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Jack NewfieldComprehensive, judicious, evenhanded, original. An Unfinished Life has the sober judgment and nuanced accuracy that make it ring true in all the controversial and tricky parts.
— Los Angeles Times
The #1 bestseller that forever changed how we thought about JFK, published with a new epilogue in time for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.
When it was originally published in 2003, AN UNFINISHED LIFE brought to light new revelations about JFK's health, his love affairs, his brothers and father, and the path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement if he had survived. A blockbuster bestseller, the book was embraced by critics and readers as a landmark ...
The #1 bestseller that forever changed how we thought about JFK, published with a new epilogue in time for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.
When it was originally published in 2003, AN UNFINISHED LIFE brought to light new revelations about JFK's health, his love affairs, his brothers and father, and the path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement if he had survived. A blockbuster bestseller, the book was embraced by critics and readers as a landmark assessment of our 35th president. Now, in time for what promises to be remarkable media attention on Kennedy's death and legacy, AN UNFINISHED LIFE returns with a new, strikingly incisive examination by Robert Dallek in which he further assesses JFK's impact and hold on American culture.
George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: ... "I dream things that never were-and I say: Why not?"
-John F. Kennedy before the Irish Parliament, June 28, 1963
IN AUGUST 1947, John F. Kennedy traveled to Ireland. The trip was notable for several reasons. Kennedy was first and foremost a "good New Englander," an American-so said the Irish ambassador to the United States-who had all but lost his connection to the old country. Indeed, recalling how often Jack Kennedy had visited England in the 1930s and early 1940s without going to Ireland, the ambassador archly described Kennedy as "an English American." "Many people made much of his Irish ancestry," one of Kennedy's English friends said. But he was "a European ... more English than Irish." Now, at long last, he was going home. That was not, however, how his father saw it. For Joseph Patrick Kennedy, whose drive for social acceptance shadowed most of what he did, being described as an "Irishman" was cause for private rage. "Goddamn it!" he once sputtered after a Boston newspaper identified him that way. "I was born in this country! My children were born in this country! What the hell does someone have to do to become an American?"
But his son had if not formed a deep emotional attachment, at least taken his cue from his mother's father, John F. Fitzgerald. "There seems to be some disagreement as to whether my grandfather Fitzgerald came from Wexford, Limerick or Tipperary," Kennedy would later recall. "And it is even more confusing as to where my great[-]grandmother came from-because her son-who was the Mayor of Boston-used to claim his mother came from whichever Irish county had the most votes in the audience he was addressing at that particular time." And indeed, when the twenty-nine-year-old had first run for Congress the year before, Irish Americans in his district had been hesitant to support Kennedy because of his lack of ethnic identification, let alone pride.
Officially, Kennedy was on a fact-finding mission to study the potential workings of the Marshall Plan in a Europe still reeling from the devastation wrought by the Second World War. Unofficially, it was a chance to relax with Kathleen Kennedy Hartington, Jack's favorite younger sister, who was even more "English American" than he was. Though her husband, William Cavendish Hartington, who was in line to become the next duke of Devonshire, had died in the war, Kathleen had stayed in England, where the Devonshires treated her with fond regard. They gave her free run of their several great estates, including Lismore Castle in southern Ireland's County Waterford, a twelfth-century mansion once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh. Kathleen called it the "most perfect place" in the world.
Kathleen asked Jack to join her for a vacation at Lismore, where she promised to bring him together with former Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden; Pamela Churchill, the divorced wife of Winston's son, Randolph; and other prominent English social and political lions. "Anthony Eden arrives today," Kathleen wrote an American friend, "so by the end of the week he and Jack will have fixed up the state of the world."
Like Kathleen, Jack Kennedy had been schooled to move comfortably in privileged circles. Jack and Kathleen did not think of themselves as anything but American aristocrats. Wit, charm, and intelligence added to the cachet he carried as a congressman and the son of one of America's wealthiest entrepreneurs who himself was a former ambassador to Britain.
