Military Book Reviews

In the Arena

That we will all pass from this life at some point is an irrefutable truth, but a grander and more philosophically complex question worth asking is, “Did I really live?”

In Chuck Robb’s memoir, the singular answer for him was, “Yes.”  Robb, in fact, lived, and in an exemplary fashion. Marine, warrior, presidential son-in-law, lieutenant governor, governor, senator and elder statesman, Mr. Robb has done it all. And, perhaps most impressive of all, he never lost his humble step or sight of the meaning of true public service. 

Whether it has been to serve on the field of battle, in the state house, in the nation’s capital, or on a fact-finding mission to Iraq, Chuck Robb has been there, done that, seen it all. Now, in In the Arena, he shares the story of his remarkable journey. 

In the fast-paced book, the reader is in the thick of several exciting, yet disparate moments, all happening in rapid succession. From Robb’s storybook wedding to the president’s eldest daughter to the front line battlefields of Vietnam and the responsibility of identifying the remains of a fallen brother-in-arms in the mortuary tent, we see it all through his calm, lucid eyes.

Were the story to stop there, it would still be a satisfying read. But, while some may be content to rest on the of their laurels of their past accomplishments, not so Mr. Robb. He went on to law school, raise a family, and put a foot into the realm of public policy with election to the office of lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1977.

His rocket ride of a life, aptly described by the title, In the Arena, continued. Robb was elected governor of Virginia in 1981, gave a major speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, founded the Democratic Leadership Council in 1985 and served as its Chair from 1986 to1988. In 1988, he was elected to the US senate and re-elected in 1994. The story comes full circle. After leaving office in 2001, when he might have been content to step back and take a well-deserved pause, he answered a call from the president to co-chair the Iraq Intelligence Commission and in 2006 served as member of the Iraq Study Group, with the distinction of being the only member to travel outside the “The Green Zone” while on a fact-finding mission in Iraq.

There is beauty in the lessons of Robb’s story—that we must, each in our own way, decide what it means to live a full life, a life well-lived, a life less ordinary. The French call it “raison d’etre”, roughly translated into “one’s purpose for existing.” For some it may raising a beautiful family, for others adventure seeking, and for still others, living a peaceful existence. There is no one singular answer. But what Chuck Robb shows is that we can have all of that and more. He reminds us that we should always allow ourselves to be open to anything and everything and allow ourselves to take a chance and step “in the arena.” 

Book review provide by Wayne B Marek.
Marek is a musician and bibliophile. In addition to two decades spent building a personal library, Wayne reads and writes regularly on topics of history, public policy, and leadership.

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