Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm: A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940

The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm: A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940

4.3 19
by Will Swift

See All Formats & Editions

In The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm, Will Swift presents a fresh, empathetic interpre­tation of the ambassadorship of Joseph Kennedy and explores the intricate, often shifting relation­ships among Kennedy, Chamberlain, Churchill, and, of course, Roosevelt.

Arriving in London in early 1938, the Irish-Catholic Kennedys were welcomed


In The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm, Will Swift presents a fresh, empathetic interpre­tation of the ambassadorship of Joseph Kennedy and explores the intricate, often shifting relation­ships among Kennedy, Chamberlain, Churchill, and, of course, Roosevelt.

Arriving in London in early 1938, the Irish-Catholic Kennedys were welcomed by politicians, aristocrats, and intellectuals, all eager to court America. They finally appeared to have overcome their lifelong status as outsiders. From 1938 to 1940, the Kennedys crystallized their identity as protagonists on the world stage, making public the competitive and clannish intrafamily dynamics that would fuel their mythic rise to power. They all learned from their father's successes—and failures. The older children—Joe Jr., Jack, and Kathleen—took an active part in England's glittering, "last fling before the bombs fall" society, but all nine children charmed, their every move chronicled by the British and American media. John F. Kennedy's path to the White House began in London. As his father's political fortunes dimmed, Jack published a best-selling book and his star rose.

Drawing on recently released Kennedy family archives, Joseph P. Kennedy's private papers, and using rare photographs of English society and the photogenic Kennedy clan, Dr. Swift, with penetrating psychological insight, brings to life this fascinating family during a dramatic one thousand day period.

Editorial Reviews

Lynne Olson
Swift, a clinical psychologist, does an admirable job of depicting Kennedy the man, an Irish Catholic outsider who spent most of his life trying to "defuse his profound sense of being a second-class citizen" by seeking acceptance from the WASP establishment.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Clinical psychologist and historian Swift (The Roosevelts and the Royals) capably documents Joseph P. Kennedy's troubled tenure as American minister to the Court of St. James's, and the experiences of his family during these years, aiming to present a "fair and comprehensive" portrait of a man he says has been caricatured by other historians. But Kennedy's flaws still appear to outweigh his virtues. He proved a problem to FDR almost immediately, casting his lot with such British appeasers as Neville Chamberlain, Nancy Astor and others of the so-called Cliveden set. This earned him the enmity of Winston Churchill and criticism from such administration figures as Henry Morgenthau Jr., Cordell Hull and FDR himself, who had to regularly remind Kennedy that his role was to implement, not define, United States policy. Kennedy lasted just over two years, during which his second eldest son, Jack, became a bestselling author with Why England Slept. Eldest son Joe Jr. toured war-torn Spain and wrote articles in support of Franco's Fascist forces. And daughter Kathleen ("Kick") became immersed in aristocratic British nightlife, meeting Billy Cavendish-the marquess of Hartington and a Protestant-to whom she would eventually be married, to her Catholic mother's horror. All this Swift narrates with grace and style. Illus. and photos. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In 1938, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to his lasting regret, appointed Joseph Kennedy ambassador to the Court of St. James. Kennedy spent three years in Great Britain, during that uneasy time when it was threatened by the Nazis' European conquests and by American isolationism that left it without financial or military support. Swift (The Roosevelts and the Royals: Franklin and Eleanor, the King and Queen of England, and the Friendship That Saved History) offers a revisionist portrayal of Kennedy, who became one of the most hated men in England. Swift downplays Kennedy's anti-Semitism by claiming that he did more for Jewish refugees than FDR's other European ambassadors. He explains Kennedy's rants about Great Britain's inevitable defeat by stating that he was echoing, not creating, U.S. sentiment. After his 1940 resignation, he devoted his life to promoting the political careers of sons John, Robert, and Ted, as well as encouraging the professional lives of his other children, who, Swift says, benefited from their father's public-mindedness but were also conflicted by his flaws. This well-told account takes a less harsh view of Joseph Kennedy than Ronald Kessler's Sins of the Father: Joseph P. Kennedy and the Dynasty He Foundedand Edward J. Renehan Jr.'s The Kennedys at War, 1937-1945. Recommended for public libraries.
—Karl Helicher

