Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty

Overview

One of Bobby Kennedy's first acts after JFK's assassination was to write a letter to his eldest son, reminding him of the obligations of his name. Bobby sent the letter to eleven-year-old Joe, but the message was meant for all his sons and nephews.

Sons of Camelot is the compelling story of that message and how it shaped each Kennedy son and grandson in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's death. Based on five years of rigorous research and unprecedented cooperation from...

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Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty

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Overview

One of Bobby Kennedy's first acts after JFK's assassination was to write a letter to his eldest son, reminding him of the obligations of his name. Bobby sent the letter to eleven-year-old Joe, but the message was meant for all his sons and nephews.

Sons of Camelot is the compelling story of that message and how it shaped each Kennedy son and grandson in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's death. Based on five years of rigorous research and unprecedented cooperation from both the Kennedys and the Shrivers, Sons of Camelot examines the lives characterized by overwhelming drama -- from the most spectacular mishaps, excesses, and tragediesto the remarkable accomplishments that have led to better lives for Americans and others around the world.

The third volume in Laurence Leamer's bestselling history of America's first family, Sons of Camelot chronicles the spellbinding journey of a message sent from a father to his son ... from a president to his people.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
“Leamer’s portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr., and his marriage…feels more intimate and immediate than many that have recently appeared.”
New York Times Book Review
“Leamer’s interviews with his friends and associates provide the fullest portrait of [JFK Jr.’s] adult life to date.”
New York Post
“A stunning glimpse of the inner lives of the not-so-young-any-longer Kennedys.”
Daily News
“Haunting…Leamer succeeds in...show[ing] how the Kennedy male offspring often crumbled under the weight of expectations.”
Booklist
“Kennedy watchers, who continue to be legion, will find this a fascinating chapter in the never-ending story.”
New York Times
“Leamer’s portrait of John F. Kennedy Jr., and his marriage…feels more intimate and immediate than many that have recently appeared.”
Booklist
“Kennedy watchers, who continue to be legion, will find this a fascinating chapter in the never-ending story.”
New York Times Book Review
“Leamer’s interviews with his friends and associates provide the fullest portrait of [JFK Jr.’s] adult life to date.”
Daily News
“Haunting…Leamer succeeds in...show[ing] how the Kennedy male offspring often crumbled under the weight of expectations.”
New York Post
“A stunning glimpse of the inner lives of the not-so-young-any-longer Kennedys.”
Publishers Weekly
Picking up where his previous two bestsellers about the Kennedys left off, Leamer traces the clan's supposed downward spiral in the 40 years since John F. Kennedy's assassination. Early chapters concentrate on JFK's surviving brothers, but after Bobby's death and Ted's drive off the bridge at Chappaquiddick, the book eagerly delves into the sordid stories of the next generation. The title describes the book's focus exactly; though readers slog through detailed accounts of Robert Jr.'s environmental activism, no mention is made, for instance, of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's legal scholarship (and there will apparently be no Daughters of Camelot). The women's absence leaves more room to describe how messed up the men were. Leamer dwells endlessly on addiction and self-destructive behavior, invoking sometimes dubious psychological theories about generational dynamics and genetic predispositions (does it matter if the Kennedys carry D4Dr, the "novelty-seeking" gene?). As one might expect, John Jr. disproportionately dominates the second half of the story. The tale, touching glancingly on matters covered in Edward Klein's recent expos , is buttressed by interviews with several close friends who have never spoken about John Jr. for attribution before, though one wonders if even they could have the embarrassingly intimate familiarity with his sex life that Leamer professes. The prose is workmanlike, with occasional slips into mawkishness, but nobody will read this book for its style, and Leamer has wisely loaded it with more than enough scandal to satisfy audience expectations. 32 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Joy Harris. 150,000 first printing. (Mar. 16) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Evidently, Kennedy friends and relatives were finally willing to open up to popular historian Leamer, who researched this book for five years. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Unpretentious profiles of Joseph Kennedy's surviving sons and many grandsons in the post-JFK years. Though aimed at a popular audience, this multigenerational portrait is hardly facile. Well-versed family chronicler Leamer (The Kennedy Men, 2001, etc.) knows when to call Robert Kennedy on mimicking the Port Huron Statement, and he has an intelligent thing or two to say about addiction and thrill-seeking. But here he writes a mostly narrative history, capturing the ongoing family split between those who endeavor to assume the mantle of power, assuming they belong to what may pass as a natural aristocracy, and those who shun the very same. Leamer tackles both Bobby and Ted as well as the 17 grandsons, some who shone and others who did otherwise. He covers the terrain like a reaper, from drugs and alcohol to the sad episode in Chappaquiddick (Leamer notes that Ted's peccadilloes were typically of a different order: "He liked stunning, sexy women, and that was not Kopechne"), from the sanctuary at Hyannisport to the forays into the public domain of politics, the Special Olympics, and the evening news. There is much to cover: John's travails at Brown, Willie Smith's rape trial, all the rotten stuff "so bad it was perfect." And Leamer is the perfect guide, so well-acquainted with the Kennedy mystique that he is just as comfortable talking about Teddy's self-doubting willful arrogance as he is with the clan's lack of emotional expressiveness. The Kennedys and kin are a large brood, and the author brings each one before the limelight in a fashion that suggests they may well be in eclipse, coming full circle from shirtsleeves back to shirtsleeves as various members are swept away by airplanes,recreational intoxicants, and hubris. Impeccable: Leamer never overreaches, delivering accessible and even insightful portraits of Camelot's sons. (Two 16-page b&w photo inserts, not seen)Agent: Joy Harris
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060559021
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/14/2005
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 996,784
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Laurence Leamer is the author of thirteen books, including The Kennedy Women and Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, with many bestsellers among them. Leamer was on the staff at Newsweek, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Playboy, and many other publications. He lives in Palm Beach and Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

