachusetts, had declared his candidacy for the Presidency in 1960 - leading to a successful presidential campaign which Robert Kennedy himself had managed), he was resented as an opportunist because he had waited until Senator Eugene McCarthy's (D-MN) surprising second place finish to LBJ in the New Hampshire primary a short time earlier to throw his hat in the ring. 

For the first two weeks of the campaign, Kennedy's main focus was highlighting the retreat of the Johnson Administration from some of its Great Society programs and the disastrous Vietnam policy - with his urging that the war be ended, leaving the South Vietnamese themselves to secure their sovereignty. Then LBJ announced at month's end that he wouldn't run for an additional term as President. That compelled Kennedy to change the impetus of his campaign, laying renewed emphasis on dealing with issues of poverty, civil rights, Native American and Chicano rights. 

Clarke does an excellent job of showing how the campaign unfolded with Kennedy boldly campaigning in both the Indiana and Nebraska primaries in the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination. Both states had strong Republican bases, which JFK had failed to carry in 1960. Though at heart a shy and sensitive person, Kennedy made it a point throughout his campaign of being direct, honest and among the people whom he wanted to vote for him. Many times, he would be mobbed by his supporters who came to see Kennedy as a politician who would do what he said he would do to address their needs and concerns. He was the one politician in that campaign who came to bridge the gap between Black and white, rich and poor, young and old.

The climax of the campaign for Robert Kennedy would be the California primary of June 4, 1968. Before focusing his efforts on California, Robert Kennedy had journeyed to Columbus, OH, to speak with members of the uncommitted Ohio delegation. Kenny O’Donnell [who had been Kennedy's roommate at Harvard and later worked as a close aide to President Kennedy] helped to organize this meeting, stressing to Kennedy NOT to be late. Well, Kennedy ended up mixing with supporters on the streets of Columbus and ended up 3 hours late. It didn’t look good when Kennedy belatedly arrived in that hotel. “He walked into a room filled with angry, sullen, and inebriated delegates, and saved himself by delivering what O’Donnell called ‘the best damn speech I have ever heard in my life.’ “

“O’Donnell was ecstatic, saying later, ‘He knew just what they wanted to hear and acted as if he loved being there…. He just handled himself beautifully. He was his brother. It was fantastic. The women just went ga-ga over him. They were unanimous – all the old pros were taken aback by how much they liked him. This was not the Bob Kennedy they had read about. This was not the ruthless arrogant young fellow. All they kept saying was, ‘He’s just like Jack! He’s just like Jack!’ I knew he could go all the way, then. Once he had California in his pocket, he would have Daley and all the pros were going to love him. I was never worried about the general election.”

Then tragedy ensued. 


I have long admired both President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy for their service and devotion to humanity and their promotion of public service as an agency for improving peoples' lives. To Thurston Clarke I am grateful for giving me a tangible sense of what the 1968 campaign was like, as well as access to the accounts of various personalities who played key and unsung roles in that campaign. For though I was alive in 1968, I was much too young to have any memories of that year's historical events.

 

For anyone reading this review who finds him/herself wanting to know more about Robert Kennedy, I recommend the following 2 books ~

i) ROBERT KENNEDY: His Life by Evan Thomas
ii) BOBBY KENNEDY: The Making of a Liberal Icon by Larry Tye

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text 2018-04-07 05:54
SOLDIERING IN THE BRITISH RAJ IN THE EDWARDIAN ERA
Old Soldier Sahib - Frank Richards

"OLD SOLDIER SAHIB" was written by Frank Richards as a follow-up to his widely acclaimed First World War memoir "Old Soldiers Never Die."

Richards shares with the reader some aspects of his early life leading up to his enlistment in the British Army in 1901 during the waning days of the Boer War. It is fascinating to see through his eyes a glimpse of how life in Britain was for a working class person at that time, as well as gain an understanding of how the Army trained soldiers and carried out its regular functions. 

After a year of home service, Richards' unit is shipped to India, where he shares with the reader much of what he did and experienced there. This, for me, was perhaps the best part of the memoir because, as someone who visited India in February 2003, I savored the opportunity to see British India through Richards' eyes. One example from Richards' time in India that made me chuckle was the following: 

"A man in my tent at Meerut had bought a very clever little monkey and dressed him up with little striped trousers, red coat and a pill-box on the side of his head. He gave him a little wooden musket too and trained him at the word of command to go through all the arms-drill that a soldier was taught. He had a small collar around his neck, to which was attached a long thin chain. During the day he was tied up with this chain to a large tent-peg outside the tent; on cold nights he slept at the foot of his master's bed. The man badly wanted to see what effect a drop of beer would have on his pet, so one day he brought about a pint and half of beer in a basin from Canteen and held it for him to have a drink. The monkey took a good drink and the way he smacked his lips afterwards made some of us who were looking on think that it was not the first occasion that he had tasted beer. By the time had drained the basin dry he was helplessly drunk. He staggered towards the tent-peg to lean his arms on it, which was usual custom when resting during the day; but he must have been seeing a dozen pegs, because each time that he put on his arms to lean on it he was still two or three feet away. After falling down half a dozen times, he gave it up and the last time he fell he went to sleep. He now took the habit of accompanying his master to the Canteen every evening; after he performed a few tricks he would go along from table to table, holding out a little tin mug for a drop of beer to be put in it. Night after night he got gloriously drunk, and after he had been with us twelve months his master awoke one morning to find him dead at the foot of his bed. All the boozers were convinced that he had drunk himself to death, which in their opinion was the most noble and happy end to which either man or monkey could come."

