Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty

Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty

by Laurence Leamer

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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
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[ing] how the Kennedy male offspring often crumbled under the weight of expectations.”
“Kennedy watchers, who continue to be legion, will find this a fascinating chapter in the never-ending story.”

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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.

Meet the Author

Laurence Leamer is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including The Kennedy Women and The Price of Justice. He has worked in a French factory and a West Virginia coal mine, and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal. His play, Rose, was produced off Broadway last year. He lives in Palm Beach, Florida, and Washington, D.C., with his wife, Vesna Obradovic Leamer.

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