1. A Soldier's Salute 1
2. Sheep Without a Shepherd 10
3. Games of Power 17
4. The Senators Kennedy 26
5. Peaks and Valleys 40
6. A Brother's Challenge 49
7. War in a Distant Clime 61
8. Standing in the Rubicon 72
9. A Race Against Himself 77
10. Journey's End 88
11. Ports of Call 103
12. Ted's Way 117
13. The Road Not Taken 123
14. Boys' Lives 133
15. Sailing Beyond the Sunset 142
16. Running Free 151
17. A Clearing in the Future 158
18. Outcasts 174
19. The Shriver Table 183
20. John's Song 193
21. Keeping the Faith 205
22. Bobby's Games 216
23. A Life to Be Stepped Around 226
24. The Games of Men 234
25. Left Out in the Cold 251
26. Joe Jones in New Haven 265
27. John at Brown 280
28. An Actor's Life 290
29. Saving Grace 303
30. Peter Pan on Rollerblades 313
31. Jungle Waste 331
32. A Man Apart 341
33. Good Friday 347
34. Love, Loyalty, and Money 360
35. Team Play 373
36. Best Buddies 380
37. Adrenaline Addicts Anonymous 390
38. Michael's Way 397
39. A Child of the Universe 409
40. Games Kennedys Play 422
41. Humbert Humbert 437
42. A Tattered Banner 448
43. "Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet George" 456
44. A Father and Son 468
45. John's Best Shot 476
46. Poster Boys for Bad Behavior 487
47. Clinton and the Kennedys 495
48. A Life of Choices 503
49. Night Flight 518
50. Beguiled and Broken Hearts 535
51. Life Lessons 541
52. Times of Testing 552
53. Ripples of Hope 566
Source Abbreviations 571
Notes 575
Bibliography 611
Acknowledgments 615
Index 621
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First Chapter

Sons of Camelot
The Fate of an American Dynasty

Chapter One

A Soldier's Salute

On his third birthday, John F. Kennedy Jr. stood holding his mother's hand as the caisson pulled by six gray horses rolled by, bearing the body of his father. It was a cold day, and John was wearing shorts and a cloth coat. His mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, whispered to her son, and John saluted his father. This was not a little boy making a stab at a military greeting, but a young actor performing a soldier's salute. Practically everyone in America who viewed the funeral of President John F. Kennedy on television or saw the picture in the newspapers felt a poignant identity with the fatherless child. It was an indelible image, forever frozen in that moment.

