- Historic Sites
Robert Kennedy And His Times
October/November 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 6
by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Houghton Mifflin Company 1,000 pages, 25 photographs, $19.95
In 1965 when Arthur Schlesinger wrote about John F. Kennedy in A Thousand Days , he called his book a memoir. This book he calls a biography, and he strives to keep a historian’s distance from his subject. But Robert Kennedy was a beloved friend, and there are sections here in which Schlesinger the biographer merges with Schlesinger the participant, the advocate.
The differences between the two Kennedy brothers were more striking than their similarities. Schlesinger characterizes JFK as a Brahmin, and Robert as a puritan; John as a happy, often merry man, and Robert as a sad one who used a grim, self-mocking humor to hide pain. Both men fought hard against social injustices—John because “he found them irrational,” Robert “because he found them unbearable.” And Schlesinger feels that the President was much the tougher of the two, in spite of Bobby’s reputation for ruthlessness.
Many people—and not only Republicans—distrusted and disliked RFK. Lyndon Johnson was one of them, and in this case the feeling was mutual. The two men simply “could not abide each other.” J. Edgar Hoover was also a Bobby hater, a singularly implacable one. The story of Hoover’s persecution of Martin Luther King, carried on mostly behind the back of his boss, Attorney General Kennedy, is one of the most chilling in this book.
To read the story of Robert Kennedy and his times, as told by a distinguished historian, is to see from a new and revealing angle all the public issues we read about, argued about, guessed at, and grieved over in the fifties and sixties. The book is powerful—and sad.