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.
- Dina Weinstein: Reading Freedom Summer
- Barney Frank: The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman by Stuart E. Weisberg
- American Jews and America’s Game by Larry Ruttman
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.