Yet those who met John Kennedy for the first time in 1947 found little assurance in his appearance. Though having passed his thirtieth birthday in the spring, he looked like "a college boy," or at best a Harvard Ph.D. candidate in political science. He contributed to the impression with his casual attire, appearing sometimes on the House floor in khaki pants and a rumpled seersucker jacket with a shirttail dangling below his coat or in the House cafeteria line in sweater and sneakers. At six feet and only 140 pounds, his slender body, gaunt and freckled face, and full head of tousled brown hair made him seem younger than his thirty years. Even when he dressed in formal suits, which was not often, it did not make him look older or like a congressman. "He wore the most godawful suits," Mary Davis, his secretary, said. "Horrible looking, hanging from his frame." Unlike so many members of the House who self-consciously dressed the part, Kennedy reflected his sense of entitlement in his informal dress. But it did not encourage an impression of maturity, and it was difficult for most colleagues to take him seriously. He initially struck veteran congressmen as the son of a famous family who had inherited his office rather than earned it. Sometimes he didn't impress them at all. "Well, how do you like that?" he asked his congressional office staff one morning. "Some people got into the elevator and asked me for the fourth floor." During his first week in the House, a veteran congressman who mistook him for a page demanded a copy of a bill until Jack informed the astonished member that they were colleagues.
Nevertheless, he offended almost no one. Although he conveyed a certain coolness or self-control, his radiant smile and genuine openness made him immediately likable. "The effect he has on women voters was almost naughty," New York Times columnist James Reston later wrote. "Every woman either wants to mother him or marry him." Another columnist saw something in his appearance that suggested "to the suggestible that he is lost, stolen or strayed-a prince in exile, perhaps, or a very wealthy orphan."
A visit to New Ross, a market town on the banks of the Barrow River fifty miles east of Lismore, filled some of Jack's time in Ireland. Kathleen, who spent the day playing golf with her guests, did not join him. Instead, Pamela Churchill, whom Jack asked "rather quietly, rather apologetically," went along. They drove for five hours in Kathleen's huge American station wagon over rutted roads along Ireland's scenic southeastern coast before reaching the outskirts of the town.
New Ross was not casually chosen. As they approached, with only a letter from his aunt Loretta, his father's sister, to guide him, Jack stopped to ask directions to the Kennedy house. ("Which Kennedys will it be that you'll be wanting?" the man replied.) Jack tried a little white farmhouse on the edge of the village with a front yard full of chickens and geese. A lady surrounded by six kids, "looking just like all the Kennedys," greeted him with suspicion. After sending for her husband, who was in the fields, the family invited Jack and Pamela for tea in their thatched-roof cottage with a dirt floor. Though Pamela was impressed with the family's s imple dignity, she compared the visit to a scene from Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road.
Jack believed that he had discovered his third cousins and seemed to enjoy himself thoroughly. Asking if he could do anything for them, the cousins proposed that he "drive the children around the village in the station wagon," which he did to their pleasure and his. For her part, Pamela clearly did not understand "the magic of the afternoon." Neither did Kathleen, who was angry when Jack returned late for dinner. "Did they have a bathroom?" she asked snidely.
The successful striving of her great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents- the unceasing ambition of the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys-had catapulted the family into another realm, an ocean and a century apart from the relatives left behind in Ireland. In America anything was possible-the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys were living proof. For most of the family, these Kennedys of New Ross were something foreign, something best ignored or forgotten. But not for Jack.
JACK HAD ONLY RUDIMENTARY KNOWLEDGE about his distant ancestors. He knew that his great-grandfather Patrick Kennedy had come to East Boston during the great potato famines of the late 1840s, worked as a cooper making wagon staves and whiskey barrels, married Bridget Murphy, and fathered three daughters and a son before he died of cholera in 1858 when only thirty-five.
Jack also knew that his great-grandfather on his mother's side, Thomas Fitzgerald, had clung to his farm in Ireland until 1854, when the famine drove him to America as well. Initially settling in Acton, twenty-five miles west of Boston, his impoverishment as a farmer forced him to take up life in Boston's North End Irish ghetto, a crowded slum of wooden tenements. One contemporary described it as a "dreary, dismal" desolate world in which all was "mean, nasty, inefficient [and] forbidding," except for the Catholic Church, which provided spiritual comfort and physical beauty.
In 1857 Thomas married Rosanna Cox, with whom he had twelve children-nine of whom reached maturity, an amazing survival rate in a time when infant mortality was a common event. Thomas, who lived until 1885, surviving Rosanna by six years, prospered first as a street peddler of household wares and then in a grocery business, which doubled as a North End tavern in the evenings. Income from tenements he bought and rented to Irish laborers made his family comfortable and opened the way to greater success for his offspring.
