Books: Teddy and Robert

Two books rebalance the myths and realities of the younger Kennedy brothers

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Steel calls his book a "meditation" on Robert Kennedy's life. Relieved of the burden of having to tell the whole story, Steel's book is brisk and analytical. He paints this Kennedy as haunted by all sorts of demons, not the least of which was his important role in urging his brother John to commit American forces in Vietnam. This made R.F.K. reluctant to step forward as the candidate of the anti-war movement in 1968 until the bolder Eugene McCarthy had demonstrated President Lyndon Johnson's unpopularity in his own party.

Steel also argues that Robert Kennedy's nomination was still far from a sure thing, even after he won the California primary. Thus the popular notion that assassination prevented another Kennedy presidency is seen as largely false. Steel paints Robert as much more conservative than the liberal, even radical movement he sought to lead. But his huge appeal is rooted in the fact that he was a troubled man in a troubled time. "The Bobby Myth," he concludes, "is our creation, not his." Steel makes Robert seem less than we remember; Clymer makes Teddy more important than we may have thought.

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