A COMMON GOOD by Helen O'Donnell


The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O'Donnell
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A moving and intimate study of a unique friendship but also of the time and place, now long ago, in which this friendship formed and blossomed. O’Donnell (founder of the Democracy Foundation and a longtime political activist) is the daughter of Kenneth O’Donnell. This work is the fulfillment of a promise she made to her father to tell the story of Robert Kennedy before it’s forgotten, before revisionist history makes of his life less than it was. It’s the story not just of two men, though this is central, but of a group of men who met at Harvard in the early post-WWII years and believed that they had the gifts and responsibility to change the world. As confident and cocky as the US was itself at the time, they did indeed make their mark on history. O’Donnell was with Kennedy throughout Kennedy’s adult life, throughout all the campaigns, the political and personal struggles, the transformation of Kennedy from a distant political operative to a passionate crusader. He entered the White House as JFK’s chief of staff and earned the nickname “Cobra” for his fierce protectiveness of the president and for a demeanor that did not suffer fools lightly. O’Donnell was a man in a man’s world (there are few women central to this story), yet his brusque, macho, can-do image’so like the Kennedys— own—is softened here by stories of warmth,, wit, and kindness. He was devastated by the death first of JFK and then of —Bobby,— riddled with guilt (he decided the final motorcade route for JFK in Dallas, he encouraged Bobby to run for the presidency). “The silence would become deafening,” as the author writes, in the last years of O’Donnell’s life. He would die in 1977 a broken man. In her introduction, the author notes that she set out to write “a good book about two good men.” In this she has succeeded. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 10th, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-14861-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998