An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 [NOOK Book]


Everywhere acclaimed for its compelling narrative, its fresh insights, and its dispassionate appraisal of John F. Kennedy's presidency, this #1 national bestseller is the first full-scale single-volume biography of JFK to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing on previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives, An Unfinished Life is packed with revelations large and small - about JFK's health, his love affairs, RFK's appointment as Attorney General, what Joseph Kennedy did to ...
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An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

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Everywhere acclaimed for its compelling narrative, its fresh insights, and its dispassionate appraisal of John F. Kennedy's presidency, this #1 national bestseller is the first full-scale single-volume biography of JFK to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing on previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives, An Unfinished Life is packed with revelations large and small - about JFK's health, his love affairs, RFK's appointment as Attorney General, what Joseph Kennedy did to help his son win the White House, and the path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement had he survived. Robert Dallek succeeds as no other biographer has done in striking a critical balance - never shying away from JFK's weaknesses, brilliantly exploring his strengths - as he offers up a vivid portrait of a bold, brave, complex, heroic, human Kennedy.
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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
It's hard to believe that someone could find anything new to say about John F. Kennedy, but Dallek succeeds in this riveting and well-documented biography. Despite plentiful revelations about Kennedy's private life, the book is very much a political biography, which keenly explores Kennedy's grasp of modern political campaigning. (The account of how the Kennedy machine managed the issue of his Catholicism in the 1960 West Virginia primary is particularly telling.) But he wasn't always sure what to do with power once he had it. His ideas on domestic policy were surprisingly conventional, and his foreign policy seems jingoistic. Kennedy, however, had the ability to change his mind -- no small accomplishment for a President -- and by the time he died he was a considerably more sophisticated leader. One need not accept Dallek's fanciful, if familiar, conclusion -- that, had Kennedy lived, he might have pulled the United States out of Vietnam -- to think that J.F.K.' s political career was a work in progress that was arrested too soon.
NY Times Sunday Book Review
But all in all, this is a most important new study of a presidency that still feels far closer than it is, and continues to rebuke successive occupants of the Oval Office for the smallness of their dreams. It is thorough, unflinching and balanced -- all qualities Kennedy would have admired, even if some of the revelations hurt. Clearly he had a higher pain threshold than most of us. The Camelot fortress may tremble at the revelation that J.F.K. suffered from irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis and other common ailments. But making Kennedy mortal again is another way of bringing him back to life, and this book will certainly enhance his reputation. It revives the man without worrying too much about the legend, and as he once said at a Yale commencement, ''The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie … but the myth.'' — Ted Widmer
The Washington Post
… scholars and the wider public alike will appreciate Dallek's vivid portrait of John Kennedy and the engrossing history he has written of Kennedy's presidency. — Allen J. Matusow
Douglas Brinkley
...sets the historical record straight...pitch-perfect prose...hands-down the best biography of JFK...a truly remarkable achievement.—author of The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Journey Beyond the White House and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans
People Magazine
Dallek...fashions a balanced but fast-paced tale of sex and power...Camelor confidential shines..."
That Dallek has no ax to grind or myth to explode gives his portrait, after all these years, a certain stability and completeness, and therefore, with all the contradictions, a likeness to life.
The New York Times
An Unfinished Life is no salacious exposé. Mr. Dallek, a professor of history at Boston University and the author of several well-respected scholarly books, including a two-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson, instead offers an impressively judicious and balanced account of Kennedy's life and presidency. — David J. Garrow
Boston Globe, 5/25/03
Dallek is a master of the biographical craft.
The Los Angeles Times
There have now been three generations of Kennedy books. First came the Camelot wave of biographies romanticizing JFK. Then came the debunking backlash that lacked proportion and emphasized sex over substance. The third wave, beginning with Richard Reeves' 1993 biography, Profile of Power, began to provide serious scholarship, new information and a more detached perspective. An Unfinished Life adds even more shadings, details and intimacy to the portrait. It gets to the bone and shows us the pain. Johnny, we know ye better now, thanks to this thoughtful and truthful biography. — Jack Newfield
Publishers Weekly
McGonagle's commanding voice and sober approach fit well with this scholarly, fascinating look at the life of an American icon. Dallek (Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973) plumbs several pertinent family papers for fresh revelations on Kennedy's health and liaisons, and ably outlines his upbringing, family history and path to the presidency. McGonagle is an experienced actor, and he keeps the reading at an even pace while rarely straying from a restrained, dignified tone. His impersonation of the Kennedys' famous Boston accents is only passable, and the occasional snippets of swelling music, complete with majestic trumpet calls, will strike some as over-the-top. But these are minor imperfections in an otherwise excellent recording. This audio abridgment is a worthy substitute for those interested in a stimulating new look at Kennedy's life, but who may not have the time to tackle the book's nearly 1,000 pages. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Forecasts, May 12). (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Dallek has done here for Kennedy what he did for Lyndon Johnson (Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant). He has written the most accessible, balanced, and scholarly biography yet of JFK. Given access to more records about Kennedy than any previous biographer, he concludes that the Addison's disease and chronic back pain Kennedy endured most of his life resulted from steroid injections he received for a variety of childhood illnesses. The outstanding feature of the book is that Dallek praises and faults Kennedy without the emotionalism that detracted from many earlier biographies. Kennedy is criticized for his well-documented womanizing and for taking a political instead of a principled stand on civil rights while President because he didn't want to risk losing the considerable support of Southern Democrats. Kennedy, once reelected in 1964, would have removed American troops from Vietnam, suggests the author, a theme also advanced by Howard Jones in Death of a Generation. Dallek acknowledges that this is not the final account of Kennedy; as more documents become available, new interpretations and different conclusions will be forthcoming. For now and the immediate future, it is the Kennedy biography against which others will be measured. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Jack Newfield
Comprehensive, 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
Ted Widmer
An intimate portrait indeed . . . unexpected and important. . . . This is nothing if not a profile in courage.
New York Times Book Review
The New Yorker
"It's hard to believe that someone could find anything new to say about John F. Kennedy, but Dallek succeeds in this riveting and well-documented biography."
Steve Dougherty
Neither debunking nor further mythologizing, Dallek fashions a balanced but fast-paced tale of sex and power that scribes from Shakespeare to Jacqueline Susann would have killed for.
Los Angeles Times
"Comprehensive, 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."
New York Times Book Review
"An intimate portrait indeed . . . unexpected and important. . . . This is nothing if not a profile in courage."
David Herbert Donald
"One of the most engrossing biographies I have ever read. . . . An Unfinished Life is nothing less than a masterpiece."
Steve Dougherty - People Magazine
"Neither debunking nor further mythologizing, Dallek fashions a balanced but fast-paced tale of sex and power that scribes from Shakespeare to Jacqueline Susann would have killed for."
"Neither debunking nor further mythologizing, Dallek fashions a balanced but fast-paced tale of sex and power that scribes from Shakespeare to Jacqueline Susann would have killed for."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780759528284
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 5/1/2003
  • Sold by: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 146,848
  • File size: 7 MB