Kirkus Reviews
A sympathetic reappraisal of Joseph P. Kennedy's controversial tenure as America's ambassador to Britain. With the European dictators Mussolini and Hitler becoming increasingly belligerent, Kennedy's 1938 appointment to the Court of St. James's came at an especially dangerous time. The first Irish-Catholic ever to fill the distinguished position, the successful businessman actively sought the honor. Despite friends' warnings that his background, temperament and talents ill-suited him for the job, Kennedy headed for London intent on keeping the United States neutral in the war everyone feared was approaching. At first, along with his large and attractive family, he charmed all of London. In a detailed text that never becomes tedious, Swift (The Roosevelts and the Royalty, 2004, etc.) explains how it all turned sour and how the ambassadorship quickly morphed from a glittering culmination into the sad undoing of Kennedy's public-service career. While he concedes that Kennedy's own ambition, independence, pride, stubbornness and thin skin contributed to his failure, Swift insists, for the most part persuasively, that the old fox was himself outfoxed by FDR, who knew precisely how to manipulate him. Kennedy's isolationism, his fear of the devastation that would be wrought by a second world war, Swift reminds us, perfectly mirrored popular opinion in the United States. Focusing primarily on how the ambassador gradually lost the confidence of both the U.S. and British governments, Swift also pays significant attention to Rose, who reveled in the social status accorded the ambassador's wife; to daughter Kathleen, who became something of a debutante sensation; to sons Joe Jr. and Jack, who servedintermittently as aides to their father; and to an array of famous names-Nancy Astor, Clare Booth Luce, Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh, Pope Pius XXII-who were all part of the Kennedys' orbit. An admirably balanced assessment of an enormously complicated man who, wrongly but not ignobly, stood athwart history. Agent: Judith Riven/Judith Riven Literary Agent
Bob Self
“Elegantly written, delicately nuanced, this compelling account brings Joe Kennedy and his family to life.”
David Nasaw
“A thoroughly revisionist but remarkably persuasive history of Joseph P. Kennedy’s years in London”
Lynne McTaggart
“By wisely presenting pre-war London as a crucible in the [Kennedy] family history, [Swift] exposes the origin of many of the political, social, personal triumphs and tragedies that have cast the family—the father in particular—as a modern-day Lear.”
Anne De Courcy
“Swift’s chronicle gives an impressive insight into the mechanics of government on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Jane Vieth
“Dr. Swift’s psychological insight into the Kennedy family members and their dynamics makes a major contribution to the Kennedy literature.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sold by:
Sales rank:
File size:
4 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm
A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940

Chapter One

Into the Lion's Mouth

It was pouring rain as Joseph Kennedy boarded the U.S.S. Manhattan in New York harbor on Monday, February 23. Joe was completely exhausted. It had been an intense five days since he had been sworn in, in Washington, D.C., as ambassador to Great Britain. Just hours before boarding, Joe had dashed up to Hyde Park, New York, for a secret conference with the president. Now, on this stormy day, he was nearly "suffocated" by the press of "newspaper men, casual well-wishers, old friends and strangers by the thousand," who had essentially cornered him in his cabin, all of them determined to bask in his great success and learn the latest news about Anglo-American relations. Joe could not wriggle through them to reach eight of his children waiting on the top deck to say good-bye.

Jimmy Roosevelt squeezed his way into Joe's cabin and pulled him into the suite's bedroom, but even as they spoke, photographers snapped pictures of the two men sitting together on the bed.

In a brief interview, interrupted by his many friends and associates, Kennedy denied that President Roosevelt had given him any instructions the previous day about how to conduct himself in his new position. Protecting himself and subtly criticizing the president and the State Department, he told the press: "I'm just a babe being thrown into . . ."