After they buried the president on November 25, 1963, the Kennedys returned to the White House to celebrate John's birthday. The party was a masquerade of joyousness within the somber patterns of this day. It was both a retreat into the safe harbor of family and an assertion that they would go on as they always had. Seated at the table with John were many of the same energetic children who the summer before had clambered onto the president's electric cart at the Kennedy summer estate on Cape Cod. Robert Francis Kennedy and his wife, Ethel Skakel Kennedy, were there with their seven children. Alongside them were Patricia Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford's daughter, Sydney Maleia.

Several of these children were old enough to know that a terrible event had occurred. Bobby's eight-year-old son David was a boy of immense sensitivity. When he had been picked up by one of his father's aides from parochial school only minutes after his uncle's death, he presumably had no way to know what had transpired in Dallas, but somehow he had figured it out. "Jack's hurt," he said, after dialing numbers on his toy phone. "Why did somebody shoot him?"

Senator Edward Moore Kennedy had been presiding over the Senate when he learned that his brother had been shot in Dallas. His first reaction was to worry about the safety of his wife, Joan Bennett Kennedy. He had driven back to his home in Georgetown, running traffic lights and honking other vehicles out of his way. He then flew up to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, to tell his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, that the president had been assassinated, but he broke into sobs before entering the room and his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, gave Joe the news.

Ted returned immediately to Washington, where this evening he stood at the birthday party next to his brother Bobby. Ted managed to keep up a facade of good cheer in front of the children, but his surviving brother wore a gray mask of mourning. Bobby had been the president's alter ego and protector. He could finish his brother's sentences and complete a task that Jack signaled with no more than a nod or a gesture. He had loved his brother so intensely and served him so well that within the administration it was hard to tell where one man ended and the other began.

Now Jack was dead. That was grief enough to buckle the knees of most men, but that was only the beginning of Bobby's agonies. He was the attorney general of the United States, and John F. Kennedy had died on his watch. Bobby may have feared that his responsibility went even further, that the man or men who murdered the president -- be they CIA agents, Cuban exiles, mobsters, or a strange lone man enraged at the attack on Castro's Cuba -- had been egged on by a policy that the attorney general himself had instituted.

When Jack died, Bobby's immediate reaction was to try to discover who might have killed his brother, first looking within his own government. Then he protected the president's secrets by locking up his papers and files. Bobby's grief was sharpened further by the fact that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was now president. Bobby considered Johnson a vulgar usurper who, he believed, would turn away from his brother's principles and ideals.

One of Bobby's first acts after his brother's assassination was to write a letter to his eldest son, reminding eleven-year-old Joseph Patrick Kennedy II of the obligations of his name. "You are the oldest of all the male grandchildren," he wrote. "You have a special and particular responsibility now which I know you will fulfill. Remember all the things that Jack started -- be kind to others that are less fortunate than we -- and love our country." Young Joe was the oldest of all the Kennedy grandchildren, and if it was not burden enough to be faced with the violent death of his beloved uncle, he now was being given another, even heavier load to lift.

Bobby sent the letter to Joe, but the message was meant for all his sons and nephews. More than anything else, Jack willed to his brothers, son, and nephews a treasure chest of promise, golden nuggets of what might have been and what might yet be. Just as the forty-six-year-old leader would be forever young, his administration would be forever unfulfilled. Historians would endlessly debate the qualities of distinction he had shown in the Oval Office, but he would stand high in the minds of his fellow citizens, remembered by most Americans as one of the greatest of presidents.

As they attempted to fulfill the mandate that Jack had left them, Bobby and Ted had an immense capital of goodwill and feeling unlike anything an American political family had known before. Americans had worn the black crepe of mourning for Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but they did not seek to elevate their heirs or to see their presidencies as part of an ongoing family endeavor in which a brother or a son might rightfully assume that same mantle of high power.

