"The Restless Wave" by John McCain and Mark Salter

Brian Gongol

Nobody's perfect, but only a select few among us are both conscious of the full range of our shortcomings and transparent with the world about them. John McCain lived a very public life with this self-awareness on extraordinary display. His final salutation to us all, "The Restless Wave", was written not only with McCain's unusual degree of self-awareness, but with an acute awareness of his imminent mortality.

As a result, "The Restless Wave" doesn't read like other political books (though McCain himself produced several). Nor does it read like a conventional memoir of public life -- many of which are written with the express intent of hinting at something "to be continued". This was it for McCain: He knew this would be his last full-length opportunity to speak to his fellow Americans uninterrupted. And so he did with enthusiasm and a sort of defiance: Not the petty defiance of a toddler who doesn't want to do as he or she is told, but the kind of defiance that defined McCain's time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

This book is John McCain's valedictory. It lays down a marker on a sense of what is right, why that right should be not just defended but promoted, and to whom the responsibility falls for undertaking the task. He confronts the immediate political climate head-on, defining not just his open hostilities with Donald Trump but also his honest regrets about what his one-time rival Barack Obama failed to do, as well.

But despite the fact that McCain's book carries a spirit of itching for a fight, what is more important is that he left behind dozens of thoughtful, quotable passages that remind us what is actually worth fighting for:

More people have lived free and prosperous lives here than in any other nation. We have acquired unprecedented wealth and power because of our governing principles, and because our government defended those principles.

There have been times in the past and there will be times in the future when America's conduct at home and in the world will fall short of our own high standards. That doesn't mean that our values are imperfect, only that we are. In those instances, our true friends will encourage us to change course. But we should never believe that our fallibility disqualifies us from supporting the rights of others. That isn't humility. It's an abdication of moral responsibility.

Humility is the self-knowledge that you possess as much inherent dignity as anyone else, and not one bit more. Among its other virtues, humility makes for more productive politics.

McCain's sensibility, particularly when expressed with the hand of his long-time speechwriter and writing collaborator Mark Salter, is most certainly an important (restless) wave within a much broader current of belief in things like civic virtue, personal liberty, and the dignity of individual lives. It was untimely for his life to be taken before he could see more of his work accomplished, but there is a sense that "The Restless Wave" at least permitted John McCain to say a few words that should echo long into the future.

Verdict: Well worthwhile reading today -- and it will remain for long to come