The limits of Jack's knowledge about his Irish relatives was partly the result of his parents' upward mobility and their eagerness to replace their "Irishness" with an American identity. Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jack's mother, took pains to instill American values in the children, ignoring their Irish roots and taking them to the storied landmarks of the country's Revolutionary past around Boston. This attitude differed little from that of other ethnic groups, who tried to meet the demands of being an American by forgetting about their Old World past, but in stratified Boston it took on special meaning. Rose and Joe were understandably eager to insulate the family from the continual snubs that Irish Americans suffered at the hands of local Brahmins, well-off Protestant Americans whose roots went back to the earliest years of the Republic. Although Rose and Joe enjoyed privileged lives, their tangible sense of being outsiders in their native land remained a social reality they struggled to overcome.
The Boston in which Joe and Rose grew up was self-consciously "American." It was the breeding ground for the values and spirit that had given birth to the nation and the center of America's most famous university where so many of the country's most influential leaders had been educated. Snobbery or class consciousness was as much a part of the city's landscape as Boston Common. Coming from the wrong side of the tracks in most American cities was no fixed impediment to individual success. But in Boston, where "the Lowells speak only to the Cabots and the Cabots speak only to God," rising above one's station was an enterprise for only the most ambitious.
What vivid sense of family history there was began with Jack's two grandfathers-Patrick Joseph Kennedy and John F. Fitzgerald, both impressively successful men who achieved local fame and gave their children the wherewithal to enjoy comfortable llives. Patrick Joseph Kennedy was born in 1858, the year his father died. In an era when no public support program came to the aid of a widow with four children, Bridget Murphy Kennedy, Patrick's mother, supported the family as a saleswoman and shopkeeper. At age fourteen, P.J., as he was called, left school to work on the Boston docks as a stevedore to help support his mother and three older sisters. In the 1880s, with money he had saved from his modest earnings, he launched a business career by buying a saloon in Haymarket Square. In time, he bought a second establishment by the docks. To capitalize on the social drinking of upper-class Boston, P.J. purchased a third bar in an upscale hotel, the Maverick House.
With his handlebar mustache, white apron, and red sleeve garters, the stocky, blue-eyed, red-haired P.J. cut a handsome figure behind the bar of his taverns. By all accounts, he was a good listener who gained the regard and even affection of his patrons. Before he was thirty, his growing prosperity allowed him to buy a whiskey-importing business, P. J. Kennedy and Company, that made him a leading figure in Boston's liquor trade.
Likable, always ready to help less fortunate fellow Irishmen with a little cash and some sensible advice, P.J. enjoyed the approval and respect of most folks in East Boston, a mixed Boston neighborhood of upscale Irish and Protestant elite. Beginning in 1884, he converted his popularity into five consecutive one-year terms in the Massachusetts Lower House, followed by three two-year terms in the state senate. Establishing himself as one of Boston's principal Democratic leaders, he was invited to give one of the seconding speeches for Grover Cleveland at the party's 1888 national convention in St. Louis.
But campaigning, speech making, and legislative maneuvering were less appealing to him than the behind-the-scenes machinations that characterized so much of Boston politics in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. After leaving the senate in 1895, P.J. spent his political career in various appointive offices-elections commissioner and fire commissioner-as the backroom boss of Boston's Ward Two, and as a member of his party's unofficial Board of Strategy. At board meetings over sumptuous lunches in room eight of the Quincy House hotel near Scollay Square, P.J. and three other power brokers from Charlestown and the South and North Ends chose candidates for local and statewide offices and distributed patronage.
There was time for family, too. In 1887 P.J. married Mary Augusta Hickey, a member of an affluent "lace curtain" Irish family from the upscale suburb of Brockton. The daughter of a successful businessman and the sister of a police lieutenant, a physician with a Harvard medical degree, and a funeral home director, Hickey had solidified Kennedy's move into the newly emerging Irish middle class, or as legendary Boston mayor James Michael Curley mockingly called them, "cut glass" Irish or FIFs ("First Irish Families"). By the time he died in 1929, P.J. had indeed joined the ranks of the cut-glass set, holding an interest in a coal company and a substantial amount of stock in a bank, the Columbia Trust Company. His wealth afforded his family of one son, Joseph Patrick, and two daughters an attractive home on Jeffries Point in East Boston.
