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Joe Biden, we hardly knew ye

Posted by Jim Concannon  January 9, 2008 04:38 PM

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Paying tribute to the always pivotal (or at least entertaining) New Hampshire primary, we ran a long piece in Sunday's Books section containing capsule reviews of the many books written by the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Political journalist Steve Weinberg did a masterful job of analyzing the books and, by extension, the candidates.

I made one late change Friday, pulling the segment that discussed Joe Biden, since he'd withdrawn from the race the night before after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucuses.
Still, it's a testament to the strength of the candidate field in both parties that Biden was there to begin with. His book, his story, and his experience are worth examining, even with his pullout.

So here is Weinberg's thoughtful analysis of Biden, the book and the politician, which, added to the other capsule reviews, may make you feel better about this unwieldy, disjointed, yet ultimately effective democratic process:

JOE BIDEN
‘‘Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, Random House, 365 pp., illustrated, $25.95

After a few years in Delaware politics while simultaneously establishing a law practice plus a family (a wife and three young children), Joe Biden ran for the US Senate as a Democrat. He was 29 years old. The Republicans did not consider Biden a threat, his opponent barely campaigned, and Biden won. As he and his wife, Neilia, readied the children for the move to Washington, she was killed in an automobile accident, along with their infant daughter. The two boys survived. Biden was not in the car.
With his family decimated, Biden decided against serving. But Democratic Senate leader Mike Mansfield of Montana pursued him relentlessly to report for Senate duty. Biden repeated the oath of office in early 1973, and has remained a senator since. That service provides a long time to gather anecdotes and put forth policy positions. Blessedly for readers, Biden comes across as candid and entertaining rather than opaque and dull.
He discusses his roles in, among other events, Watergate, Vietnam, the hostage taking in Iran, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and 9/11. Mixed in with his storytelling are issue-oriented passages about healthcare, unemployment, dependence on foreign oil, environmental degradation, and the reduction of violent crime.
Readers who plan to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate already possessed piles of information about Biden’s voting record and character before this book. As a result, it might not change minds. Still, anybody who wants to read about American politics and world events since 1970 is likely to find Biden’s accounts worthwhile.
Who wrote the book? Biden thanks author and documentary filmmaker Mark Zwonitzer for helping ‘‘to refine and arrange the stories I wanted to tell into an overall narrative.’’

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