Eventually, Richards' unit was transferred to Burma, where he served out the remainder of his Army service. Then he returned to Britain (1909), where he was put into reserve status. A status he maintained until August 1914. 

For anyone keen to experience a way of life long past from someone who lived it, "Old Soldier Sahib" is the book to read.
 

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review 2018-03-21 01:45
JFK & RFK - AMERICA'S DYNAMIC DUO
The Kennedy Brothers: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby - Richard D. Mahoney,David Talbot

"THE KENNEDY BROTHERS: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby" offers the reader various views and perspectives on the evolution of the relationship between John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert between 1951 and 1963. At the same time, it also provides, in a large sense, a living history of the Kennedy Administration; the challenges, setbacks and triumphs it experienced; and the roles Robert Kennedy played in that history as Attorney General (e.g. his relentless fight against organized crime and his moral support for the cause of civil rights) and enforcer and protector of his brother, the President. 

Then we also experience the inner struggles and agonies Robert Kennedy endured after his brother was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963. After years of supporting JFK through his various political campaigns and in the White House, he was faced with having to find his own voice and place. In the process, Robert Kennedy's humaneness and compassion for the poor and disenfranchised - coupled with his fearlessness and the spirit of his character - came to define him in the eyes of millions of Americans as he went on to win election to the U.S. Senate from New York in 1964 and embarked on the path that led him to his last crusade, his run for the Presidency in 1968. 

In the words of the author: "... the Kennedys, with all their romance and irony, finally unite in an aesthetic comparable to the Greeks that they read about and quoted: they were daring and they were doomed, and they knew it and accepted it. They would die and make their deaths into creative acts of history. They would be heroes. And they would give their country an imperishable poignancy in its heart."

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review 2018-02-03 05:59
RESURRECTION OF AN OBSCURE WWI AIR HERO
Bill Lambert: World War I Flying Ace - Samuel J. Wilson

Samuel J. Wilson through this book has brought back to life Bill Lambert (1894-1982), an American fighter pilot who had flown with the British during the First World War. Lambert, who emerged from the war, as America's second ranking ace, had fallen into obscurity in the early postwar years (for a host of reasons, mostly owing to his desire to put the war firmly behind him) and wouldn't be "discovered" by the general public til the publication of his wartime memoir "Combat Report" in the early 1970s. ("Combat Report" - which I read several months ago - offers a fine, gripping account of Lambert's experiences with No. 24 Squadron on the Western Front between March and August 1918.)

The book traces Lambert's life from his wartime experiences (which led to a nervous breakdown which profoundly affected the rest of his life), to his brief stint as a barnstormer and airmail pilot in 1919 and 1920 (which show a Lambert that may surprise most readers), a salesman, a small businessman and inventor in his hometown (Ironton, Ohio), his service as an officer in the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) during the Second World War, and his later life as a First World War aviation artist, author, and sought-after luminary. 

My own fault with the book is its glaring typos, which somewhat detract from the quality of the text. 

In all likelihood, "BILL LAMBERT: WORLD WAR I FLYING ACE" is a book that will have greater appeal to aviation enthusiasts and history buffs than the casual reader. Nevertheless, it is a book worth reading to get a sense of a world that no longer exists.
 

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review 2018-01-02 03:42
Vacationland by John Hodgeman
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches - John Hodgman

John Hodgeman throws away centuries of WASP tradition and tells everyone what he's <i>feeling</i>. The silver lining is that people can finally talk about how horrible Maine is. The water is freezing, the beaches are sharp, the lakes are bottomed with Lovecraftian horrors, and the people hate you.

Despite all of that, Hodgman carries over some of the charm of the region into his humorous essays. Where he falls apart is the whole white privilege thing. It doesn't matter how often you deprecatingly point it out, there's still something distasteful about reading about the problems of having enough money to hold onto additional houses for sentimental reasons.

There are also some problematic stories about recreational pot, which is like listening to someone talk about how much beer they drank in college, and other stories that need something more than what Hodgeman put into them to make them rise above their subject matter. That is a super-vague criticism, but its all I've got at the moment.

The positives are that even in those downer-essays there are nuggets of humor and insight that made me roar with laughter. Hodgeman is a funny guy, and this is a successful funny book.

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