Robert Kennedy: A memoir, by Jack Newfield

BobbyIn his autobiography of his life as a campaigning journalist, the great Donald Woods wrote of a meeting he had with the South African prime minister in 1968, having just spent some time with Robert Kennedy and his presidential campaign. The prime minister asked: do you think Kennedy will win? Yes, said Woods, he’s too rich to be bought, too idealistic to be corrupted and the young people, the blacks and the hispanics all believe in him and he doesn’t want to let them down. The South African prime minister buried his head in his hands and said, my God. If Kennedy wins, God help South Africa!

Jack Newfield’s memoir of Bobby Kennedy and his 1968 presidential campaign catches the hope that Woods saw and communicates to the reader, even decades on, the devastating tragedy of Kennedy’s death. With it the promises of a negotiated end to the Vietnam war, concerted action against apartheid in South Africa, and renewed effort on the struggle for civil rights and poverty in the United States, were snatched away.

There are certainly more scholarly works about Bobby Kennedy, but this book conveys in a viceral way just what Kennedy meant to that generation who hoped for a better world in the 1960s. It is a powerful testament of the possibilty of politics as well as the price it sometimes exacts of those who assert principle.

An exquistely painful book.

Giving journalists a good name: Asking for Trouble by Donald Woods

Donald Woods bannedDonald Woods was that very rare sort of journalist who gives journalists a good name: a brave and principled man who fought apartheid and, following the assassination of Steve Biko, which he did much to expose to the world, was “banned”, that is put under house arrest, by the South African government for his troubles.

He wasn’t always this though and his autobiography is an honest account of his education from a prejudiced youth to freedom fighter and prisoner of conscience, though he would probably never have described himself this way: his autobiography suggests he was a man who had a lovely sense of humour about himself and the world. This, and his passionate rage against injustice illuminates his account of his life reporting apartheid South Africa, which is told in the snappy prose style of a gifted newspaperman.