John F. Fitzgerald was better known in Boston than P.J. and had a greater influence on Jack's life. Born in 1863, John F. was the fourth of twelve children.
Excerpted from An Unfinished Life by Robert Dallek Copyright © 2003 by Robert Dallek
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|Part 1||Growing Up|
|Chapter 2||Privileged Youth||26|
|Chapter 3||The Terrors of Life||69|
|Part 2||Public Service|
|Chapter 4||Choosing Politics||111|
|Chapter 5||The Congressman||134|
|Chapter 6||The Senator||177|
|Part 3||Can a Catholic Become President?|
|Part 4||The President|
|Chapter 9||The Torch Is Passed||299|
|Chapter 10||The Schooling of a President||328|
|Chapter 11||A World of Troubles||373|
|Chapter 12||Crisis Manager||415|
|Chapter 13||Reluctant Warrior||442|
|Chapter 14||The Limits of Power||470|
|Chapter 15||Frustrations and "Botches"||504|
|Chapter 16||To the Brink--And Back||535|
|Chapter 17||New Departures: Domestic Affairs||575|
|Chapter 18||New Departures: Foreign Affairs||607|
|Chapter 19||An Unfinished Presidency||631|
Barnes & Noble.com: What made you decide to write JFK: An Unfinished Life?
Robert Dallek: I like to think of myself as working on the frontiers of presidential scholarship. I went to LBJ before JFK because more material was available. [In terms of reputation,] LBJ has nowhere to go but up, but JFK has nowhere to go but down. When I finished LBJ, I got access to new medical material on JFK. Also, I saw the RFK confidential file. People said to me "Oh, your book is the definitive work on JFK." But I always keep in mind the comment of one historian who said, "History is argument without end." There are no definitive books on any of these subjects. You are sure to see more books on John Kennedy.
Although I got the medical records from the family, I did not interview any family members. I do not think it would be a good idea to talk to the family. I describe the cover-up of the medical history of Jack. I reveal that Kennedy had an affair with a 19-year-old intern while he was president. I do have a favorable view of him but do not whitewash the man. I have not suppressed the flaws or limitations of the man.
B&N.com: What influence did Kennedy's growing up in a large, competitive Catholic family have on him?
RD: His family's influence was particular. Especially from his father, who was determined to scale the heights, so to speak. The father accumulated one of the great fortunes in business history. He wanted to demonstrate to the Brahmins in Boston that he could be as successful as they were. Jack imbibed these lessons. Also, that no Kennedy child was going to be indolent. Although there was plenty of self-indulgence, there was a work ethic and an emphasis on achieving. He was in competition with his brother, Joe Jr., who died in the war. Joe wanted a son to be president and Jack rose to the challenge despite being a sickly child. It would have stopped 99.99 percent of people in their pursuit of the presidency.
B&N.com: How did Jack's illnesses affect his performance as president?
RD: He gave press conferences and speeches on the Bay of Pigs, Berlin Crisis, and civil rights tempests. And now that we can listen to the tapes from the Oval Office -- we see him as the leader. He is making the judgments, acting in commanding ways, and if it weren't for the medicines, I do not know that he would have been able to act in such a way.
I had access to his medical records, to material not seen before. He had quite a few illnesses. As a boy, he had spastic colitis. He was sent to the Mayo Clinic. In 1937, they gave him steroids -- very expensive -- for colitis. It apparently helped to rein it in but caused him to have osteoporosis of the lower back and caused the shutdown of his adrenal glands, causing Addison's disease. He couldn't pull his shoes and socks off his feet. He also had sinusitis. He had prostatitis, which was an inflammation. He was on testosterone to keep his weight up. The other medications pushed his cholesterol up.
He was on so many medications. I studied the various crises he passed through as president. I took the Cuban Missile Crisis and found out he was as lucid as you could hope anyone could be. But if it weren't for the medicine, I do not think he could have performed as well as president.
B&N.com: Did he suffer from depression at all?
RD: He was under stress, and as a result he was given additional doses of hydrocortisone. The point is, there were sweeping medications he took, such as stellazine, which was thought of as an antipsychotic but also was a mood elevator. But he did not suffer from clinical depression.
B&N.com: Should he even have served as president?
