Sons of Camelot is the compelling story of the Kennedy sons and grandsons in the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It is the most intimate biography ever written about the Kennedys, with the cooperation of family and friends at a moment when they are ready to talk with insight and depth about their lives. Among the many stunning portraits in the book is the definitive account of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s life, including interviews with his ten closest friends, none of whom has ever talked to an author before. Based on five years of rigorous research and unprecedented cooperation from the five surviving sons of Robert Kennedy, the four Shriver sons, Maria Shriver, and other Kennedys, Sons of Camelot is not only the most authoritative account, it is by far the most revealing book ever written about these lives. Falling far short of the great ambitions their patriarch, Joseph P. Kennedy, envisioned for his family, the lives of his youthful progeny are instead characterized by overwhelming drama full of exalted aspirations, notable achievements, and the most spectacular mishaps, excesses, and tragedies. Yet among them are those whose remarkable accomplishments have led to better lives for all Americans and for others around the world. Heartbreaking and inspiring, Sons of Camelot is a spellbinding history of individuals and a family, a journey of character through time told by a brilliant, masterful writer.
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About the Author
Laurence Leamer is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including The Kennedy Women and The Price of Justice. He has worked in a French factory and a West Virginia coal mine, and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal. His play, Rose, was produced off Broadway last year. He lives in Palm Beach, Florida, and Washington, D.C., with his wife, Vesna Obradovic Leamer.
Read an Excerpt
Sons of Camelot
The Fate of an American Dynasty
A Soldier's Salute
On his third birthday, John F. Kennedy Jr. stood holding his mother's hand as the caisson pulled by six gray horses rolled by, bearing the body of his father. It was a cold day, and John was wearing shorts and a cloth coat. His mother, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, whispered to her son, and John saluted his father. This was not a little boy making a stab at a military greeting, but a young actor performing a soldier's salute. Practically everyone in America who viewed the funeral of President John F. Kennedy on television or saw the picture in the newspapers felt a poignant identity with the fatherless child. It was an indelible image, forever frozen in that moment.
After they buried the president on November 25, 1963, the Kennedys returned to the White House to celebrate John's birthday. The party was a masquerade of joyousness within the somber patterns of this day. It was both a retreat into the safe harbor of family and an assertion that they would go on as they always had. Seated at the table with John were many of the same energetic children who the summer before had clambered onto the president's electric cart at the Kennedy summer estate on Cape Cod. Robert Francis Kennedy and his wife, Ethel Skakel Kennedy, were there with their seven children. Alongside them were Patricia Kennedy Lawford and Peter Lawford's daughter, Sydney Maleia.
Several of these children were old enough to know that a terrible event had occurred. Bobby's eight-year-old son David was a boy of immense sensitivity. When he had been picked up by one of his father's aides from parochial school only minutes after his uncle's death, he presumably had no way to know what had transpired in Dallas, but somehow he had figured it out. "Jack's hurt," he said, after dialing numbers on his toy phone. "Why did somebody shoot him?"
Senator Edward Moore Kennedy had been presiding over the Senate when he learned that his brother had been shot in Dallas. His first reaction was to worry about the safety of his wife, Joan Bennett Kennedy. He had driven back to his home in Georgetown, running traffic lights and honking other vehicles out of his way. He then flew up to Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, to tell his father, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, that the president had been assassinated, but he broke into sobs before entering the room and his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, gave Joe the news.
Ted returned immediately to Washington, where this evening he stood at the birthday party next to his brother Bobby. Ted managed to keep up a facade of good cheer in front of the children, but his surviving brother wore a gray mask of mourning. Bobby had been the president's alter ego and protector. He could finish his brother's sentences and complete a task that Jack signaled with no more than a nod or a gesture. He had loved his brother so intensely and served him so well that within the administration it was hard to tell where one man ended and the other began.
Now Jack was dead. That was grief enough to buckle the knees of most men, but that was only the beginning of Bobby's agonies. He was the attorney general of the United States, and John F. Kennedy had died on his watch. Bobby may have feared that his responsibility went even further, that the man or men who murdered the president -- be they CIA agents, Cuban exiles, mobsters, or a strange lone man enraged at the attack on Castro's Cuba -- had been egged on by a policy that the attorney general himself had instituted.
When Jack died, Bobby's immediate reaction was to try to discover who might have killed his brother, first looking within his own government. Then he protected the president's secrets by locking up his papers and files. Bobby's grief was sharpened further by the fact that Vice President Lyndon Johnson was now president. Bobby considered Johnson a vulgar usurper who, he believed, would turn away from his brother's principles and ideals.
One of Bobby's first acts after his brother's assassination was to write a letter to his eldest son, reminding eleven-year-old Joseph Patrick Kennedy II of the obligations of his name. "You are the oldest of all the male grandchildren," he wrote. "You have a special and particular responsibility now which I know you will fulfill. Remember all the things that Jack started -- be kind to others that are less fortunate than we -- and love our country." Young Joe was the oldest of all the Kennedy grandchildren, and if it was not burden enough to be faced with the violent death of his beloved uncle, he now was being given another, even heavier load to lift.
