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Getting to the Heart of the Matter

My 36 Years in the Senate

Carl Levin

Award Winner

Autobiography, Detroit, Michigan, Legal History

Published: March 2021
ISBN: 9780814348390
Pages: 392 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 60 full-color images
Published: March 2021
ISBN: 9780814348406

Representing Michigan for thirty-six years in the U.S. Senate, Carl Levin, the longest-serving senator in Michigan history, was known for his dogged pursuit of the truth, his commitment to holding government accountable, and his basic decency. Getting to the Heart of the Matter: My 36 Years in the Senate is his story – from his early days in Detroit as the son of a respected lawyer to the capstone of his career as chair of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Levin’s career placed him at the center of some of our nation’s most critical points in modern times: from the aftermath of the 1967 Detroit riots, to the Clinton impeachment, through 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 2008 financial crisis. He met with numerous world leaders, including Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and China’s Jiang Zemin. Getting to the Heart of the Matter recounts Levin’s experiences, thoughts, and actions during these historic moments.

Consisting of seventeen chapters, the book takes the reader through Levin’s early life in Detroit of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s where he met his wife, started a family, practiced law and served as the first General Counsel for the newly created Michigan Civil Rights Commission and the chief appellate defender for Detroit’s Legal Aid Office. Elected to the Detroit City Council in 1969, where Levin served for eight years including four as Council president, the book describes how his fight against the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s devastating housing practices in the neighborhoods of Detroit led him to run for the U.S. Senate with a pledge to make government work more effectively. Winning election six times, Levin had an illustrious career in the Senate where he challenged leaders in government and the private sector for the greater good of the nation. Levin describes how, as a Democrat, throughout his time in the Senate, he worked with Republican senators who often held different policy positions in order to find common ground to achieve national goals, and how he and his Senate staff searched for creative solutions to trade issues, support for the auto industry and manufacturing sector, U.S. military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, and efforts to protect the Great Lakes and the environment, among many other issues.

Levin’s hope in writing this memoir is that by sharing his deeply held beliefs about the responsibility of elected officials, the book will serve as a resource for people beginning a career in, or contemplating running for, public office. Readers with an interest in politics, history, facts, and perseverance will find kinship in this book.

Carl Levin served forty-four years in public office. His seat in the Senate and his committee leadership positions from 1979 to 2015 placed him at the center of many of our country’s most consequential issues.

[Carl Levin is] the model of serious purpose, principle, and personal decency, whose example ought to inspire the service of new and returning senators.

– U.S. Senator John McCain, in a speech honoring Senator Levin upon his retirement

Carl and I served together for five terms—thirty years—and we developed a very strong bond of personal trust. Our word was our bond and the security of our nation was always foremost. Even though we are from different political parties, we share a love of country, a commitment to do what is right, and a deep mutual admiration and respect for each other. We never let our policy differences turn into personal differences. And we served in a Senate where bipartisanship was something to be sought after, where compromise was not a dirty word but an essential ingredient to make our government function better.

– Senator John Warner

Getting to the Heart of the Matter reminds us there are patriots like Carl Levin who define ‘honesty, integrity, and civility.’ In a lifetime of dedicated service, he made government more accountable, the nation more secure, and fought for opportunity for all. He is an American hero.

– U.S. Senator Jack Reed

The Dingell and Levin families have shared decades of friendship and public service. Getting to the Heart of the Matter is a heartfelt, thoughtful narrative of his career which had a positive impact on so many people. Everyone interested in public service should read this.

– Congresswoman Debbie Dingell

Carl Levin’s life and work continue to be an inspiration to each of us who have had the privilege of knowing him. His commitment to public service and the leadership he exemplifies have made a remarkable and historic contribution to the country. His beautifully written autobiography makes me wish we had more like him now.

– U.S. Senator Tom Daschle

Care about integrity? Read this book. Given up on finding truly selfless politicians? Read this book. Senator Carl Levin’s riveting biography is food for our decency-starved souls and is a page-turning must-read for future public servants and all who love Michigan.

– Jennifer Granholm, 47th governor of Michigan

Over fifty years of immersion in the Senate—writing about it, interacting with its members, and working inside it—I have seen very few of its members garner the universal admiration and respect of Carl Levin. Getting to the Heart of the Matter is a memoir, but it is much more than that. Writing about his six terms in the Senate, Levin gives us an intimate, inside portrait of thirty-six years of key policy decisions and political developments in the country—and his role, often a pivotal one, in many of them. Along the way, we get a sense of how the Senate worked during those decades. This book is a tribute to a remarkable, important career and is a must-read for all who care about the country, its values, and the workings of its institutions going forward.

– Norman Ornstein, resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Senator Carl Levin is the epitome of a dedicated statesman. His wise, effective, and collegial service to our nation is admirable. His memoir is a must-read for those who seek to understand how our government should work.

– Reginald Turner

Carl Levin served as the de facto conscience of the United States Senate for thirty-six years. He never forgot the people he grew up with in Detroit where he started out driving a taxi and working in an automobile factory. As chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Levin ferreted out wrongdoing, abuses of taxpayers, and failed policies, its reports all issued with bipartisan agreement, a remarkable feat of dignity, duty, and moral strength in our era.

– David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter

Getting to the Heart of the Matter is an account of a splendid Senate career by one of its greats. But it is also a well-timed reminder of what the Senate is supposed to be: a place where the national good is earnestly considered, not a viper's nest for conspiracy theories and vitriol. Levin, a Democratic stalwart if ever there was one, was never a shrinking violet when it came to issues he cared about, and there were plenty of those. But his old-fashioned sense of fair play helped him forge productive relationships with Republicans and craft bipartisan legislation in the days before that phrase became an oxymoron.

– Jeffrey Robbins

An inherently fascinating political memoir, "Getting to the Heart of the Matter: My 36 Years in the Senate" is an extraordinary account of public service through interesting and often troubled times. Of special note is the chapter 'Ethics and Impeachment' given the current state of national affairs. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented, "Getting to the Heart of the Matter: My 36 Years in the Senate" is very highly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Political Science and American Biography collections.

– James A. Cox, Midwest Book Review

With such moral courage weaving throughout this work—a notable example being his explanation of not supporting the war in Iraq while previously supporting the war in Afghanistan—it comes highly recommended for those considering a career in public service and students and scholars of political history.

– Meg Corner, Michigan Historical Review

  • 2022 Michigan Notable Book Awards - Result: Winner
  • 2022 Independent Publisher Book Award -
  • 2022 State History Award - Result: Winner for Books - University and Commercial Press