"The lion's mouth?" one reporter suggested. Kennedy's vague smile left reporters wondering how he felt about his prospects. For Joe, such an uncontrolled and undignified leave-taking was "a nightmare" andan inauspicious beginning for a man realizing his dream of playing a vital role on the world stage and being, as he told the press, "a staunch believer in peace. . . ."

Finally, Joe managed to wend his way up to an upper deck where his sons Joe Jr., Bobby, and Teddy and his daughters Rosemary, Kick, Eunice, Patricia, and Jean had gathered. Joe's second son, Jack, often sickly, had caught a cold training for the swim team at Harvard; it was too risky to his health to see his father off in such inclement weather. Even here, photographers and fellow passengers with cameras intruded on their good-byes. As the ship prepared to depart, Joe's close friend Eddie Moore managed to herd the children off the ship and onto the dock at a place where they could stand, albeit unprotected from the pouring rain, to wave and throw kisses to their father.

Absent from the scene, much to Joe's dismay, was Rose. A month earlier in Palm Beach, while packing for the move to London, she had developed abdominal pains, ignoring them with a characteristic stoicism. When she could no longer tolerate the pain, Joe had her flown by private plane to Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, where her physician, Dr. Frederick Good, successfully performed an appendectomy. There was reason for such urgency. Rose Kennedy's biographer Charles Higham points out, "In those days before antibiotics came into general use, there was the dread of peritonitis, which killed, among other celebrities, Rudolph Valentino."

On New Year's Day, Roosevelt had written Britain's King George VI that he had chosen a "distinguished citizen" "to reside near the Government of Your Majesty in the quality of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America." With an assurance he would later come to question, FDR told the king, "My knowledge of his high character and ability gives me entire confidence that he will constantly endeavor to advance the interests and prosperity of both governments. . . ." A few days later, the king's representatives informed the president that Kennedy would be "entirely agreeable to His Majesty the King." The inevitable consternation at court about the ambassadorial appointment of a maverick American business mogul who embodied two related issues that remained unresolved in the British psyche—its relation to Ireland and its history of anti-Catholicism—went officially unspoken.

Always clannish, Kennedy would surround himself with a cadre of loyal employees. His handsome and elegant friend Arthur Houghton, a former theatrical manager and an inveterate storyteller, kept Joe amused. The "rough-hewn" Harvey Klemmer, Joe's speechwriter from the Maritime Commission, would provide the ambassador with support on the job, as would Harold B. Hinton, a very sophisticated former New York Times reporter Joe had hired to do public relations—a job he anticipated would be extremely important to advance the agenda of both his ambassadorship and his family. Jimmy Roosevelt's friend Page Huidekoper, a very competent nineteen-year-old personal assistant, would serve as Hinton's clerk. Page found Joe to be charming, bright, and self-centered, with "an aberrant sense of humor." She quickly learned that Joe didn't "do nuances."

Kennedy had few close friends, but he could be kind to people in his inner circle. Joseph Kingsbury-Smith, a reporter for the International News Service of the United Press, remembered Joe as a friend who was "warm, kindly, considerate." When Kingsbury-Smith was hospitalized with broken legs, Joe secured for him the services of the royal household's surgeons and specialists, and visited him frequently.

Also accompanying Kennedy were Anthony (Tony) Drexel Biddle and his wife, Margaret. Biddle was the sartorially splendid scion of the banking family that had founded Philadelphia's Drexel University. FDR had made him ambassador to Poland the year before, and he was returning via London to his post. In a curious indication of the power and social proximity of America's most prominent families, Roosevelt's three key ambassadors—Joe Kennedy, Tony Biddle, and William Bullitt, the ambassador to France—would eventually become related by marriage. Tony was a relative of Jack Kennedy's future wife, Jacqueline, and Bill Bullitt's daughter would wed Tony Biddle's son.

As the U.S.S. Manhattan sailed toward Britain, Joe finally had time to focus on his mission as ambassador, a job that had taken on increased urgency in recent months as the turmoil in Europe threatened the restless and resentful peace Europe experienced in the nineteen years since . . .