Bobby sent the letter to Joe, but the message was meant for all his sons and nephews. More than anything else, Jack willed to his brothers, son, and nephews a treasure chest of promise, golden nuggets of what might have been and what might yet be. Just as the forty-six-year-old leader would be forever young, his administration would be forever unfulfilled. Historians would endlessly debate the qualities of distinction he had shown in the Oval Office, but he would stand high in the minds of his fellow citizens, remembered by most Americans as one of the greatest of presidents.
As they attempted to fulfill the mandate that Jack had left them, Bobby and Ted had an immense capital of goodwill and feeling unlike anything an American political family had known before. Americans had worn the black crepe of mourning for Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but they did not seek to elevate their heirs or to see their presidencies as part of an ongoing family endeavor in which a brother or a son might rightfully assume that same mantle of high power.Sons of Camelot
The Fate of an American Dynasty. Copyright © by Laurence Leamer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
|1.||A Soldier's Salute||1|
|2.||Sheep Without a Shepherd||10|
|3.||Games of Power||17|
|4.||The Senators Kennedy||26|
|5.||Peaks and Valleys||40|
|6.||A Brother's Challenge||49|
|7.||War in a Distant Clime||61|
|8.||Standing in the Rubicon||72|
|9.||A Race Against Himself||77|
|11.||Ports of Call||103|
|13.||The Road Not Taken||123|
|15.||Sailing Beyond the Sunset||142|
|17.||A Clearing in the Future||158|
|19.||The Shriver Table||183|
|21.||Keeping the Faith||205|
|23.||A Life to Be Stepped Around||226|
|24.||The Games of Men||234|
|25.||Left Out in the Cold||251|
|26.||Joe Jones in New Haven||265|
|27.||John at Brown||280|
|28.||An Actor's Life||290|
|30.||Peter Pan on Rollerblades||313|
|32.||A Man Apart||341|
|34.||Love, Loyalty, and Money||360|
|37.||Adrenaline Addicts Anonymous||390|
|39.||A Child of the Universe||409|
|40.||Games Kennedys Play||422|
|42.||A Tattered Banner||448|
|43.||"Ladies and Gentlemen, Meet George"||456|
|44.||A Father and Son||468|
|45.||John's Best Shot||476|
|46.||Poster Boys for Bad Behavior||487|
|47.||Clinton and the Kennedys||495|
|48.||A Life of Choices||503|
|50.||Beguiled and Broken Hearts||535|
|52.||Times of Testing||552|
|53.||Ripples of Hope||566|
An Interview with Laurence Leamer
Barnes & Noble.com: You previously wrote The Kennedy Men and The Kennedy Women. What made you want to continue the saga and write this book about the next generation, the so-called Sons of Camelot?
Laurence Leamer: I envisioned these books as a trilogy, and this third volume finishes my 15 years of work on the subject.
B&N.com: Considering that many of the daughters are quite successful -- Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Maria Shriver, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- why not also write about the "Daughters of Camelot"?
LL: All of the stories of the young Kennedy women are in the book I wrote, The Kennedy Women. The only thing is that it doesn't cover is the last decade.
B&N.com: What is the great attraction and appeal to you of the history of the Kennedy family?
LL: On one level, there is no drama in American life that equals that of the Kennedys. It is beyond Shakespeare and it is beyond Greek tragedy. On another level, the Kennedys are very much alive. And in writing about them, I felt very alive.
B&N.com: It is very interesting that before you get into the story of the grandsons of Joseph P. Kennedy, you spend a considerable amount of time talking about Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy. Why did you choose to do that, and what do you see as the most significant things about their life stories?
LL: Our fathers profoundly effect all of us. But I think I have never seen a family in which the fathers had such a profound influence. If Robert Kennedy had lived, America might have been different, but I know absolutely that the lives of Robert Kennedy's sons would have been profoundly different. Ted Kennedy became a surrogate father to John and Caroline, and to Robert Kennedy's children. He had a massive impact on their lives.
Also, Robert Kennedy began the reinvention of American liberalism. He understood that big government did not necessarily mean good government. He understood the perniciousness of welfare. He was one of the first politicians that understood when you have generations living on welfare, it could be devastating and harmful to people. He thought there had to be a better way. At that time, no other Democratic politician understood that. As for Senator Ted Kennedy, he probably will be considered the greatest legislator of the 20th century. As a sign of that, last year former president George H. W. Bush gave Sen. Kennedy an award for distinguished public service.
B&N.com: On the other hand, you uncovered some new information on Chappaquiddick. What was it?
LL: I interviewed Joe Gargan, Ted Kennedy's first cousin, and he described Ted Kennedy right after the accident as not wanting to take responsibility. He asked not what had happened to Mary Jo Kopechne but what might happen to him and his career. Joe Gargan said that Kennedy was seeking some way to not take the blame.
B&N.com: Of all the Sons of Camelot, readers are the most interested in John F. Kennedy Jr. Other than his name, why was he so appealing?
LL: John was a great hope of this generation. He knew it, and he was taking his time getting where he was going. He was planning -- he was thinking seriously about running for the Senate from New York in the year 2000.