RD: If it were known that he was as ill as he was, he would not have been president. There was a cover-up about his medications and illnesses. He was going to be the first Catholic president.
B&N: Should there be some kind of physical exam for men and women seeking the presidency?
RD: We are entitled to the privacy of our medical records -- except for presidents. They do have their fingers on the nuclear trigger. One would like to think the public would be more understanding about illnesses like depression. We need to be more tolerant of the physical and emotional limitations that these men and women suffer. After all, they are not God.
B&N: How do you rate John F. Kennedy as president?
RD: The American public rates President Kennedy as one of the great presidents of American history. And in the USA Today poll taken about a month ago, Lincoln was the greatest president and Kennedy No. 2. Historians are more critical. I have seen him in the top 15 among historians. Washington, Lincoln, and FDR are the greatest. I rank him somewhere in the front ranks. Events of the 1,000 Days were very important. War and peace, civil rights, Medicare, federal aid to education -- JFK deserves high marks. He deserves to belong in the top 10.
He saved us from nuclear war. If he had lived, he would have passed vital domestic legislation for a tax cut, the war on poverty, and HUD. These measures were passed on to Johnson, but Kennedy initiated them.
B&N.com: What are some of Kennedy's other accomplishments?
RD: JFK was a war hero, and deservedly so. Even with his illnesses, he passed the Navy physical. One could say he didn't accomplish much in the House except get elected to the Senate. He also established himself to be a candidate for vice president in '56.
B&N.com: What was your view of how JFK handled the Cold War?
RD: He understood the dangers of nuclear war. His greatest accomplishment was reining in the possibility of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
B&N.com: Do you think he would have escalated the war in Vietnam and increased the American military presence there?
RD: I don't think Kennedy ever would have escalated the war in Vietnam. He had a visceral aversion to putting more troops into Vietnam. Yes, he increased the number of military advisers. But he was laying plans to get troops out by 1965. He didn't think America could do the job for the South Vietnamese.
B&N.com: What will your next project be?
RD: I am going to write a book on Nixon and Kissinger. It will again put me on the frontier of presidential scholarship.
Posted July 6, 2009
this book is so boring it isn't even funny. the author (Robert Dallek) has all of his research in the conversations throughout Kennedy's life. unless you are willing to read 702 pages worth of conversations, don't pick this book up. the writing is HORRIBLE! there were times when i had to read the same sentence over and over because the author doesn't even know how to properly use the comma within a sentence. this "style" of writing will leave grammar scholars double-guessing what it is that this man is trying to get across to the reader. the sentence structure is just as bad. the only reason that i finished the book is simply because i bought it and wasn't going to waste the money. there's nothing more dissatisfying than buying a book that LOOKED like a good read, but turned out to be a horrible FLOP. there is one sliver of a good quality within this book--the research. it is very informative, though it does feel a bit over-studied at times, becoming monotonous and aggravating to endure. another big problem i found with the book is that it is way too wordy. there were times when the sentence was packed with non-essential phrases that takes the mind off track of the original idea. this can lead to misinterpreting what is going on rather quickly. all in all, THE BOOK IS NOT WORTH A SPARING GLANCE!
12 out of 16 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 21, 2004
Before reading, I heard the author on the radio discussing the medicinal side of JFK's life. I also heard about his very high sex drive. After finishing the book, I felt that I knew little else that was new and wondered, Why did he take the time to write this? Then I recalled that he received exclusive access to JFK papers that have otherwise been off limits to historians and the public at large. If the reader has little knowledge of JFK's life, this book will help; however, for those who know more than a little bit, I would not partake.
8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 5, 2008
While I do agree with some of these reviews that An Unfinished Life is a fine work on President Kennedy, I would not go as far ast to say it is the best. My only complaint with this book is that it focuses too much on the affairs and the yellow journalism that has too often plagued our press today. while that is important in revealing ones character, which is something a president should have, I am more interested in the decision making and details of policy. This book just covers the basics and that is it. I do have to say though, it does a fine job with the cuban missle crisis. It does not reveal well enough the relationship between JFK and LBJ, someone who Mr. Dallek has written several books on. In all. An Unfinished Life does its job in presenting the life of JFK...This book is recommended for anyone who is interested in the man and his presidency. For the serious student, read A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy In The White House by arthur Schessinger (sp?)
