Almost half a century after Theodore White's The Making of the President, 1960, Pietrusza (1920: The Year of the Six Presidents) raises the bar with his winning and provocative chronicle. The political giants who battled for the 1960 presidency-and the closeness of the election-make for exciting narratives. The author writes respectfully of the three hopefuls but is not starstruck by any of them. Here, JFK is portrayed at times as a slacker who would not let politics get in the way of adultery. Richard Nixon was different from Kennedy, much less by his politics than by his lack of charm. Johnson, the indefatigable vote getter, was a champion of the lower class or a crude wheeler-dealer, depending on what the situation called for. Also prominently featured are Joe Kennedy, the family patriarch, and presidential and vice presidential hopefuls Nelson Rockefeller, Hubert Humphrey, and Adlai Stevenson. Pietrusza concludes with a thought worth pondering: Why was the election so close when Nixon did so much wrong (ignoring Martin Luther King Jr., choosing the patrician Henry Cabot Lodge as his running mate, not receiving support from President Eisenhower) while Kennedy did almost everything right (choosing the loyal LBJ as his vice-presidential running mate, winning the primaries, appearing healthy, gaining the black vote while retaining the white South)? The answer: there was something about JFK that the voters of 1960 simply did not like. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.
A historian revisits the exciting, close-run 1960 campaign. In what's becoming something of a specialty, Pietrusza (1920: The Year of the Six Presidents, 2007, etc.) turns again to a presidential race that included two men in walk-on roles who would later hold the office, Ford and Reagan, and featured three who would occupy the Oval Office for the next 14 years. Since Theodore White's 1961 classic The Making of the President, 1960, we've learned more about John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Milhous Nixon, much of it unflattering, and almost all of it reflected in this colorful, character-driven narrative. Pietrusza examines the candidates' manifold personal shortcomings, flaws either unseen or at least unspoken by White, including JFK's dangerous philandering and even more dangerous health, LBJ's curious blend of bullying cowardice and vanity, and Nixon's deep resentments and insecurities. In a race where the candidates were all children of the New Deal and all confirmed cold warriors, personalities dominated, and the finally mature technology of television brought those personalities into the country's living rooms. Pietrusza is especially strong covering the crucial Kennedy-Nixon TV debates and, while he pauses to consider other incidents upon which the vote may have turned, he remains focused on character. He also looks at the hapless Hubert Humphrey, outspent in the critical West Virginia primary, Nelson Rockefeller, outmaneuvered by Nixon, and Adlai Stevenson and Stuart Symington, both outhustled by Kennedy. Among many others, Pietrusza's cast includes Eleanor Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Sr., both wary of Kennedy's Catholicism; Dwight Eisenhower, foreverholding Nixon at arms length; Frank Sinatra, virtually pimping for JFK; Sam Giancana and Richard J. Daley, mobster and mayor of Chicago respectively, funneling money and votes to Kennedy; and Joseph P. Kennedy, the mastermind and bank behind his son's bid for the White House. A lively look at the underside of a campaign foreshadowing three successive presidencies that would end in assassination, failure and disgrace. Agent: Carol Mann/Carol Mann Agency