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In 'True Compass' Kennedy Leads the Way

Kennedy Omega Ad
Kennedy Omega Ad

Last week, my family and I were in St. Petersburg, Russia window-shopping when we found ourselves standing outside an Omega store staring at the window display: a huge portrait of President John F Kennedy.

I was struck at how odd it was that the image of this Kennedy—who went toe to toe with the leaders of the then-Soviet Republic—was now shining down on a new capitalism-friendly generation of Russians, trying to inspire them to buy a watch.

I tried to explain to my 11-year old daughters what it was like back then when the world was in fear of another world war, but they could have cared less of my impromptu history lesson—they had their eyes set on some of those Matryoshka dolls.

But that night, when we got back to our rooms, we heard the news that Senator Edward Kennedy had died at the age of 77. My girls, like it or not, got their history lesson.

And now we’re all going to get a new history lesson—this one from the late Senator himself.

Twelve, a division of the Hachette Book Group, has announced that “True Compass,” the Senator’s posthumous memoir will go on sale September 14th. The book was supposed to have gone on sale in 2010 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the election of his brother, President Kennedy, but was moved up because of the Senator’s illness.

True Compass - Edward M. Kennedy
True Compass
True Compass - Edward M. Kennedy

The New York Times obtained a copy of the book and offered us some brilliant insight into what the 532 pages have to offer.

According to the NY Times, Kennedy “called his behavior after the 1969 car accident that killed Mary Jo Kopechne ‘inexcusable’ and said the events might have shortened the life of his ailing father, Joseph P. Kennedy.”

While his reflections/confessions on this episode don’t add much to what we already know, they do shed some light on how his actions weighed heavily on him and his family.

Kennedy wrote of other painful memories including his drinking and womanizing following his 1982 divorce from Joan and how the deaths of his brothers deeply affected him and his family. He wrote that he didn’t run for the presidency again in 1984 (he challenged then president Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980) because his children feared for his life.

In raw and often intimate terms, Mr. Kennedy wrote of the despair he experienced after brother Robert’s assassination in 1968, “I tried to stay ahead of the darkness.” Kennedy wrote that he would flinch at loud, sudden noises like the explosion of firecrackers, or hit the deck whenever a car backfired and that he began to drink to excess during that period driving Joan Kennedy “deeper into her anguish.”

Kennedy, a ‘bigger than life’ personality, wrote of his feelings of inadequacy: “As I think back to my three brothers, and about what they had accomplished before I was even out of my childhood, it sometimes has occurred to me that my entire life has been a constant state of catching up.”

In brutal honesty, Kennedy wrote how his past behavior had a way of catching up with him and his family-hard. Regarding the 1991 episode in Palm Beach when he went drinking with his son Patrick and nephew William K. Smith, who would be charged for rape-and then acquitted, Kennedy wrote of how his actions hurt his political clout a short time later when Clarence Thomaswas nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Kennedy was against the nomination, but, he wrote, “Hard truth: with all the background noise about Palm Beach and my bachelor lifestyle, I would have been the wrong person” to raise questions about Mr. Thomas’s alleged sexual harassment of Anita F. Hill.

Kennedy, long a favorite subject for the tabloids, wrote about the intense scrutinizing of the private lives of public officials. Kennedy wrote he had no quarrel with such inquiries, “But do I think it tells the whole story of character? No I truly do not … some people make mistakes and try to learn from them and do better. Our sins don’t define the whole picture of who we are.”

“True Compass,” goes on sale September 14th.

Questions, comments? bullishonbooks@cnbc.com