For most of his life, Robert Kennedy stood in the shadow cast by his older brother, John; only after President Kennedy's assassination did the public gain a complete sense of Robert (\u0022Bobby,\u0022 we called him) as a committed advocate for social justice and a savvy politician in his own right. In this comprehensive biography, James W. Hilty offers a detailed and nuanced account of how Robert was transformed from a seemingly unpromising youngster, unlikely to match the accomplishments of his older brother, to the forceful man who ran \u0022the family business,\u0022 orchestrating the Kennedy quest for political power. The centerpiece of the book is the remarkable political partnership that formed between Robert and John. As the manager of John's political campaigns Robert proved himself \u0022hard as nails\u0022 (in his father's admiring words), relentless in securing his brother's victory and unforgiving in overseeing his brother's presidency.
Hilty marshals a great deal of evidence to show that while they did not always see eye to eye -- Lyndon Johnson's selection as John's running mate being a notable disagreement -- Robert and John discussed virtually every issue, gauging the likely political effects of every position. Robert was so close to the President that insiders called him \u0022number one and a-half\u0022; their consultations were so intimate that they spoke in a kind of code, barely intelligible to those around them. In Hilty's evocative but unsentimental recounting of the political crises of the Kennedy Administration, Robert and John prove to have been more calculating and astute leaders than today's pundits allow. Theirs was a partnership that was unprecedented and, thanks to an act signed into law by Lyndon Johnson, is never to be equaled. The Kennedy family's story seems to have been lived in the public eye and Americans apparently never tire of the photographs and familiar anecdotes. Most of the written accounts, however, either highlight the multiple tragedies and scandals, preserve the latter-day Camelot myth, or follow the elusive traces of some conspiracy.
In contrast, Hilty's concern is for historical perspective -- for accuracy, plausibility, and thoroughness. With facts and reasoned conclusions, he challenges the stories about the Kennedys in relation to Marilyn Monroe, J. Edgar Hoover, and Martin Luther King, Jr. that have passed into American folklore. He develops a portrait of Robert Kennedy as a complex public figure, a man of centrist political allegiances and firm moral convictions who easily adapted to the crusader's role in working for Joseph McCarthy or pursuing James Hoffa for racketeering. Hilty's great care in sifting through the evidence and weighing competing theories gives us a sense of Kennedy as a public servant whose dedication to social justice intensified after he was in office and further deepened after his brother's assassination. Even as he took charge of family matters and supported Jacqueline during the long ordeal of the state funeral, Robert's own crushing pain was evident to the world. It was then that \u0022Bobby\u0022 ceased being a disparaging term and became a mark of respect and affection.