Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch
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Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch

4.5 19
by Barbara A. Perry

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The definitive biography of Rose Kennedy peels away layers of public imagery, revealing the matriarch who became a political legend.


The definitive biography of Rose Kennedy peels away layers of public imagery, revealing the matriarch who became a political legend.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890–1995) was the daughter of a devoutly Catholic disciplinarian and an extroverted Boston mayor whose career was blighted by his affair with a cigarette girl nearly half his age. Sounds like a recipe for a dramatic life—and it is—but Perry’s bio (after Jacqueline Kennedy), though interesting at times, is disappointingly whitewashed. When Rose married the son of her father’s political rival, her lifelong pursuit of excellence melded with her husband’s hunger for power. The profoundly religious mother of nine said that her great ambition was to have her children be as morally, physically, and mentally perfect as possible, and she expected the same of herself: a master of public composure, Rose was a svelte and smartly dressed compulsive shopper who “never publicly conceded” knowledge of her husband’s womanizing, and put on a brave face after the violent deaths of four of her children. She proved an indefatigable campaigner for her sons, yet surprisingly never bothered herself with women’s political issues (Pope Pius XII, however, granted her the title of countess in recognition of her prodigious charity work). To profile a Kennedy outshone by the men in her life is an admirable goal, but Perry uncovers little that Rose herself didn’t reveal. 16 pages of photos. (July)
“An insightful portrait of this paradoxical woman…[Kennedy] gave the public every reason to love her.”
Helen Rogan - People
“Perry has created an insightful portrait of this paradoxical woman.”
Bob Graham
“At the core of most families, frequently out of the public spotlight, is the matriarch. She personifies and by example extends the values and mores that make that family unique. Mrs. Rose Kennedy was such a woman. Raised in a high profile political family, she nurtured one of America's most influential families. Her influence continues to be a force in American culture. Rose Kennedy captures the essence of this exceptional leader. It places her in the spotlight she avoided but richly deserves.”
Larry J. Sabato
“Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was one of the most inspiring women of the twentieth century. Everyone knows her as the mother of President Kennedy, but her story is far richer—one for the ages. Barbara Perry brilliantly and sensitively shows us Rose’s world, filled with almost unimaginable privilege yet scarred by terrible tragedies that would have been unbearable for most. You will be deeply moved by Perry’s magnificently researched account of this remarkable centenarian, whose steely optimism and unshakeable religious faith overcame life’s darkest detours.”
Betty Boyd Caroli
“Behind the public’s image of an ineffectual icon, Barbara Perry uncovered a Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy far more complex, shrewd, and ambitious than most of us knew. This lively, thoughtful biography shows both the reach of the subject’s influence and the stubbornness with which she guarded her own independence. Using newly opened archives, Perry reveals, for the first time, the important role that the matriarch of America’s most glamorous political dynasty played in her family’s remarkable story. It makes a superb read.”
Lewis L. Gould
“Barbara Perry has crafted an insightful and fast-paced narrative, based on Rose Kennedy’s own papers, that does full justice to the vital role Mrs. Kennedy played in the turbulent life of her influential family. Perry has set a high standard for biographies of presidential mothers and their impact on their children.”
Library Journal
Perry (Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier) gained access to 300 boxes of Rose Kennedy's personal letters and journals, now held at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. From these, Perry dug out new information about the Kennedy clan and saw how Rose forged through a lifetime with much sorrow and loss. As a self-absorbed, distant young mother—whose frequent trips abroad, possibly to distance herself from a philandering husband, left her young children feeling abandoned—and later as a mature and politically active, media-savvy campaigner, Rose Kennedy knew how to play society and work connections to get what she wanted. Perry's biography is a finely crafted, comprehensive account of one of the most driven women in the shadows of American political history, who found solace in her Catholic faith to overcome the disappointments of her marriage, the deaths of her sons and daughter, and the burdens from a mentally challenged daughter. VERDICT While there are untold numbers of books on the Kennedys, Perry adds archival details and nuance to our understanding of Rose. Kennedy completists and novices alike are sure to find the book fascinating as it further reveals the perspective of the strong woman behind the dynasty.—Lisa Guardarini, Algonquin P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
Serviceable life of the matriarch of a storied--and notably tragic--political clan. As Perry (Presidential Oral History, Miller Center/Univ. of Virginia; Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier, 2004, etc.) observes, Rose Elizabeth Fitzgerald Kennedy (1890–1995) first visited the White House in 1897, under the presidency of William McKinley. She last visited it when Ronald Reagan was in office, more than 80 years later. In between, of course, she gave birth to fabled sons and less fabled daughters. She was almost more Catholic than the pope, insisting that His Holiness take time to attend Mass during Easter even as the fate of the West lay in the balance. Kennedy was stern enough, too, to give Barbara Bush a run for the money, though she was also forgiving. As Perry writes, "When her husband and children fell short of her Victorian standards, she simply strove harder to correct, or at least mask, their flaws while touting their genuine accomplishments." Tragedy marked her long life, with the deaths of three sons--Joe in combat, Bobby and John to assassins--and a daughter, Kathleen, in a plane crash. Perry capably charts Rose's life, always overshadowed by her husband and offspring, though a more comparative view would have been welcome (how does Rose stack up next to Barbara Bush?). The narrative occasionally takes on the cast of a singsong recitation of biographical convention ("Exploring Concord's environs, most happily with her gregarious father, Rose embraced history lessons permeating the cradle of American independence"), and some details are curious if perhaps of surpassing interest to scholars--the fact that "[o]nly occasionally did she breast feed her first several children," for instance. A mostly useful portrait of an overlooked figure in American political history.
Julia M. Klein - Boston Globe
“Acute commentary . . . fair-minded. . . . Laudable. . . .
Perry employs a newly released trove of diaries and letters to add nuance and detail.”
Amy Scribner - Book Page
“A fuller picture than ever before…Perry writes with compassion and brings keen insight into what Rose Kennedy’s own words tell us about this complex woman.”
Matt Damsker - USA Today
“A more thorough account . . . of a lady whose solid grounding in Boston politics and serene Roman Catholicism carried her through America’s most corrosive century, and in the telling, it’s clear that Kennedy never played the victim to history.”
Douglas Brinkley
“The much needed, balanced biography of the grand matriarch of American politics.”
Trey Grayson
“Will likely become the definitive biography of one of the most important women of the 20th century.”

