True compass : a memoir

by Edward M. Kennedy

Hardcover, 2009




New York, N.Y. : Twelve, 2009.


In this landmark autobiography, five years in the making, Senator Edward M. Kennedy tells his extraordinary personal story--of his legendary family, politics, and fifty years at the center of national events.

Media reviews

An engaging telling of Kennedy's storied life.
5 more
The late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy has produced a revelatory — though not tabloidesque — account of his storied life and career... Since people will no longer have the chance to sit with Mr. Kennedy on the porch of his home in his beloved Hyannisport overlooking the ocean as he sips hot tea and tells yarns, reading "True Compass" is the next best thing.
Touchingly candid, big-hearted and altogether superb... Completed in the shadow of the senator's own mortality, this is a book whose clarity of recollection and expression entitles it to share in the lineage established by America's first great memoir of public life -- "The Autobiography of U.S. Grant," which he wrote while himself dying of cancer.
If the writing about his marriage and Chappaquiddick in True Compass does not exactly seem introspective, neither does it ring false, and the rest of his life story — filled with colorful tales of his siblings and inside-the-Beltway detail — makes for a thoughtful, intermittently gut-wrenching read.
Mr. Kennedy is not a particularly introspective writer... But he writes in these pages with searching candor about the losses, joys and lapses of his life; the love and closeness of his family; the solace he found in sailing and the sea; his complex relationships with political allies and rivals. Mr. Kennedy’s conversational gifts as a storyteller and his sense of humor — so often remarked on by colleagues and friends — shine through here, as does his old-school sense of public service and his hard-won knowledge, in his son Teddy Jr.’s words, that “even our most profound losses are survivable.”

User reviews

LibraryThing member msf59
Senator Ted Kennedy never reached the heights of the presidency, but reading through this wonderful memoir, is like doing a Forrest Gump through modern American history. It touches on McCarthy’s witch-hunts, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Watergate, Reaganomics, the Iraq war, to the 2008 Democratic convention and those are just some of the attractions along his long, eventful life. Shortly after his death, in August of 2009, some of my friends, who are firmly on the right, called this man a scumbag, who had done nothing in his nearly 47 year senate run, of course I beg to differ. He was not perfect and had flaws like everyone else, but I think he served his country well and tagging along with him on memory row, was an absolute pleasure.… (more)
LibraryThing member mmanning1213
I am a true lover of the Kennedy family and I was very excited to read this book about the youngest Kennedy brother. I feel like Teddy was very honest and open. I immensely enjoyed his accounts of his life, his family (especially his brothers John and Bobby), the political pressure forced on him and his position as possibly the most influential senator in the history of our country. This book was a lovely read; I would recommend it to anyone.… (more)
LibraryThing member FireandIce
True Compass did not feel like a recitation of historical facts. Unlike other political memoirs, it did not feel like a feast of ego. Reading this book was inspiring. It reminded me that there are (or at least there were) still good people out there fighting the good fight. It's the life story of a man who was born into privilege, but never forgot the old adage "to who much is given, much will be expected".… (more)
LibraryThing member berryhappy
Saw the family interviewed on Oprah. His wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy and his son Ted Kennedy, Jr. described passages and events which made this book irresistable. He kept detailed notes of his entire life so that he could complete this memoir. The book begins with Ted as a child and his boarding schooldays, thru his papal first communion. College and his brothers are chapters which made me laugh and cry. He does not dwell on either assassination. You feel you are with him at each age as he describes his life. This book is so beautifully written. As I finished the book, I was at work, at lunch. People stopped to find out why I was crying. He died was all I could say. The book made him feel so alive. Not to be missed.… (more)
LibraryThing member keegopatrick
This was a great book! It opened up a whole new world of interest by giving me my first inside look into the famous Kennedys. I had always been a big fan of Teddy Kennedy but I never knew that what I was seeing since the 1990's was but a very small part of all that Ted has been involved with. In this book I got a first hand look at The Kennedy clan from Teds child hood in the WWII era, JFK assassination, Bobby Kennedy assassination, Watergate and the list just goes on and on! Ted really explains some of the most important events of the 20th century and gives us a great look inside the sacred institution of the U.S Senate. Since finishing this book I have began reading PT 109 the true story of his brother Jack/John Kennedy s near death experience in the Pacific during WWII. I expect to be reading much more about the Kennedys thanks to this well written auto biography of the great Democrat Ted Kennedy!… (more)
LibraryThing member Doondeck
EMK did a very credible and honest job with this memoir. He comes across as a likable and smart public servant. This book is well written in the style of a story teller. I have always been a big fan of the Kennedys and I really miss all of them.
LibraryThing member alanna1122
I really enjoyed reading this memoir.

I loved the easy prose that really made me feel like Senator Kennedy was just telling his story - it felt intimate and sincere.

I particularly enjoyed the first part of the book that dealt with his family life as the youngest Kennedy. I'm not sure that anyone has ever lived a life so filled with privilege and tragedy at the same time.

I learned a lot about the Kennedys while reading this book and I think I have a greater understand and compassion for all of them for reading it. It is a really wonderful book full of anecdotes and insight. The pictures are wonderful too.

