Working for four presidents over six decades, R. Sargent “Sarge” Shriver founded the Peace Corps, launched the War on Poverty, created Head Start and Legal Services for the Poor, started the Special Olympics, and served as ambassador to France. Yet from the moment he married Joseph P. Kennedy’s daughter Eunice in 1953, Shriver had to navigate a difficult course between independence and family loyalty that tended to obscure his incredible achievements.
Scott Stossel, through complete access to Shriver and his family, renders the story of his life in cinematic detail. Shriver’s myriad historical legacies are testaments to the power of his vision and his ability to inspire others. But it is the colorful personality and indomitable spirit of the man himself—traits that allowed him to survive the Depression, WWII, and the Kennedy family—that will inspire readers today to expand the “horizons of the possible.”
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Scott Stossel is a senior editor at Atlantic Monthly. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, and other publications. A frequent commentator on NPR, the BBC, and CNN, he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Shriver sat bolt upright in his chair. His first thought was that he had misheard. His second thought was of Halloween 1938, when Orson Welles had inadvertently pitched America into a panic with his radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, with its realistic simulation of a news broadcast announcing a Martian invasion. Could this Pearl Harbor bombing bulletin be simply another hoax, albeit a cruel and ill-timed one?
Unsure of what to do—not knowing whether to trust his own ears—Shriver picked up the phone and called the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where his brother Herbert was stationed as a junior naval officer. “Herbert,” Sarge recalls saying when he got his brother on the phone. “Have you got the radio on?” Herbert said he did not. “Well turn it on, goddamnit,” Sarge shouted, “turn it on! The Japs have attacked Pearl Harbor!” Herbert confirmed that he was hearing the same reports over his radio set.
With some trepidation, Shriver sounded General Quarters. In 1941 there was no Internet, no satellite communications, no CNN, no network television news—no way of knowing quickly or reliably what was going on six thousand miles away. So when Shriver flipped the switch that sounded the alarm all up and down the East Coast, sending switchboard operators aflutter trying to reach officers at their weekend country homes, or on golf courses, or at family dinners, he was initiating the first communication that most of these men were to receive regarding the attack. Moreover, when they heard the General Quarters alarm, most of them had no way of knowing why it was being sounded. Thus, within minutes of the sounding of General Quarters, Shriver’s telephone was ringing off the hook. “Shriver!” went the typical refrain. “What the hell is going on here? You better have a damn good reason for interrupting my Sunday afternoon.”
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