When I was a Young Man A Memoir by Bob Kerrey
Harcourt, Inc., 2002, 270 PP.
This is former Senator Bob Kerrey's story of his life from earliest childhood through the convalescence that followed the loss of the lower part of his right leg during a fire fight in Vietnam. Kerrey, who, as a member of the 9/11 Commission, has been in the news recently, has been a small businessman, governor and senator from Nebraska as well as a former Presidential candidate. He is also a former Navy SEAL and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam.
Since the book ends before his public career began, his story to this point is not much different than than of any other middle class young man growing up in post World War II middle America. In fact the first third of the book is pretty much a "well, when I was your age we...". This is followed by a recounting of his military training. In a mere sixty four pages he covers the period from when he left home to report for training to his departure for Vietnam. The tone of the section, which includes his SEAL training, is matter of fact with care to explain military terminology and customs in layman terms. It is as if he is giving an obligatory account of where he has been with no gusto or attempt to engage his listener in the story. This is followed by two chapters describing his brief tour in Vietnam and the remainder of the book deals with his convalescence.
My main criticism of the book is that it lacks passion and a focus. While the organization and style is superior to that of a report it is not that much better than a report. Knowing what Kerrey accomplished following his discharge from the Navy provided the motivation to keep plowing through the book seeking an insight as to what drove the man to overcome the misfortune he had encountered. But I did not find that and by the end of the book I did not know much more about him than before I started reading the book. While he makes some mention about how his views on war and politics changed as a result of his experience, it is not treated with much depth.
Kerrey has done much with his life and is to be admired for both his success and his service to his country. But this book is not the place to learn about Bob Kerrey the man. It definitely does not live up to the promise on the flyleaf that states "In Bob Kerrey's own words, the inspiring story of his journey from America's heartland to a fateful coming-of-age in the cauldron of the Vietnam War". The book defiantly does not live up to this or the other hype that surrounded its publication. In fact, if Bob Kerrey had not been a former liberal Democratic candidate for President the publisher probably would not have accepted the manuscript for publication.
The review of this Book prepared by Chuck Nugent