To call Mr. Gabler’s Catching the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Liberal Hour monumental would be to insult the pyramids. Still, the book logs in at 736 pages plus back matter, and it’s only the first volume of a projected two-part work ... The rich narrative is studded with tasty factoids and lively quotes, anecdotes and vignettes. The Kennedy of Catching the Wind may not be all that new, but there’s certainly a lot of him ... This can be a maddening book, especially if you have reservations about Ted Kennedy’s glory. In prodigious—often stupefying—detail, it follows Ted from his birth during the Depression to 1975, the year after Richard Nixon resigned and Kennedy, for the third time, backed away from running for president as anti-school busing mobs rampaged through Boston ... Mr. Gabler can be hagiographic about Teddy Kennedy as the avatar of doomed late-stage liberalism in America, a tragic hero who mastered his destructive impulses to carry the flame.
Kennedy’s expansive life has yielded no shortage of biographies, but Gabler’s is on its way toward becoming the most complete and ambitious. As a character study it is rich and insightful, frank in its judgments but deeply sympathetic to the man Gabler regards as 'the most complex of the Kennedys' ... Catching the Wind lends a cinematic sweep to Kennedy’s legislative crusades ... Gabler makes these battles exciting, though at times he seems intent on making everything exciting; scenes are often over-egged, amped up by incantation ... The reader needs no such prodding; the drama, as it develops, is real enough ... Kennedy, for his part, felt the winds shifting ... As Gabler’s next volume will no doubt describe, Kennedy’s response was not to change course. He would simply sail harder.
... as much the story of the liberal wind Kennedy caught at its final peak and worked to harness in the years of its dissipation as it is an account of Kennedy’s own life. In that sense, Catching the Wind matches the undeniable ambition of its subject at every step ... As a chronicle of the decline of American liberalism from the time of Ted Kennedy’s birth at the dawn of the New Deal to the collapse of its ethic of activist government in the 1970s, Catching the Wind transcends the limits of political biography to a degree matched only in recent decades by Robert Caro in his majestic biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Moses, David Levering Lewis in his two-volume life of W.E.B. DuBois, and T. Harry Williams in his path-breaking biography of Huey Long. As a profoundly and sharply revealing portrait of the evolving machinery of American legislative governance and one senator’s struggle to harness it and play its changes in the 1960s and early ’70s, Neal Gabler’s Catching the Wind proves every bit as worthy a sequel to Master of the Senate as Caro’s own The Passage of Power ... At many of its best moments, Catching the Wind illustrates not only how Ted Kennedy achieved a legislative mastery on par with LBJ’s but entirely different in character, but also how the composition and climate of the Senate of the 1950s so magnificently portrayed in Master of the Senate changed with the decline and passing of the old Southern bulls in the 1960s and ’70s, and how Ted Kennedy acclimated himself to the bull-dominated hegemony of his early years and rose to prominence among the shifts that followed ... If Jack and Bobby spoke in poetry and Ted spoke in prose, Neal Gabler writes with energy, precision, and elegance that brings every episode he chronicles vividly and often thrillingly to life ... doesn’t sidestep or soft-pedal his personal failures and shortcomings, from his reckless and relentless philandering to the catastrophe of Chappaquiddick. But the emphasis remains on his political life, and its tremendous impact on his times.