Sons of Camelot
The Fate of an American Dynasty
. Copyright © by Laurence Leamer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Laurence Leamer

Barnes & Noble.com: You previously wrote The Kennedy Men and The Kennedy Women. What made you want to continue the saga and write this book about the next generation, the so-called Sons of Camelot?

Laurence Leamer: I envisioned these books as a trilogy, and this third volume finishes my 15 years of work on the subject.

B&N.com: Considering that many of the daughters are quite successful -- Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Maria Shriver, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- why not also write about the "Daughters of Camelot"?

LL: All of the stories of the young Kennedy women are in the book I wrote, The Kennedy Women. The only thing is that it doesn't cover is the last decade.

B&N.com: What is the great attraction and appeal to you of the history of the Kennedy family?

LL: On one level, there is no drama in American life that equals that of the Kennedys. It is beyond Shakespeare and it is beyond Greek tragedy. On another level, the Kennedys are very much alive. And in writing about them, I felt very alive.

B&N.com: It is very interesting that before you get into the story of the grandsons of Joseph P. Kennedy, you spend a considerable amount of time talking about Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy. Why did you choose to do that, and what do you see as the most significant things about their life stories?

LL: Our fathers profoundly effect all of us. But I think I have never seen a family in which the fathers had such a profound influence. If Robert Kennedy had lived, America might have been different, but I know absolutely that the lives of Robert Kennedy's sons would have been profoundly different. Ted Kennedy became a surrogate father to John and Caroline, and to Robert Kennedy's children. He had a massive impact on their lives.

Also, Robert Kennedy began the reinvention of American liberalism. He understood that big government did not necessarily mean good government. He understood the perniciousness of welfare. He was one of the first politicians that understood when you have generations living on welfare, it could be devastating and harmful to people. He thought there had to be a better way. At that time, no other Democratic politician understood that. As for Senator Ted Kennedy, he probably will be considered the greatest legislator of the 20th century. As a sign of that, last year former president George H. W. Bush gave Sen. Kennedy an award for distinguished public service.

B&N.com: On the other hand, you uncovered some new information on Chappaquiddick. What was it?

LL: I interviewed Joe Gargan, Ted Kennedy's first cousin, and he described Ted Kennedy right after the accident as not wanting to take responsibility. He asked not what had happened to Mary Jo Kopechne but what might happen to him and his career. Joe Gargan said that Kennedy was seeking some way to not take the blame.

B&N.com: Of all the Sons of Camelot, readers are the most interested in John F. Kennedy Jr. Other than his name, why was he so appealing?

LL: John was a great hope of this generation. He knew it, and he was taking his time getting where he was going. He was planning -- he was thinking seriously about running for the Senate from New York in the year 2000.

B&N.com: But one often heard that he didn't like publicity.

LL: That isn't true. He loved publicity. He wasn't happy when the cameras weren't there.

B&N.com: Was he a man who died with great promise unfulfilled? Or was he really just an ordinary man with a great name?

LL: He was a man with immense potential. He understood that potential. He had the potential to become the president of the United States. But, as he said in the last weeks of his life, he would have had to toughen up. He couldn't deal with male authority figures.

B&N.com: Of all of RFK's sons, who do you think is the most interesting, and why?

LL: Bobby Kennedy Jr. is. He took the journey from heroin addiction to becoming a highly prominent environmental lawyer. His story is fascinating.

B&N.com: What about the Shriver sons? Again, who was the most interesting, and why?

LL: The oldest son, Bobby Shriver, is. He has had emotional struggles, and he was very honest in talking about them with me for the book. His mother very much dominated him, and he moved to Los Angeles to get away from her.

B&N.com: What is the main idea that you want your readers to take from your book?

LL: I want people to understand that you make your own life. There is no curse on the Kennedys' life or any of our lives. We are given certain attributes and certain difficulties, and we have to deal with them. Modern science has taught us that we don't have as much freedom in how we make our lives as we thought. But there is at least a crack of light in the door. And that crack of light is our freedom. The Kennedys have it and you have it and I have it.

