With the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy assassination fast approaching, this comprehensive, yet remarkably readable collection of his letters from the vast archives Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum seems an apt remembrance. In his selections, historian Martin W. Sandler (Kennedy Through the Lens) has done a fine job of blending the momentous (Cold War exchanges; nuclear proliferation; civil rights controversies) with the informal and personal, including several heartening, playful missives to kids. Telling glimpses of a leader we still miss. (P.S. The letters are accompanied by contextualizing notes and many are reproduced in facsimiles.)
The Letters of John F. Kennedyby John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald Kennedy led his nation for little more than a thousand days, yet his presidency is intensely remembered, not merely as a byproduct of his tragic fate. Kennedy steered the nation away from the brink of nuclear war, initiated the first nuclear test ban treaty, created the Peace Corps, and launched America on its mission to the moon and beyond. JFK
John Fitzgerald Kennedy led his nation for little more than a thousand days, yet his presidency is intensely remembered, not merely as a byproduct of his tragic fate. Kennedy steered the nation away from the brink of nuclear war, initiated the first nuclear test ban treaty, created the Peace Corps, and launched America on its mission to the moon and beyond. JFK inspired a nation, particularly the massive generation of baby boomers, injecting hope and revitalizing faith in the American project.
2013 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy's untimely death, a milestone to be marked by an avalanche of new books on his life and importance. Martin Sandler'sThe Letters of John F. Kennedywill stand out among them, as the only book that draws on letters from and to Kennedy, as collected at the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Drawn from more than two million letters on file at the library--many never before published--this project presents readers with a portrait of both Kennedy the politician and Kennedy the man, as well as the times he lived in.
Letters to and from the likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Clare Booth Luce, Pearl Buck, John Wayne, Albert Schweitzer, Linus Pauling, Willy Brandt, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nikita Khruschev, Harry Truman, Herbert Hoover, a young John Kerry, and Ngo Dinh Diem are complemented by letters from ordinary citizens, schoolchildren, and concerned Americans. Each letter will be accompanied by lively and informative contextualization. Facsimiles of many letters will appear, along with photographs and other visual ephemera from the Kennedy Library and Museum.
“Here's a welcome volume of the man in his own words.” Town & Country
“Most striking to the modern ear is Kennedy's ability to set forth specific and carefully considered policies in crisp, clear sentences, a talent that has been in short supply at the upper levels of American politics for quite some time. . . . remarkably comprehensive . . .” Kirkus Reviews
“Revealing and moving.” American History
“Sandler humanizes the near-mythical president through his own eloquent words in a way that both academics and casual readers will appreciate.” Publishers Weekly
“The most interesting and substantial correspondence occurred during his administration, including his exchanges with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., other civil rights leaders, and southern governors at critical moments in the fight against Jim Crow. This is an informative collection clearly designed to paint Kennedy in a positive light.” Booklist
“Drawn from more than two million letters on file at the Kennedy Presidential Library--many never before published--The Letters of John F. Kennedy presents readers with a portrait of both Kennedy the politician and Kennedy the man, as well as the times he lived in.” BookReporter.com
“From youthful Jack asking his father for a raise in his allowance to the president's letters to Khrushchev during the Cuban missile crisis. Letters to Kennedy from Nikita Khrushchev, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt and others also are included.” Washington Post
“Now a hazy memory tainted by satyriasis and Vietnam, these charming letters remind us that John F. Kennedy was intelligent, humane and funny." The Independent
"We hear so much these days about John F Kennedy's reckless womanising that it's easy to forget that his day job was President of the United States. How good a president was he? This engrossing selection of his letters suggests he was a very good one indeed and had the makings of a great one." Mail on Sunday
"A highly respectful and serious collection of letters written by a president who understood the power of words . . . designed to shore up, rather than dent, his posthumous reputation." Sunday Herald
A selection of letters to and from John F. Kennedy written over the course of 35 years. Sandler (Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II, 2013, etc.) asserts that "one can discover more about Kennedy the man, Kennedy the president, and the extraordinary and harrowing times in which he lived by reading his correspondence than through any number of the scores of books that have been written about him." This volume, however, presents only about 75 letters by Kennedy, many quite short. Sandler fills out the remainder of the book with letters and telegrams to Kennedy from correspondents ranging from Queen Elizabeth and Billy Graham to ordinary American voters and schoolchildren. Most of the letters appear in three sections, introduced in adulatory prose, covering the presidential election of 1960, domestic policies of the administration and foreign crises. These include a tactful exchange with Eleanor Roosevelt, firmly rebutting her assertion that Joseph Kennedy was attempting to buy the presidency for his son; frequent well-deserved hectoring missives from Martin Luther King Jr. and other black leaders urging Kennedy to do more to support their efforts; and secret letters to and from Nikita Khrushchev about the Berlin and Cuban missile crises, when Kennedy was struggling to overcome the Russian's perception that he was a lightweight. A memo to the commander of NATO forces in Europe in which Kennedy lays out the sequence of authorized responses to Soviet provocations over Berlin, up to and including the use of nuclear weapons, is particularly chilling. Most striking to the modern ear is Kennedy's ability to set forth specific and carefully considered policies in crisp, clear sentences, a talent that has been in short supply at the upper levels of American politics for quite some time. Though remarkably comprehensive for its limited length, more of Kennedy's voice would have served Sandler's purpose better.
Sandler (formerly history, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst; Kennedy Through the Lens) culled these letters from more than two million pieces at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The book is a first, containing not just JFK's letters but the other side of the correspondence as well. Sandler does fine work selecting representative letters from each phase of Kennedy's life: his early years; the political campaigns; a crisis-filled presidency; and, through a small selection of condolence letters to Jacqueline Kennedy, his legacy. Each chapter is prefaced by a four- to five-page overview, and each letter is preceded by explanatory comments. Readers will appreciate how fine a writer Kennedy was in an era when letter writing was still considered an art. They will enjoy his sense of humor revealed in the many letters from children to which he responded. There's also correspondence with world leaders, U.S. politicians, civil rights advocates, and officials and celebrities who later burnished the Camelot mystique. Several secret letters to and from Nikita Khrushchev attest to the importance of high-level communication in preventing nuclear war. Interestingly, Sandler ponders whether JFK would have lived through a second term given the life-threatening illnesses he endured from childhood. VERDICT This lively, well-chosen compilation offers meaningful portraits from life in the Kennedy years. It will fascinate general readers as well as scholars of the era.—KH
- Bloomsbury USA
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- 6.50(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)
Meet the Author
Martin W. Sandler's many books on historical subjects include Kennedy Through the Lens and Lincoln Through the Lens; Resolute; and Lost to Time. He has taught American history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and at Smith College, and has won five Emmy Awards for his writing for television. He lives with his wife, Carol, in Cotuit, Massachusetts.
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