The best of 50 years of writing on Ted, Robert, John, and the rest of the famous family


Sen. Edward Kennedy’s death on Aug. 25 at age 77 has prompted many Americans to recall his storied career. Both polarizing and undeniably fascinating, Ted Kennedy and his family have provided material for writers for more than 50 years. Here are some of the highlights on the bookshelves:

Edward M. Kennedy
For a portrait of the senator as a tireless legislator and a champion of working-class Americans, check out Adam Clymer’s meticulous 1999 bio, Edward M. Kennedy. If you’re interested in his role in the tragedy of Chappaquiddick — a chapter of his life that taught him, and us, about the dangers of power and entitlement — try Joyce Carol Oates’ riveting fictionalization, Black Water.

John F. Kennedy
Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s 1965 book, A Thousand Days, remains the starting point for all JFK scholarship. Though it’s a ”personal memoir” from someone who plainly admires the president, Days carefully dissects the various players in Kennedy’s White House. Published nearly 40 years later, Robert Dallek’s An Unfinished Life suggests that some of JFK’s reckless behavior was fueled by health scares and an acceptance of his own fragile mortality.

Robert F. Kennedy
Ruthless yet vulnerable, compassionate yet petulant, RFK was still evolving as a politician and a man when he was gunned down while campaigning for the presidency in 1968. Evan Thomas perfectly captures the complex pol in 2000’s Robert Kennedy: His Life.

The Kennedy Family
Though the nation’s romance with the Kennedys began during WWII, reporter Thomas Maier reached even further back for 2003’s The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings. He delves into tabloid fodder, such as Jackie’s suicidal urges, but also chronicles the family from its first Irish immigrant to JFK Jr.’s fatal 1999 plane crash.

Want to read more? You’re in luck: Ted Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass, completed before his death, goes on sale Sept. 14. The publisher, Twelve, is anticipating a hit — it’s printing 1.5 million copies, as well as 1,000 leather-bound limited editions available in October (but be prepared to pay $1,000 for one!).