B&N.com: What is your next project?

LL: I am doing a biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2005

    Profound Reading

    I was truly taken back reading Leamer's book and realized that I hadn't connected the Kennedy cousin information dots throughout the years. So much for a dynasty---they really are human beings too!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2004

    The most thorough, insightful Kennedy book ever

    With this book, Mr. Leamer may have outdone himself. His previous efforts have established his rare combination of talents for both investigation and literary eloquence. But I believe with The Sons of Camelot he has reached the top of his game. How many other Kennedy biographies can one think of written by someone outside the inner circle that the family itself has cooperated with. The answer is none. This speaks to Leamer¿s acknowledged reputation for fairness and his talent for the great ¿get.¿ And the number of Kennedys who trusted him is even more astounding. The result is a rich and nuanced portrait of this complex brood. I recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the true, and perhaps most valuable, legacy of Old Joe Kennedy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2004

    The best book on this subject I have ever read

    In his third volume of his trilogy on the Kennedys, Leamer traces the journey of the family after the death of President Kennedy. The pages are full of revelations and deep insight. I finished Sons of Camelots thinking I knew personally every member of the family. The author had unprecedented access to the Kennedys and their friends and it shows. Leamer held nothing back good and bad.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2004

    One of the worst books on this subject I have ever read

    Suggest this author is riding on past glories. His is nothing more or less than the National Enquirer in book form.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2004

    Amazing

    The best book I have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2004

    LEAMER GETS IT

    Anyone who's been following the Kennedy saga as it continues to unfold present day will be richly rewarded by the 'new' intimate details Leamer uncovers in his latest work. His apparently trustful access to the family heirs and other influential members of society pays off in spades in this third book on the controversial and rather tragic family. I was barely able to put the book down for more than a few minutes at a time once I began reading the revelations! My fascination with the family had me closely tracking its developments, however Leamer's research reveals a wealth of information--heretofore unknown by the average person-- some good, some not so good...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2004

    Home Run

    I have read most books about the Kennedys, and I've never read anything with such an intimate sense of their lives. I can understand why all the Kennedys cooperated with Leamer, because he tells the truth but he tells it in an empathetic way. I ended up caring more for these sons of Camelot and what they have gone through. I'll never forget this book. I wish I could give it ten stars.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2004

    The young Kennedys revealed

    It's great to finally read a book that discusses the younger generation of Kennedys--men who have not reached the same heights of power as their forerunners (struggling both in and out of the limelight) but who have achieved in the political and social realm nonetheless. It is a gripping and well-written book that will appeal to both old-time Kennedy admirers and younger readers who are really only familiar with the older generation from their history books and the younger generation from their People magazine.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2004

    An incomplete picture...

    I was anticipating a book on ALL of the 'Sons of Camelot'. Of course, there was ample space dedicated to the more well known of the Kennedy grandsons, including JFK, Jr., Bobby Jr., and Joe Kennedy Jr., and the Shriver boys. What I had looked forward to reading was the stories about the Kennedy grandsons that we don't hear much about. There was so little written about Teddy Kennedy, Jr., who certainly had his battles with cancer, parents divorce, etc., as well as the Smith boys. Yes, there was a bit about William Kennedy Smith's rape trial, but what about the rest of his life? His brother, I believe named Steve, Jr. was mentioned less than a half a dozen times throughout the 500 plus page book. Christopher Kennedy Lawford was mentioned merely as an accomplice to the more negative trials and tribulations of the other, more well-known Kennedy grandsons. The younger sons of Bobby Kennedy were certainly not as satifactorily covered as I had hoped. On the positive side, the stories on the grandsons the author chose to focus on seemed objective and well researched. I had hoped for a more complete account of each of the Kennedy sons, and not simply a regurgitation of a number of facts the general public had already been aware of.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2004

    Leamer's best - Intimate and Unforgettable

    I found this book to be a truly exceptional portrayal of America's most famous and tragic family. An eloquent historical narrative.

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    Posted April 23, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2011

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