5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 9, 2006
Dallek may have written a good general overview yet he recently described Lee Oswald as the lone gunman, which is starkly at odds with both the US majority consensus and the evidence. Even a cursory reading about the case (5-7 books) unearths a mountain of detail indicating conspiracy in the JFK shooting. In this regard Dallek is an old school conservative like others of his generation who accept the Warren Report without significant question. Recommendation: read other authors for a more competent review of the assassination.
2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 13, 2003
I am a 16 year old girl. I stumbled upon a movie entitled 'Jackie, Ethel and Joan, Women of Camelot' a few years ago. It truly fascinated me and I bought the book by J.Randy Taraborrelli. After that, I voraciously read books about the Kennedys, not so much as about the political aspect of the era as the personal. Now Jack, Jackie, Ethel, Joan, Bobby are just as much alive for me as most of my friends, even more so in some instances. I was not shocked in the purest sense of the world by much of An Unfinished Life, but was undoubtably suprised by how much of his life was cloaked in mystery. Although in my opinion to recapture a person's inner world on paper is next to impossible, An Unfinished Life is probably the most successful at depicting Kennedy . His was truly an unfinished life.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 25, 2013
Posted January 24, 2013
Dallek does well in presenting historical details in a fairly unbiased fashion. I learned quite a bit and understand some pieces better. The Cuban Missile Crisis is skimmed over a bit which surprised me.
if you are looking for a light read, this book is not for you. This book is intended for those who enjoy history, want to further their knowledge a bit, or challenge their own ideas. it's not written to read quickly; this book is intensive to read.
Posted December 15, 2012
Posted December 14, 2012
Altho the information given in the book is very interesting, the writer skips from generation to generation without tying anything together other than the main character. It is hard to follow - but, as I said, gives a lot of information perhaps not otherwise known about Mr. Kennedy and his family.
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Posted December 4, 2012
I could only make it a little over 100 pages before putting the book down. The author spends so much time on JFK's health as a young man, that it grew very tiring. He also uses medical terms without explaining what they mean to the non-medical expert. The details regarding JFK's youth (as I couldn't stand to make it any farther) were so tedious that I was beginning to expect that the author was planning on giving a description about every single day of JFK's life. I feel like the information became very repetitive and always circled back to JFK's health problems with a few interesting details thrown in the middle.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 1, 2008
This is a fasinating read on the life of one of the greatest presidents of all time John F Kennedy. It tells us about some of the tough situations he was in while in office like the Cuban missile crisis and tells us all about his personal illnesses right down to his assasination. If you are looking for a good book on JFK then this book is the one you are looking for. Buy it and enjoy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 15, 2006
I have read several biographies of different U.S. presidents over the past few years and I have to say that this is the best presidential biography I have read thus far. It is clear and concise, stays on topic, and refrains from making any judgements until the epilogue. One of the other things I liked was that it balanced things out with opposing views, like the end analysis of the Cuban missle crisis. A must read for any presidential historian or would-be president.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 28, 2005
Mr Dallek has written an outstanding historical piece, quite possibly the finest ever written about America's 35th President! He has revealed to the reader many things previously unknown such as the President's true medical condition, as well his relationship with his father who helped him win the election, and his brother Bobby who helped him run the country. This is a must read for anyone who wants to learn more about President Kennedy, and the world in which he lived.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 25, 2004
Best political (and possibly best overall) biography that I have ever read. Dalleck pulls no punches regarding Kennedy's personal shortcommings, but at the same time presents a fair and balanced biography of his life. Maticulously researched and documented, he presents a vivid portrait of a man as President as well as a human being complete with many human failures as well as fine qualities and strengths. Professor Dalleck presents a highly recomended effort that is easy to read and very informative especially in the area of JFK's numerous health problems and the family's efforts to conceal them from the public. This work not only contains an outstanding overview of JFK's life and provides superb documentation for his actions throughout his career, it also represents his Presidency in detail that few others have been able to match. It is amazing to note after 40 years, how close we came to the end of the world as we knew it in the 60's and how much JFK did to prevent nuclear war and nutralize the Soviet threat. Other problems of the era such as Civil Rights and the vietnam war are also covered in the same through manner. It is a given fact that JFK would probably not be elected in today's political climate and at the same time it interesting to see all that Joseph Kennedy was able to do to get him elected. As one who has read almost every JFK biography over the last 40 years, this one is the best and most through.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 4, 2003