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Barbara A. Perry, a well-known authority on the Kennedys, is a Senior Fellow in the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. As part of her extensive research on the American presidency, she interviews prominent members of previous administrations. She is the author of Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier, among other works, and lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
EG678 More than 1 year ago
John Kennedy may be the most famous of this political clan, but the matriarch of the family was Rose Kennedy. This insightful book into the life of Rose Kennedy is well written, well researched, and just a plain old darn good book.
Jamie6 More than 1 year ago
Barbar A. Perry's book Rose Kennedy: The Life and Times of a Political Matriarch is a very well researched book. I found the writing easy to follow and the insights incredible. I highly recommend this book.
JonathanBell More than 1 year ago
A remarkable story about Rose Kennedy's life and the influence she had on the American political system.
IzzyBIB More than 1 year ago
A very detailed look into the private life of Rose Kennedy. It is well researched and presented with highly adept writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A well researched and written book. Rose Kennedy was a remarkable woman. Highly recommend this book. The author has such insight to Mrs. Kennedy. I read first the Patriach, Joseph Kennedy by David Nassaw. Recommend reading the Patriach and then Rose Kennedy. Two people who gave so much and lost so much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a high school student during the early 1960's, I was impressed by John Kennedy and then by the Kennedy clan. Over the years I became more familiar with him and his family. However, not until Professor Perry's book on Rose Kennedy did I ever know much about the family matriarch. Little did I realize Ms. Kennedy had so much influence on her family. I suppose I had always assumed her husband Joe ran the family. Now, as a result of Professor Perry's extensive research and interviews with key players, I have a much better concept of how the family operated. I had not know how much adversity was experienced by the Kennedys and especially Ms. Kennedy. We all were familiar with the deaths of Joe, Jr., JFK and Bobby. But, there was so much more. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would be interested in learning more about this famous family.
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I wipe a tear away and keep reading
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He smiled at his parents....lets go to our book hope...he turned into a werewolf and raced there...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We will have our book her