Sargent Shriver, more than any man except John F. Kennedy himself, probably embodied the optimism and idealism of the “New Frontier” of the Kennedy era. Yet, as Scott Stossell’s Sarge: The Life and Times of Sargent Shriver clearly explains, being a Kennedy in-law and thus “almost a Kennedy” was both a blessing and a curse to this remarkable man. It helped him to literally change the world through programs he created or helped create, but it effectively stalled his more conventional political career as a candidate for governor, Vice-President or President.
Frankly, I personally was not terribly interested in Sarge’s early life, his World War II adventures, or his courtship of Eunice Kennedy. But once his political career began, the book really took off for me and it was terribly interesting from the time Shriver began to organize the Peace Corps, through Head Start, The War on Poverty, and The Special Olympics, his time as Ambassador to France, and beyond.
What a lot the world owns to this man, with his endless optimism, enthusiasm and boundless energy!
Of course, the story of Shriver’s relationship with the Kennedy clan is fascinating and so is his interaction with LBJ, Nixon and Ford as well as other well-known political figures of the mid-20th Century. Through Scott Stossel’s meticulous research and balanced and detailed portrayal of Shriver, we learn a great deal about many important events and personalities of the ’60s, ’70s and beyond.
As you read this biography, you will not be able to avoid making comparisons between the political atmosphere in which Shriver operated, and the one we live in today. Reading about how Shriver was able to win over even those who did not agree with him with respect and perseverance, and about how he could encourage open and even heated debate in order to find solutions without causing hatred and bitterness among opposing parties certainly made me wish we had more men like Sargent Shriver in politics today, and even more so, that the attitude of the American people and the environment of American politics was as open to positive change as it was in the early ’60s, before Vietnam and Watergate, before 9/11 and Afghanistan and Iraq.
Maybe a few good men and women with attitudes and abilities like Sargent Shriver’s could turn us around. Looking at what his faith and belief in the power of the common individual to create real change in the world let him accomplish is certainly inspiring.
Sarge is a must-read for anyone interested in American politics or 20th Century history.
One tip: Since the book is over 600 pages long, if you lug your books around like I do, you may want to get either the hardcover or the version for Kindle or Nook, because my book was literally falling apart by the time I finished it. This may just be because I am hard on my books, but it is something to consider.