The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm
A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940
. Copyright © by Will Swift. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Will Swift, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, who has been writing about American leaders and British royalty of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for more than twenty years. He is the author of The Roosevelts and the Royals, which Blanche Wiesen Cook called "a splendid addition to our understanding of the extraordinary Anglo-American partnership," and which Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., called "an excellent book." Will Swift lives in New York City and at the Nathan Wild House in Valatie, New York.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm: A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've always been a fan of reading about the Kennedy family and this book was a great read. Kennedy Sr. expressed a lot of isolationist views throughout his ambassadorship and this sort of attitude led to his political demise. The book focused on a variety of topics that all relate to his ambassadorship and the social aspect of Kennedy's time as ambassador to England during pre-WWII. I do believe that there too many names to remember and social events that were often referred to later in the book. Many of the social events and people seen throughout led to me to look back in the book to remember what happened. This was the major downfall of the book and made me frustrated at times. Otherwise, pick this book up the next chance you get!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the way history should be written. Carefully researched and filled with facts 'some never before revealed', the book moves at a fast pace keeping the reader intigued and never bored. Will Swift captures the formidible Kennedy family at a turning point in history that many have forgotten - the prelude to World War II. He portrays the self-made, vastly wealthy, crafty and tenacious Joseph Kennedy - admired by some and distrusted by others - as a true patriot who worked steadfastly in an attempt to keep his beloved country out of war. It was a war he felt would lead to disaster. Living with Ambassador Kennedy during his 1000 days in London, the reader sees an Irish Catholic family capture the attention of the lavish and flamboyant society that flourished at the time and the respect of a Protestant nation. The opinions and attitudes of world leaders during that crucial time are well detailed. There is also time to observe the children in Joseph and Rose Kennedy's tight-knit family (among them Jack, Bobby and Ted) mature and take on some of the talents of their accomplished parents -talents that would serve them well in their later careers. It is a book worth every minute of the read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The intriguing information yielded by the author's broad and thorough research, presented interactively with such a fluid and engrossing narrative, makes for a captivating and delicious read. Dr. Swift's book casts Joe Kennedy in a new and somewhat more appealing and admirable light while also offering a better understanding of and sympathy for Neville Chamberlain as well as new insights to other luminaries posturing on the eve of World War II. Swift's profile of the era's behind the scenes drama with high level players such as Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, punctuated by juicy references to their private sides vis-a-vis involements with friends and enemies,is guarnateed to satisfy on all fronts.
SantanaTN More than 1 year ago
Not only were Joe Kennedy and his family involved in all of the intrigues that led up to World War II, they were pivotal in the final days leading up to the inclusion of the United States in the war. As a novice ambassador appointed by Roosevelt after much political pressure, Joe's candor was greeted with disdain on both sides of the Atlantic. An in depth look at the dealings of Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Prime Minister Chamberlain and Winston Churchill as the world teetered on the brink of a global war show how political appointments often lead to disastrous consequences. The author did an outstanding job of providing the reader insight into the drama occurring as this period of history unfolded.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sits down in a small room with a piano and starts playing let it go....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cleaned off the instraments
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sees Reign she puts her beats down so they wrap around her neck "Hey Reign"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Goes into a soundproof room.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*Practices piano and sings to "The Scientist".*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A recording and DJ room in one place and a room of instruments in another. One room has all glass walls facing the lake for inspiration and anither room has racks and racks of music albums.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We are SilverClan. Our leader is Wolfstar. Our deputy is Shiningmoon. Our medicine cat is Riverdapple. We are kind and generous, but we are strong and fierce when it comes to fighting our enemy. Our Clan is located at 'Silver Moons' 1-11 results. -Icestorm
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mossclan is a new clan located at night moon. I, Icestar, am the leader, amd my deputy is Darkheart. My medicine cat is Mosslily, and her apprentice is Featherpaw.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Idk...wonder where my leader is anyway...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
(Corrections to the below entry by Firesteel.) Clan name: Wolfclan. Leader: Ghoststar. Deputy: Iceshard. Senior warriors: Firesteel, Scarloke.