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An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

4.1 29
by Robert Dallek, Ed Sala (Narrated by)

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An Unfinished Life is the first major, single-volume life of John F. Kennedy to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing upon previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives to tell Kennedy’s story. We learn for the first time just how sick Kennedy was, what medications he took and concealed from all but a few, and how


An Unfinished Life is the first major, single-volume life of John F. Kennedy to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing upon previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives to tell Kennedy’s story. We learn for the first time just how sick Kennedy was, what medications he took and concealed from all but a few, and how severely his medical condition affected his actions as President. We learn for the first time the real story of how Bobby was selected as Attorney General. Dallek reveals exactly what Jack’s father did to help his election to the presidency, and he follows previously unknown evidence to show what path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement had he survived.

Dallek lifts JFK out of the gossips and back onto the world stage, showing that while he was the son of privilege, he faced great obstacles and fought on with remarkable courage. Never shying away from Kennedy's weaknesses, Dallek also brilliantly explores his strengths. The result is a portrait of a bold, brave, human Kennedy, once again a hero

About the Author

Robert Dallek is one of the most highly regarded historians in America, and the author of six books, including the acclaimed two-volume of Lyndon Johnson, Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant. His Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy won the 1980 Bancroft Prize and was nominated for an American Book Award, and American Style of Foreign Policy was a 1983 New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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
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.
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
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.
Edward J. Renehan Jr.
A remarkable cradle-to-grave account of JFK..the best ever penned.
Providence Journal, 5/18/03
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
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."

Product Details

Recorded Books, LLC
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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.

Meet the Author

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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Unfinished Life 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Jski8 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Only 25% thru book and learning some significant information about JFK, his family and friends that was heretofore unknown by me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
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.