Meet the Author

Robert Dallek
Robert Dallek is one of the most highly regarded historians in America today and the author of more than a dozen books, including his two-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant, and Nixon and Kissinger. Currently a faculty member at Stanford University's prestigious Washington program, he has also taught at Boston University, Columbia University, UCLA and Oxford.
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Read an Excerpt

An Unfinished Life

By Robert Dallek

Warner Books

Copyright © 2003 Robert Dallek
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0316172383

Chapter One


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.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Part 1 Growing Up
Chapter 1 Beginnings 3
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?
Chapter 7 Nomination 229
Chapter 8 Election 267
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
Epilogue 703
Acknowledgments 713
Sources 716
Notes 717
Bibliography 805
Index 812
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Robert Dallek

Barnes & 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& 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& 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& 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& 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& 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& 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& 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& 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.

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    Posted January 21, 2004

    Why Did I Read This?

    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.

    9 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2013

    Dallek does well in presenting historical details in a fairly un

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2006

    one caution about Dallek's book:

    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 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2003

    Robert Dallek is an exceptional scholar

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2003

    A truly wonderful book about an extraordinary person

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2012

    Fascinating and extremely interesting

    Only 25% thru book and learning some significant information about JFK, his family and friends that was heretofore unknown by me.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2004

    Superb Biography

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2003

    Superb Ground-Breaking Biographic Effort

    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 fal

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2003

    Not much new

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2013

    John f kennedy


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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2012

    Poorly Written

    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.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2005

    An Unfinished Life

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    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...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    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.

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    Posted January 4, 2010

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    Posted June 17, 2013

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