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In the Arena

A Memoir of Love, War, and Politics
Chuck Robb. Foreword by Bill Clinton

BUY Cloth · 392 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813946108 · $34.95 · Apr 2021
BUY Ebook · 392 pp. · ISBN 9780813946115 · $34.95 · Apr 2021

In December 1967, Chuck Robb was catapulted onto the national scene when he married Lynda Bird Johnson, the daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson, in a nationally broadcast White House wedding. Shortly thereafter, Robb, a U.S. Marine, deployed to Vietnam, where he commanded India Company of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, and was awarded the Bronze Star. These two experiences—seemingly polar opposites—illustrate much about the eventual Virginia governor and U.S. senator, who combined a commitment to family with an ingrained sense of civic duty on the national stage.

In the Arena offers the first political memoir of the noted statesman’s extraordinary life, tracing his path from early days as an anonymous Marine to his fairytale wedding, from night movements in Vietnam to engaging in the height of Democratic politics in the Virginia state capitol and U.S. Senate, and from experiencing personal highs and lows to becoming a principled fighter and exemplar of today’s moderate Democrat.

Despite representing a conservative state, he stood up for a woman’s right to choose, the Equal Rights Amendment, the constitutionality of flag burning, gay rights, and gun control. As governor, Robb raised the education budget by over $1 billion and appointed a record number of women and minorities to state positions, including the first African American to the Virginia Supreme Court. In 1996, in his second term in the Senate, he was the only southern senator to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, the legislation banning gay marriage, calling the movement to end this discrimination a "fight for civil and human rights." Progressive on social issues, he was fiscally conservative and pro–national security, going on to co-chair the 2004 WMD Commission under George W. Bush. Looking back from our deeply partisan era, Robb’s independent approach now seems remarkable, as well as instructive.

Full of honest reflections, In the Arena pulls back the curtain on one of America's proven political leaders and reveals the surprisingly colorful story of his career, marriage, and life.


In my lifetime, few have served our country as ably and honorably as Chuck Robb. His quiet dedication to doing what he believed was right will inspire readers of this book—including a younger generation of Americans who will take up that challenge he posed to us all: get into the arena.

President Bill Clinton (from the Foreword)

From his deployment as a Marine officer in Vietnam to his work investigating one of the most catastrophic intelligence failures in the history of the United States, Chuck Robb has demonstrated uncommon courage and conviction throughout his remarkable career. As an elected official, he worked to promote greater fairness and opportunity, defended human rights, and advocated fiercely for American engagement around the world. Robb’s life is a story of true public service and there is much that every American can learn from it.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright

Because of Chuck Robb, America is freer and fairer, smarter and stronger. His service has been selfless and fearless, and we are all better for it. In this book, Sen. Robb tells the tale of a life spent in devotion to causes larger than himself. His contributions are vast, his stories are riveting. This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand how we got here as a nation, where we are going, and why public service can be a noble enterprise.

Paul Begala

The judgment of a person’s character is best determined by his or her deeds rather than their words. Chuck Robb's public service and statesmanship have reflected that principle in a relatively quiet but very resolute manner. This book chronicles the ideals and actions of a man standing behind his convictions

Representative James Clyburn

I have been the recipient of great advice from Chuck Robb as I followed him into the Virginia Governor's office and the U.S. Senate. Abounding with life and leadership lessons, In the Arena gives everyone the chance to learn from this patriotic, talented, courageous and humble man.

Senator Tim Kaine

Chuck Robb seems to have been at a convergence of so much that defines the '60s and indeed our world today. This is an honest and moving testament to value, hard work, and working toward consensus.

Ken Burns

In a life dedicated to public service, from Vietnam to the U.S. Senate, Chuck Robb has been an exemplar of thoughtful, wise leadership. His consistent willingness in multiple roles to put the interests of our country and its citizens above politics places him in rare company. He truly has been a man in the arena. His life story is an inspiring one and a needed reminder in our polarized time of what a servant leader looks like.

Robert M. Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defense 2006-2011

Chuck Robb opened up seats at the table to women and African Americans and moved Virginia into a new era of prosperity. This book shows how a leader with conviction can lead a quiet revolution.

Governor Terry McAuliffe

As a leader, Chuck Robb worked to make policies, not headlines. He reached across the aisle because he knew that bipartisanship is a strength. He took positions on our economy, national security, and civil rights that were unpopular at the time, but made us freer, safer, and more prosperous. In the Arena is an engaging book about Robb’s extraordinary story.

Senator Mark Warner

A veteran of the Marines recounts combat in the jungle—and on the floor of the Senate.... Robb’s memoir is valuable for partisans today for his clear view of the challenges ahead.... Good reading for politics junkies and aspiring officeholders alike.


Over more than 350 pages, Robb leaves little doubt that the rigor he brought to public life — and which helped him endure political setbacks... was forged in the Marine Corps and tempered during a year in the dense jungle of Vietnam. It is Robb’s recollections of military service — he considers it the apotheosis of a career that also included law, business and teaching — through which he displays something the public rarely saw: emotion.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

I treasure the years Chuck and I served together in the U. S. Senate as well as our important partnership when he was Governor of Virginia. Both of us were trained by and served in the U.S. Marine Corps so we quickly bonded and established a strong working relationship to place America’s interests and Virginia’s foremost, irrespective of our political affiliations. This is an important biography because it will inspire those considering public service during today’s extraordinary chapter of political history.

John W. Warner - U. S. Senator 1979-2009

In the Arena is a superb memoir, right up there with such classics as Dean Acheson's Present at the Creation, and Katharine Graham’s Personal History. Honestly and elegantly written, it is at once inspirational and an antidote to the chaos that often characterizes today's partisan politics. Robb’s story belongs on the bookshelf of all those who believe in wise and thoughtful public service. What a triumph!

Jay Winik, New York Times best-selling historian and author of April 1865 and 1944

About the Author(s): 

Chuck Robb served as the 64th Governor of Virginia from 1982 to 1986 and as a United States Senator from 1989 until 2001.

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