I think anyone who is open to reading this memoir would really enjoy it.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
I have always been a fan of the entire Kennedy clan, so it is hard for me to be objective when 'reviewing' this book. It is well written with typical Kennedy lyric prose; it is well-organized into sections that are somewhat different from a typical lineal time-line autobiography; it contains dozens of photographs that are not the standards we're used to seeing; and most important, it gives us an insight into a man who may be the least known of the famous family.

When I say least known, I don't mean not famous or well-known, but more private in terms of sharing his thoughts and inner motivations. The influence of his father, and his older brothers is beautifully explained, as well as his love of sailing and the sea (hence the title.)

We are treated to stories about his relations with his parents, all his siblings and their spouses, his children and grandchildren, both his wives, his dozens of nieces and nephews, and his close friends. In these, his introspection shines, as he opens the door to his feelings and emotions which have often been tucked away from private view.

His respect for the Senate, and his pride in having served there for so long and so well are quite evident, and provide us with some of the most eloquent prose in the book, although here the book could have done with a bit of editing down...there was lots of detailed information about meetings, and phone calls and bargains struck that probably could have been pared a bit.

His love for his family is especially evident, in the chapter where he speaks of being buffeted by the deaths of his mother at age 104, his nephew Michael in a skiing accident, Jackie Onnasis, and his nephew John Kennedy Jr in a plane crash -- all within five years. As the surviving patriarch, he is called upon to eulogize all of them, a feat that requires him to keep his own grief somewhat tucked in.

In the end of this he quotes his father in a letter Joe Kennedy Sr wrote to a grieving friend on the loss of his son:

"There are no words to dispel your feelings at this time, and there is no time that will ever dispel them...I cannot share your grief, because no one could share mine. When one of your children goes out of your life, you think of what he might have done with a few more years, and you wonder what you are going to do with the rest of yours. Then one day, because there is a world to be lived in, you find yourself a part of it again, trying to accomplish something--something that he did not have time enough to do. And, perhaps, that is the reason for it all. I hope so."

Ted Kennedy continues: "I wish that life were simpler. I wish that loved ones didn't have to die too young. I wish that tragedy never haunted a single soul. But to wish all that is to ask for an end to our humanity. God, family, and country sustain us all."

His indomitable spirit, inherited from parents, and nourished by his experiences in this incredible family, have left us all enriched. His memoir provides us with the inspiration to continue his work.
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LibraryThing member joanj
I picked this up because I had seen it recommended in many places and figured that I should at least take a look at it. I am not a great lover of nonfiction and Ted Kennedy had never been one of my favorite Kennedys - so I had not expected to do any more than give this book a cursory glance. However, once I started it, I found that I could not put it down. I thoroughly enjoyed this look into the Kennedy clan through the eyes of one of its members. I gained a new-found respect for Ted Kennedy - especially for all he has done for the country, most of which was behind-the-scenes bringing our elected officials together for the good of our country. Kennedy also shared the family's rules of never whining or complaining and of never flaunting one's wealth or stature. He also made it explicitly clear that he NEVER responded to rumors or gossip. I finished this book realizing that we as a nation lost a rare and valuable statesman who I think have been the end of an era....… (more)
LibraryThing member ATechwreck
Kennedy's personality shines through this easy reading history. Though not a terribly introspective autobiography, this book is still an interesting read. I felt Kennedy wrote this book for his family and friends, focusing on happy memories and making every person in his life feel valued.
LibraryThing member janetcoletti
Loved the first half, lots of history, the second half dragged for me, glad when I finished it.
LibraryThing member photomarg
Could have used some more editing. A bit ponderous at times, but a great description of a great life. I particularly liked the descriptions of his life with his second wife, although it did seem like he was trying too hard to overcome earlier failings in this area. Nevertheless, a worthwhile read.
LibraryThing member Amante
Book is very bland, controversial issues are stepped over
or lightly touched on, sad, since his insights could have been useful to history. The book does go a long ways to explain the family and its public image.
LibraryThing member bookalover89
Briliant memoir! In tender details he describes his childhood, relationships with his siblings, early years of in the Senate, and how he got throught the dark times of his extraordinary life. He will be greatly missed.
LibraryThing member Kanellio
TRUE COMPASS follows so soon after, with fresh memories of Ted Kennedy’s recent illness and death. With his funeral still fresh in our minds, this memoir is harder to read, as the memories the reader has are still so new and painfully alive. And so this book at this time is truly more than a casual read; it is a personal experience.

I found the book to be an amazingly hypnotic read, divided into two main parts, written in a narrative way that made it easy to read and hard to put down. One part tells of the Kennedy family while the other is fairly strictly about Ted Kennedy’s work over the past 47 years in the U. S. Senate.

The Kennedy family story of course has to be told and include the part that the head of the family, Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. played in what many American call “our royal family” and their rise to fame. The Kennedy family was and still is an extremely wealthy family. Much of the personal part of the memoir we read with awe at the lifestyle the family lived and maintains till this day. There is much truthfulness, often said with a bit of humor, about the rough housing, sports loving, sailing family gatherings. References to the family traveling to Europe and elsewhere as if it were no more than any American family would do are stated without pretension but merely as everyday facts.