B&N.com: But one often heard that he didn't like publicity.
LL: That isn't true. He loved publicity. He wasn't happy when the cameras weren't there.
B&N.com: Was he a man who died with great promise unfulfilled? Or was he really just an ordinary man with a great name?
LL: He was a man with immense potential. He understood that potential. He had the potential to become the president of the United States. But, as he said in the last weeks of his life, he would have had to toughen up. He couldn't deal with male authority figures.
B&N.com: Of all of RFK's sons, who do you think is the most interesting, and why?
LL: Bobby Kennedy Jr. is. He took the journey from heroin addiction to becoming a highly prominent environmental lawyer. His story is fascinating.
B&N.com: What about the Shriver sons? Again, who was the most interesting, and why?
LL: The oldest son, Bobby Shriver, is. He has had emotional struggles, and he was very honest in talking about them with me for the book. His mother very much dominated him, and he moved to Los Angeles to get away from her.
B&N.com: What is the main idea that you want your readers to take from your book?
LL: I want people to understand that you make your own life. There is no curse on the Kennedys' life or any of our lives. We are given certain attributes and certain difficulties, and we have to deal with them. Modern science has taught us that we don't have as much freedom in how we make our lives as we thought. But there is at least a crack of light in the door. And that crack of light is our freedom. The Kennedys have it and you have it and I have it.
B&N.com: What is your next project?
LL: I am doing a biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The trail of the dead and wounded behind the Kennedy men is appalling. And it doesn't even include the wounded wives . Did anyone ever say no to these men when they were boys . Most of them should be in prison.
I was truly taken back reading Leamer's book and realized that I hadn't connected the Kennedy cousin information dots throughout the years. So much for a dynasty---they really are human beings too!
I was anticipating a book on ALL of the 'Sons of Camelot'. Of course, there was ample space dedicated to the more well known of the Kennedy grandsons, including JFK, Jr., Bobby Jr., and Joe Kennedy Jr., and the Shriver boys. What I had looked forward to reading was the stories about the Kennedy grandsons that we don't hear much about. There was so little written about Teddy Kennedy, Jr., who certainly had his battles with cancer, parents divorce, etc., as well as the Smith boys. Yes, there was a bit about William Kennedy Smith's rape trial, but what about the rest of his life? His brother, I believe named Steve, Jr. was mentioned less than a half a dozen times throughout the 500 plus page book. Christopher Kennedy Lawford was mentioned merely as an accomplice to the more negative trials and tribulations of the other, more well-known Kennedy grandsons. The younger sons of Bobby Kennedy were certainly not as satifactorily covered as I had hoped. On the positive side, the stories on the grandsons the author chose to focus on seemed objective and well researched. I had hoped for a more complete account of each of the Kennedy sons, and not simply a regurgitation of a number of facts the general public had already been aware of.
I found this book to be a truly exceptional portrayal of America's most famous and tragic family. An eloquent historical narrative.
The best book I have ever read.
With this book, Mr. Leamer may have outdone himself. His previous efforts have established his rare combination of talents for both investigation and literary eloquence. But I believe with The Sons of Camelot he has reached the top of his game. How many other Kennedy biographies can one think of written by someone outside the inner circle that the family itself has cooperated with. The answer is none. This speaks to Leamer¿s acknowledged reputation for fairness and his talent for the great ¿get.¿ And the number of Kennedys who trusted him is even more astounding. The result is a rich and nuanced portrait of this complex brood. I recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding the true, and perhaps most valuable, legacy of Old Joe Kennedy.
I have read most books about the Kennedys, and I've never read anything with such an intimate sense of their lives. I can understand why all the Kennedys cooperated with Leamer, because he tells the truth but he tells it in an empathetic way. I ended up caring more for these sons of Camelot and what they have gone through. I'll never forget this book. I wish I could give it ten stars.
It's great to finally read a book that discusses the younger generation of Kennedys--men who have not reached the same heights of power as their forerunners (struggling both in and out of the limelight) but who have achieved in the political and social realm nonetheless. It is a gripping and well-written book that will appeal to both old-time Kennedy admirers and younger readers who are really only familiar with the older generation from their history books and the younger generation from their People magazine.
Anyone who's been following the Kennedy saga as it continues to unfold present day will be richly rewarded by the 'new' intimate details Leamer uncovers in his latest work. His apparently trustful access to the family heirs and other influential members of society pays off in spades in this third book on the controversial and rather tragic family. I was barely able to put the book down for more than a few minutes at a time once I began reading the revelations! My fascination with the family had me closely tracking its developments, however Leamer's research reveals a wealth of information--heretofore unknown by the average person-- some good, some not so good...
In his third volume of his trilogy on the Kennedys, Leamer traces the journey of the family after the death of President Kennedy. The pages are full of revelations and deep insight. I finished Sons of Camelots thinking I knew personally every member of the family. The author had unprecedented access to the Kennedys and their friends and it shows. Leamer held nothing back good and bad.
Suggest this author is riding on past glories. His is nothing more or less than the National Enquirer in book form.