Long and detailed, "Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields," offers personal and political insights into the man who has cast more votes in the Senate than anyone in U.S. history.
The Almanac of American Politics believes Robert C. Byrd "may come closer to the kind of senator the Founding Fathers had in mind than any other."
Often reading like a personal diary, the book describes family gatherings in the coalfields and trips to meet top leaders of Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Byrd repeatedly stresses his beliefs in traditional values, religion, school prayer, hard work, education, reading and his love for Erma, his wife of 68 years. Byrd himself became a born-again Christian at a 1941 church service in Crab Orchard.
He repeatedly expresses his distaste for television ("often junk food for the mind"), pornography, alcohol, same-sex marriages and "talk-show demagogues who ... generate ill-informed and destructive anger."
"The Return of the Native" is one the most touching chapters. It describes his 1997 return to Wolf Creek, perhaps his last, with Erma. Both grew up in coal-mining families in the hollows near Stotesbury and Sophia.
The senator writes of decades trying to help coal miners, steelworkers, glass blowers and chemical workers through legislation promoting health, safety and higher wages, as well as controlling cheap foreign imports.
Byrd also takes a more conservative view of environmental regulations than many of his colleagues.
Until 1990, Byrd writes, "Single-handedly, I had blocked Clean Air legislation for years, while I was the Democratic leader, but the time had now come to attempt to achieve a compromise."
He continues questioning efforts to eliminate mountaintop removal mining and international agreements on acid-rain and global warming that fail to hold developing nations to the same standards as industrialized countries.
Byrd is repeatedly very frank about his membership in the Ku Klux Klan as a young man and his votes against civil rights legislation. He spoke for 14 hours opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He opposed against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Ten years later, Byrd voted for an extension of the 1965 legislation. Sometime in the early 1970s, Byrd began to change his views on race and on foreign policy.
At the time, Sanford Unger wrote in the "Atlantic Monthly" that Byrd had "taken several steps leftward into the Democratic mainstream."
Throughout his long career, Byrd has limited his leisure activities, avoiding everything from movies to baseball.
Back in 1987, Sen. David Durenberger, a Minnesota Republican, invited him to attend the final game of that year's World Series between the Twins and Cardinals. Byrd told Durenberger he had attended just three baseball games during his 35 years in Washington and that two were during a doubleheader.
"Byrd made it clear he had other, more pressing, things to do. Reading the dictionary, for example," Durenberger said.
Byrd told Durenberger that during the previous year he read, or re-read, all of Shakespeare's plays, the entire Bible, most of Plutarch's Lives and Webster's Abridged Dictionary.
"Any nation that honors its ballplayers more than its scholars does not have its head screwed on straight," Byrd writes. "No ball game ever changed the course of history."