The not so pretty parts are also included although not in as great a detail. Memories of the nine children, their lives as they grew including marriages, and divorce—Senator Kennedy’s own recounting even though not in great detail, of the events of Chappaquiddick and the accident including its consequences and partial responsibility on his part are there. He explained in a very straightforward manner about his divorce while he detailed with loving words the marriage to his second wife. None of this is secret, all of it is part of most of our own personal knowledge, and yet hearing it from the Senator himself, seems to feed the desire we Americans have to be part of this family’s inner most secrets. The tragedies of the family are not brushed aside. The never ending heartbreak of events that began with the death of Ted’s brother Joseph in WWII, and the mental illness of his sister, Rosemary, lead up to the fateful assassinations of both brothers, President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy in his pursuit for the presidency. The sadness in his telling of John Jr.’s plane crash just adds to the heartbreak this family has been dealt and the American people have lived though with this family.

The other part elaborates on Kennedy’s time in the U. S. Senate which ranges from periods of pure hatred, especially when he was called a “murderer”, to his campaigns, and the foes he dealt with in standing up for his liberal views with great pride. He goes into his support of the working people, minorities, civil rights, and of course, health care.

Kennedy doesn’t disappoint when it comes to talking about rivals, and some inside information he surely seems to be delighted to share. Information like how poorly he felt that Reagan and George W. Bush ran the country. He is extremely, but not surprisingly, harsh in his discussion of Jimmy Carter. Although he touches on the relationship between his brother Robert and Lyndon Johnson, he doesn’t go in depth into the real distaste between the two but he doesn’t shy away from the inaccurate image some of the public had for his brother Robert as a cold blooded and hard hearted leader. This truly annoyed and hurt Ted Kennedy and he makes it known. Kennedy does also present many stories that were amusing, surprising, and informational as well as entertaining about individuals, relationships, and incidents.

However, not surprisingly, health care is a strong and well-delivered message in TRUE COMPASS. The current battle at stake over individuals’ health care is well served by this book. I found out that there is even a chance that the bill if and when it passes, may be named after the man who fought so long for health reform. Ted Kennedy makes no apologies and tell in the book that this current issue of health care reform is the battle he was waging most recently in Congress and explains what has gone wrong in it not getting passed in earlier years but emphasizes how important the bill is now!

In closing, the book is not a statement on your politics or how you feel toward Ted Kennedy but rather a look back at a hugely influential man and his family and what they have given to our country. Working with Ron Powers, Powers did have to reel Kennedy in on this and although he isn’t given up front billing, he did play a big part in the writing of this book and that is acknowledged by Senator Kennedy at length inside the book. If you read a lot about politics or not, this IS an amazingly interesting book and like him or not, you can’t help but be interested in his story. Senator Kennedy, I applaud you, on a personal level, for what I feel was a truthfully written memoir and one that should make every American think…. and harkens back to your brother’s inaugural speech when he asked “..Ask not what your country can do for you…” as we should all be asking ….Karen Haney, October, 2009
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LibraryThing member wirtley
Very interesting. Biography of Edward Kennedy. Told in simple language.
LibraryThing member LoisCK
If you admire Ted Kennedy for his devotion to our country, you will enjoy this lovely memoir. Yes, he had his faults, but he also had a lot to live up to and a lot of loss in his life. He found a way to not only survive but to continuosly and doggedly work for all of the people of this great country.
LibraryThing member briandrewz
This was a wonderful memoir. Any student of history, regardless of their political position, should read this book. Ted Kennedy keeps you spellbound as he weaves his tale of life in the Kennedy family and life in politics. As you read the book, you get the feeling that the Senator is sitting across from you telling the story to you personally. This book navigates us through American politics and history through the last seventy-five years. An amazing recollection of memories from one of America's most enduring political figures.… (more)
LibraryThing member TeenieLee
I heart Ted Kennedy... so there wasn't much I didn't already know. I would have liked more anecdotes and less scenes of him walking on the beach letting his grief wash over him.

LibraryThing member melissarochelle
Great to read about the Kennedy family from a Kennedy. Ted Kennedy was one of the greatest figures of the last decade and it's a shame that there aren't more politicians like him.
LibraryThing member timmydc
The memoir of Edward "Ted" Kennedy, released posthumously just after the third longest serving member of the senate passed away in the summer of 2009, it provides a personal look at Kennedy's relations with his family, his role in the senate, relations with other members of congress, and how he came to grips with the tragedies which befell four siblings and three nephews.… (more)
LibraryThing member christinejoseph
his parents took him to many historic places
Tutored while in Hospital — traveled often to Africa, India

The youngest of nine children born to Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, he came of age among siblings from whom much was expected. As a young man, he played a key role in the presidential campaign of his brother John F. Kennedy, recounted here in loving detail. In 1962 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he began a fascinating political education and became a legislator.… (more)
LibraryThing member kenkarpay
At times surprisingly candid autobiography. Assessment of his relationship with 10 US presidents is insightful and revealing.



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