"An absorbing and enjoyable book."—New York Times Book Review
Publishers WeeklyHollywood chronicler Leaming (Orson Welles; Katharine Hepburn) overreaches and overstates in her first attempt at political biography. Leaming endeavors to show how JFK's WWII-era relationships with British aristocrats (such as his doomed brother-in-law, Billy Hartington, heir to the duke of Devonshire), together with extensive readings in British political history and an idealization of Churchill, formed the mature Kennedy's brinkmanship approach to the Cold War. Leaming fails to point out that President Kennedy's modus operandi with regard to the Soviets followed precedent established by Truman and Eisenhower, and that JFK was often a junior partner in policies articulated by such NATO leaders as British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan-all of them, of course, influenced to some extent by Churchill, who had first articulated the concept of an iron curtain. That Kennedy idealized and romanticized the British aristocracy is true. That this idealization had a great impact on his presidential philosophy regarding foreign policy is somewhat less so. In fact, America's longstanding cultural, emotional and ethical alliance with Britain, and the need to play hardball in the face of early 1960s Soviet aggression, would have gone a long way toward defining JFK's tactics in international relations even had he not visited England as a young man. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Foreign AffairsLeaming tries to turn some interesting insights into an intellectualbiography of John F. Kennedy. The results are mixed. She does show that the close ties the young JFK forged in the United Kingdom during his father's ambassadorship continued to nourish him throughout his life, and that Winston Churchill's writings and ideas powerfully influenced him as he gradually moved beyond his father's narrower views. Yet her book ultimately disappoints. Leaming never quite grasps the generational and political dynamics at work. Kennedy's father, for example, was not only in favor of appeasing Adolf Hitler on the usual grounds; like many conservatives and especially Catholics of the day, he strongly sympathized with Francisco Franco and Benito Mussolini in the belief that they were preferable to the Bolshevik alternative. Virtually every time Kennedy faces a choice between political expediency and what he believes is his public duty, Leaming arbitrarily casts the dilemma as an argument in his mind between Churchill and Stanley Baldwin, Churchill's pro-appeasement, anti-rearmament nemesis before the war. The reader wearies of this much faster than Leaming does and frequently wishes that she would let poor Mr. Baldwin rest in peace. To do that, however, would be to concede that she is overplaying her hand, and that the author of Profiles in Courage did not for the rest of his life see American political and policy questions through the lens of 1930s British life.
Library JournalRather than offering another full biography of JFK, Leaming (Orson Welles) focuses on specific influences upon him during his early manhood, particularly the impact of JFK's sister Kathleen ("Kick") and the British world into which she married during World War II. Kick recognized JFK's superior qualities even as their father promoted eldest son Joe Jr. She also substituted for their distant and rigid mother, Rose. Leaming convincingly shows how Winston Churchill and the British came to play a major role in JFK's intellectual and political outlook (formerly more a product of the Irish outlook of his father). Though influenced by his Irish ancestry, ill health, and his father's political and sexual values, he was not fatally trapped, according to Leaming. Churchill's independent challenge to Hitler and willingness to confront the Soviet Union diplomatically were to serve as models for JFK during the Cold War. If Churchill drank and smoked too much, JFK used sex and drugs too much in dealing with his health problems. His unfaithfulness led to Jackie's depression and her resorting occasionally to prescription injections. The author presents JFK as the little engine that could see beyond both his father's and Dwight D. Eisenhower's limitations, which led him to a political maturity evidenced in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets. Engagingly written, this book provides new insights into JFK's behavior and will appeal to both presidential buffs and scholars. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus ReviewsIn which JFK, proud son of Ireland, turns out to be a complete Anglophile. Leaming had previously concentrated on Hollywood types-Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn-before turning to the life of Jackie (Mrs. Kennedy, 2001). Now she turns her attention to her celebrated husband's life. We learn that when JFK realized that he could not supplant older brother Joe as the apple of his father's eye, he determined to become the exact opposite, a slacker and slob. (The father, she notes, was as much an architect of appeasement at Munich as Chamberlain, which gave JFK yet another dauntingly high benchmark to match.) The descent didn't last long, thanks in part to the influence of sister Kathleen, who died early-but not before Jack "had finally emerged as the man she had always insisted he could be." Whereas many biographies of JFK are devoted to his playboy ways and alleged fondness for the easy life, Leaming demonstrates that he had toughness and resolve matched by a good mind; when he decided to reform himself in prep school, JFK daily dissected the New York Times, memorized every detail and constructed counterarguments to every statement. That was the habit of mind that Bill Clinton prized so much; in turn, JFK had learned it from a father figure, Winston Churchill, who exerted both metaphysical and actual influence over the Kennedy White House. Leaming is particularly effective at showing how Kennedy's admiration for Churchill led to his consistent anticommunism. Thoroughly well written and constructed, with fresh views on the Kennedy presidency and the difficult path that led to Camelot.
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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