In a time that sometimes seems so singularly transfixed by the surreal images and questionable utterances emanating from the electronic screens that surround us, it is interesting that a book so eminently capable of smashing some of these publicly held illusions should arrive on the scene. Indeed, ¿An Unfinished Life¿ is such a marvelously conceived and well-written book that one feels ambivalent and intellectually torn as he or she rushes through it in order to learn of the stunning new perspectives and documented facts about the already so-well explored life of John F. Kennedy, for one wishes to simultaneously slow down the pace of the reading to better appreciate and enjoy the sheer profundity of the language and style confected by Professor Robert Dallek here even as one rushes to the next pages and the next set of facts and figures he so scrupulously and seamlessly threads together. Taken as a whole, he has woven into whole cloth what can only be described as a quite new and novel perspective on the whole of Kennedy¿s personality, life, and presidency. Make no mistake about it; this is a fabulously researched, documented, and written product, the result of this acclaimed historian¿s pain-stakingly slow and exhaustive approach to re-examining the public facts surrounding the private and personal particulars of John F. Kennedy¿s life such that we learn the degree to which his public image was an arduously constructed set of misleading half-truths designed to hide from the public the degree to which Kennedy suffered from a whole range of physical afflictions and serious illnesses that if known might have destroyed any chance he had to gain the presidency. We also learn many more particulars about the ways the Kennedy family strove to win what they wanted at almost any cost to others as well as to themselves. So too, do we learn more about the particular social and personal foibles of JFK, such that his many randy adventures in spite of his health and his ambitions could have seriously endangered the whole juggernaut toward claiming the presidency, which Papa Joe Kennedy had evidently come to claim as his son¿s eventual birthright. What we learn here in total tends to change our view of what Kennedy was, both as a private man struggling to live each and every day as if it were literally his last, and as a public leader, who often had to overcome physical pain and mental anguish in order to perform on the world stage. Recognizing the true grit Kennedy employed over decades in order to become the kind of spectacular over-achiever he became is a lesson in what is possible for those rare individuals who are able to overcome such pain and anguish and who strive despite their personal hardships. On the other hand, I find it frightening to recognize the degree to which the Kennedy family orchestrated what has to be the most masterful cover-up of JFK¿s medical conditions from the time of his service in WWII, when he was so badly afflicted by physical infirmities that he should never have been allowed to serve in the active military, to after his death, when they colored the facts to suit the kind of growing myth of JFK as this hearty, healthy, and athletically gifted young man cut down in his physical prime. I am least impressed by the treatment of JFK¿s policy toward Vietnam, which the author insists was both restrained and limited in its scope. While I agree he was unlikely to have gone along with the kinds of disastrous escalations that both LBJ and Richard Nixon endorsed, I am not entirely convinced that JFK was as sanguine and cautious as the author claims. After all, the man most responsible for the ardent escalation and execution of the war in Vietnam was Robert McNamara, a man hand-picked by Kennedy for the job precisely because of his enthusiasm and his rational (read here ¿math-oriented and quantitative¿) belief in gathering and interpreting the facts. I fear that under the circumstances, JFK might have falWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 3, 2003
A remarkable step by step account of the life JFK led. From his illness' as a child to the ascencion of the Presidency, this book is a must read for those who have followed JFK and for those who need the record to be set straight. A MUST READ, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, DALLEK IS A BRILLIANT AUTHOR AND HAS BRILLIATLY BROUGHT THE AURA OF JFK BACK TO LIFE...Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 6, 2003
Having studied under Professor Dallek as both an undergraduate and graduate student, I believe that his scholarship is outstanding, his prose is superb, and all of his works are intriguing and intellectually stimulating. I would recommend any of his works.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 17, 2003
A view to a man less ordinary. This book present a side of Jack's unknown to many. Perhaps one of the top five presidents, this book show us that he was, in fact, human. It is not easy been presisident of the United States when you are catholic. Buy Kennedy manage to overcom that, at least with the voters. An Unfinish Life take us to where Jack didn't wanted us to go. To He himself. It is a brilliant narration of a period in history that shall never be forgotten. Dallek is superb.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 17, 2003
A good book, but we knew most of this. Jack Kennedy was a great president. He inspired Americans to enter into public service for the good of the country. That was a noble calling we hear less often today.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 6, 2012
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