Every Day Is Extra by John Kerry, Simon & Schuster, 2018, 641 pages, $35.

By now the standard pattern of political memoirs is depressingly clear: some grandee retires (or is shown the door) and promptly dragoons a ghost writer to turn out an account of the grandee’s life and times that’s anodyne on the political details and subtly, or not so subtly, self-aggrandizing on the personal details. The books themselves are usually little more than gas-pumped trivialities, markers put down in bookstores for decidedly non-literary reasons, often as position papers for future political plans. The one thing such books virtually never are is heartfelt. Heartfelt would be a weakness. Heartfelt would be entirely beside the point.

Enter John Kerry’s recent memoir, Every Day Is Extra, a decidedly heartfelt book.

Mr. Kerry, who recently became a Chilmark seasonal resident, has lived almost his entire life in the public eye. He’s been a decorated combat veteran in the Vietnam War, a prominent protester against that war, lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, a senator from Massachusetts for nearly three decades, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Presidential candidate, and, from 2013 to 2017, Secretary of State under President Obama. And now, having left office in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016, he’s written the story of that long public life. The memoir covers every stage of Mr. Kerry’s career in extensive, even exhaustive detail, but unusual qualities of candor and humor and odd little details — all the qualities of genuine memoirs rather than stage-managed ones — quickly begin cropping up. In the span of an hour’s reading, the narrative can swing from Mr. Kerry describing his youthful experience driving a Volkswagon Beetle (“with its tiny cockpit and front end sloping away from you, it felt like an overpowered toy, leaving little between you and the road — or trucks — in front of you”) to how moved he was at the side of a dying Vietnamese man: “Nguyen’s right hand, with long, sensitive fingers, occasionally reached up and swayed in the air. I wondered if he was trying to find something that we might understand or to reach out and touch something a man touches before he dies. Tears came to my eyes.”

Mr. Kerry writes about entering the senate with a new crop of senators — Tom Harkin, Al Gore, Jay Rockefeller, Paul Simon, Mitch McConnell — who all wanted to make their mark on the senate instead of being “quiet understudies, deferring any effort to make a mark.”

He writes about his friendship with Sen. John McCain. He writes about “getting knocked on my ass” in the 2004 Presidential election, reminding his readers of the cost: “...people and pundits forget that most of us who run for office are in it because we believe in what we’re fighting for. “Most of us who put our reputations on the line and expose our families to the ugliness of modern campaigns do it because we believe in our ability to make a difference and we believe the issues at stake are enormous.”

Mr. Kerry came back from that loss of course, and it stands to reason that most readers coming to Every Day Is Extra will focus their attention on that comeback, on the man’s career as Secretary of State, specifically the work he did creating a nuclear treaty with Iran. At the time of those negotiations, 46 U.S. senators sent a public letter to the Iranian government warning that the Obama administration didn’t speak for the United States in the nuclear negotiations and suggesting that any deal would be undone “with the stroke of a pen” as soon as Obama was out of office.

Mr. Kerry writes: “I knew how unprecedented it was for a member of Congress to intervene directly with foreign leaders and try to undermine a sitting president in the middle of a negotiation, let alone one where the stakes were so high. It was irresponsible and reckless.”

Also prophetic, since that’s exactly what happened. Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the treaty.

Mr. Kerry remains adamant in his book that the deal he brokered was a good one. “Given the situation we faced when I first sat down with Javad Zarif that afternoon in New York — where Iran had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and was a month or two away from a weapon — the limitations we put in place bought us important time and offered the best chance for peace, even as we maintained security and all our military options. To me, that’s a damn good deal, and it made the United States, Israel, the region and the world safer.” That deal, the crowning achievement of Mr. Kerry’s diplomatic career, has now been torn to shreds for what certainly looks like partisan political reasons. Seen from that and many other perspectives, a reader might easily expect Every Day Is Extra, underneath its polished stories, to be a bitter book, but it’s nothing of the kind. Passionate, yes, and at times angry, but also funny, endearingly awkward, and, occasionally, even wise. It wears its heart on its sleeve like Senator Edward Kennedy’s True Compass, but in its sweep and detail it more resembles former CIA director George Tenet’s At the Center of the Storm.

And as for markers of future political plans, well, time will tell.