There was no one like John McCain. But readers may come away from Mark Salter’s outstanding and frequently moving biography of the late Republican senator wondering if the absence of anyone remotely like McCain from our current politics says more about him or us ... Other McCain biographies have offered more detailed histories of his early upbringing as the son and grandson of legendary Navy admirals, his headstrong youth and training at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, his combat service in the Vietnam War, and his five years of imprisonment and torture in Hanoi. The advantage of Salter’s account, The Luckiest Man, is that he was able, as McCain’s aide and confidant, to ask the senator over years of close observation about how these experiences shaped his character, outlook and politics ... Salter’s psychological portrait of McCain is informed and convincing.
... moving and lucidly written ... Mr. Salter’s admiration for his old boss is profound, but he is aware, too, of McCain’s complexity ... Mr. Salter is of course right to resent the press corps’ malevolence in 2008, but his defense strikes this reviewer as naive and indicative of the candidate’s self-importance ... Still, reading Mr. Salter’s fine memoir, I am confirmed in an old opinion: that it is one of the great tragedies of our politics that John McCain was never elected president. America was just unlucky, I guess.
... it highlights a pervasive narrative in American politics that true leaders are called to serve rather than possessing an ambition to do so. Reading Mark Salter’s The Luckiest Man, it’s clear that the late John McCain held closely to that narrative, and that Salter, his employee for nearly three decades, co-author of seven books, acolyte, and friend, seeks to preserve the image ... Based on this book, it is hard to say if McCain was lucky or plucky. Was he a maverick, as he was often called, or a traditionalist who valued antediluvian notions of honor? He brushed aside the gracelessness of abandoning his wheelchair-bound first wife to marry beer heiress Cindy Hensley and pursue a political career in Arizona, a state he had never lived in before. And the book glosses over how McCain countered the carpetbagging charge when he first ran for Congress from the Grand Canyon state ... Mark Salter’s effort to humanize the often blunt, hot-tempered, and—by contemporary definition—entitled American prince is confounding. The author might have benefited from a few more years of contemplation before attempting to capture the essential appeal of someone who nobly refused to crumble under horrific torture and called his first presidential campaign 'the Straight Talk Express,' yet gave us Sarah Palin.