All This Marvelous Potential

All This Marvelous Potential
All This Marvelous Potential

All This Marvelous Potential

Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia
By Matthew Algeo


304 Pages, 6 x 9

Formats: Cloth, Trade Paper

Cloth, $28.99 (US $28.99) (CA $38.99)

ISBN 9781641600590

Rights: WOR

Chicago Review Press (Mar 2020)

Price: $28.99
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A new portrait of Robert Kennedy, a politician of uncommon courage who was unafraid to shine a light on our shortcomings 
In the winter of 1967–68, Robert F. Kennedy, then a US Senator from New York, ventured deep into the heart of Appalachia on what was dubbed a “poverty tour.” He toured a strip mine, visited one-room schoolhouses and dilapidated homes, and held a public hearing in a ramshackle high school gymnasium. As acting chairman of a Senate subcommittee on poverty, RFK went to eastern Kentucky to gauge the progress of the War on Poverty. He was deeply disillusioned by what he found. Kennedy learned that job training programs were useless, welfare programs proved insufficient, and jobs were scarce and getting scarcer. Before he’d even left the state, Kennedy had determined the War on Poverty was a failure—and he blamed Lyndon Johnson.
     Robert Kennedy wasn’t merely on a fact-finding mission, however; he was considering challenging Johnson for the Democratic presidential nomination, but he needed support from white voters to win it. His trip to eastern Kentucky was an opportunity to test his antiwar and antipoverty message with hardscrabble whites. Kennedy encountered deep resentment in the mountains, and a special disdain for establishment politicians. “We can’t eat your fancy promises,” read a large banner that greeted Kennedy at one stop. A month after his visit, RFK officially announced he was challenging Johnson for the Democratic nomination. Four months after his visit, he was murdered. He was 42.
     All This Marvelous Potential meticulously retraces RFK’s tour of eastern Kentucky, visiting the places he visited and meeting with the people he met with. The similarities between then and now are astonishing: vicious, divisive politics; bitter racial strife; economic uncertainty; environmental alarm. Author Matthew Algeo explains how and why the region has changed since Robert Kennedy visited the area in 1968; how and why it hasn’t; and why it matters—immensely—for the rest of the country. Kennedy, for all his faults—and there were many—was a politician who gave people hope, and he was unafraid to stand up to a president from his own party.


“I’ve been waiting thirty-five years, since I was a young reporter at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, for someone to do justice to Bobby Kennedy’s milepost trip across eastern Kentucky. Matthew Algeo’s new book makes it worth that wait.” —Larry Tye, author of Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon 

“An astoundingly good book! This is a must read for anyone interested in history, politics, poverty, Appalachia, Robert Kennedy...” —Carrie, Goodreads 

“A concise historical analysis through which stories of Appalachia's coal country, and its residents’ poverty, make clear the challenges of the past and the legacies that shaped a more hopeful future.” Foreword Reviews ‚Äč

“This is a fantastically researched and written book, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone…” —Elizabeth, Goodreads 

“This fast-paced narrative, focusing less on Kennedy and more on local people, will find audiences among those who enjoyed J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy and Tony Horowitz's Spying on the South.” Library Journal 

“This title was a page-turner and eye-opening on the topic and the region of the US. Exceptional work and very intriguing.” —Brett, Goodreads 

“The book humanizes Kennedy, showing his strengths and foibles. As an Appalachian myself, this book resonated with me deeply.” —Holly, Goodreads 

“This book is marvelous! I learned so much from it.” —Jan, Goodreads 

Author Biography

Matthew Algeo is the author of Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure, The President Is a Sick Man, and Pedestrianism. An award-winning journalist, Algeo has reported from four continents for public radio’s All Things Considered, Marketplace, and Morning Edition.