Frank: A Life in Pol­i­tics from the Great Soci­ety to Same-Sex Marriage

Bar­ney Frank
  • Review
By – June 1, 2015

Any­one who expect­ed Bar­ney Frank’s mem­oir to be a kiss-and-tell” account of gay life on the Hill doesn’t know the first thing about this man. Sure, there’s the sto­ry of his clos­et­ed youth and then his com­ing out, as well as (lim­it­ed) detail on some of the men who pre­ced­ed the ulti­mate love of his life, Jim Ready. But Frank’s focus here is on his com­plex and pro­duc­tive career as a leg­is­la­tor. Born to a New Jer­sey work­ing-class Jew­ish fam­i­ly in 1940, Frank earned his bachelor’s and law degree from Har­vard. After work­ing on oth­er can­di­dates’ cam­paigns, he won a seat in the Mass­a­chu­setts House in 1972; from 1981 to 2013 he rep­re­sent­ed Mass­a­chu­setts in the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Instru­men­tal in the pas­sage of var­i­ous civ­il rights bills, he is best known for his pro­mo­tion of gay rights. As chair of the House Finan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, he played a key role in the restruc­tur­ing of the Unit­ed States finan­cial sys­tem after the 2008 crisis.

While Frank nar­rates the sto­ry of his career, his insights into the craft of lib­er­al pol­i­tics are the real take­away. This is not a man who believes in sim­plis­tic cre­dos, like no one is free until every­one is free;” as he points out, most of our free­doms have been achieved incre­men­tal­ly. For Frank, com­pro­mise is the art of the pos­si­ble. His read­ing of mod­ern Repub­li­can tac­tics — starve the pub­lic sec­tor of funds so it works poor­ly, then blame gov­ern­ment for not work­ing — only under­scores the need for the sort of prag­mat­ic lib­er­al­ism that’s been Frank’s style for decades.

The same qual­i­ties that have made him such a suc­cess­ful politi­cian make him a fine mem­oirist as well: Frank has a great sense of humor, he knows how to tell a sto­ry, and his sto­ries cov­er mat­ters of great inter­est to many Amer­i­cans. What a men­sch! Appen­dices, index, photographs.

Relat­ed Content:

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

Discussion Questions