[ BOOKS ] ⚣ John F. Kennedy Author Robert Dallek – Thomashillier.co.uk

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10 thoughts on “John F. Kennedy

  1. says:

    I m too young though not by much to remember, real time, JFK s assassination, but I ve been all too aware of the whodunit debate that s raged ever since his tragic and untimely death That said, I really didn t know very much about the man until I read this book It s a thoughtful and thoroughly researched piece of work that draws on the input of many people who served with Kennedy and tapes of White House conversations, by virtue of a recording system instigated by JFK himself.The son of a pushy father, born to a rich, political family, JFK s elder brother was always meant to be the one who made president But, as everyone knows, the family has been cursed by early deaths and JFK became the eldest surviving son following the wartime death of Joe junior The book tracks his early life and shows how Jack Kennedy progressed through Congress and Senate positions to become President Observations and accounts seem well balanced with reflections on the man s failures and weaknesses as well as his strengths and successes It amazed me to realise that during his scant 1000 days in power he was called upon to address some of the weightiest problems of the 20th century, notably Cuba particularly the missile crisis that took us closer to planetary extinction than any other single event , the rise of Communism which led to the conflict in Vietnam and the resulting Cold War and the emerging unrest concerning civil rights He also kick started the space race which ultimately brought about the historic 1969 moon landing Most surprising facts The extent to which he struggled with poor health throughout pretty much his entire life, to the extent that records were hidden, to prevent his ability to serve at the highest level being challenged, and later destroyed If he hadn t worn a back brace due to chronic back problems that kept him erect in his seat, the fatal shot, which followed the hit to his neck, would have missed him.Most significant achievements Finding a resolution to the Cuban missile crisis albeit a crisis he arguably spawned by benefit of his policies and actions as he attempted to remove Castro from power Negotiating a nuclear test ban treaty with Khrushchev at a time many of his political enemies and the military leaders and even some of his advisers were arguing against such an agreement.Failings He was a serial womaniser to an extent it seems unthinkable he d have survived in modern political life This might have left him open to claims that he was distracted from his job and inattentive to both local and international issues, but the author goes to some lengths to dispel this accusation Despite his vocal support for the campaigners for civil rights, he failed to pass any significant legislation to address the core issues In fact, his overall record in passing weighty legislation was poor.There s no doubt his family money and connections provided him with the opportunity to achieve such high office, but it s also very clear that JFK was a very smart man, a war hero if a somewhat lucky one and above all a leader who was willing to be considered indecisive rather than make a mistake he d later regret This latter trait seemed to be born from his observations of decisions made by military leaders during his naval service he always mistrusted this group thereafter and his early misjudgements as President concerning Cuba and Vietnam Nevertheless, it served him well in his later dealings vis vis Castro and Khrushchev.Despite his short service in the hot seat , in polls he s regularly voted one of the most important Presidents ever to serve This may be attributed to his achievements or his premature death or maybe it was his good looks, his apparent health and youthful vitality and his ability to connect with his audience in the new television age Whatever the reason JFK s star continues to shine.

  2. says:

    A cradle to grave biography of JFK that was well researched and made judicious use of JFK s own words often showcasing his wry humor.Over all an even handed book that fairly portrays JFK as a relentless womanizer and though a graduate of Harvard, a student with middling grades and only above average intellect But despite these two deficiencies, Kennedy had genuine leadership skills and charisma, a bonafide passion about politics both globally and domestically, and the Kennedy drive He even won a Pulitzer prize for Profiles in Courage in 1957 Kennedy was also fortunate to have lived in era of early TV where he leveraged his charisma but in an era absent of the muckraking TV journalism of today that would have easily discovered and reported the secrets around his health, amphetamine addiction, elicit liaisons and tawdry affairs.A single volume book is going to provide some cursory coverage and the author chose to minimize discussion on policies, campaigning and his relationship with his young family.The book has been faulted for not covering much new ground on JFK and for discussing his medical issues too much but the book is also lauded by the NYT as the go to biography on JFK I think all of these opinions are correct The section on the Cuban Missile crisis was really informative.I would give the writing 3.5 stars, the insights and research into JFK 5 stars, and the pace of the read 4.5 stars So in summary, this is a solid 4 star biography Not at the level of a Robert Caro or David McCullough bio but I am happy to have read it.

  3. says:

    Epilogue All this mythification positive and negative about the Kennedy figure would have interested him less than a fair evaluation of his public career He would probably have been displeased at the fact that biographers had dug so much of the truth about his private life And it would not fuel illusions about historians expressing a unanimous opinion about their policies and actions He understood that History, as the great Dutch historian Pieter Geyl claimed, is an endless discussion The debate generated by his career in Congress, and especially in the presidency, would not have surprised him But he also understood that the fact that there were contradictory opinions about his life and times did not preclude the possibility of balanced assessments, and, forty years after his death with the consequences of the options he took relatively clear and its achievements and failures mostly available such an analysis seems possible.If Kennedy had never been president, it is doubtful that biographers, historians, and the general public would have been very interested in him The famous father, heroism in the war, Congressional and Senate elections, the publication of a book on political courage that earned the Pulitzer Prize, the unsuccessful attempt to reach the vice presidency in 1956, and the presidential nomination in 1960, as only the second Catholic to win such a distinction would have made him the object of some curiosity But his career would probably have generated little than the limited interest that most of the defeated competitors to the presidency receive Some unsuccessful presidential candidates such as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Stephen A Douglas are remembered for their association with major political developments or other public services But Kennedy s pre presidential career as a relatively minor political figure would have made him less interesting to historians He did not leave any marks especially notable as a congressman or as a senator.

  4. says:

    Jack Kennedy was the mythological front man for a particularly juicy slice of our history He called a slick line and wore a world class haircut He was Bill Clinton minus pervasive media scrutiny and a few rolls of flab. James Ellroy, American TabloidMitigating circumstances This is the ninth among my presidential bio ish reads over the past month and change I ve been concurrently reading Team of Rivals The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which is an amazing book about an amazing president As a result, I m not really sure that this qualifies as a book review per se Having accounted for said circumstances, let me just say that I m seriously underwhelmed when it comes to JFK The book itself was well researched and even handed In fact, I m no Kennedy expert, but I wouldn t be surprised if the NYT was right in assessing An Unfinished Life as the best single volume Kennedy biography I m just not all that impressed when it comes to Jack Kennedy the man, especially given all the hoopla around him Maybe I m not giving him sufficient credit given that he was only in office for 1,000 days, but the word overrated definitely comes to mind See also James Ellroy s take in American Tabloid Assorted bitchings and or moanings We get it being president makes you sick Nixon, Eisenhower, Ford and JFK bios all go on about how behind the scenes doctors were juicing our heads of state to get them through their respective terms in office It s pretty much safe to assume from here on out that every POTUS is using PEDs Presidential Enhancing Drugs That being said, the whole Addison s Disease thing is pretty interesting and Dallek would be doing a disservice to the reading public were he to skip out on the trials and tribulations of keeping the JFK machine up and in service It also turns out that Dallek got unprecedented access to Kennedy s medical files, so I guess that s kind of a big deal I d take things a step further re James Ellroy s Bill Clinton comparison With Clinton we all have our suspicions, but most people can only count on one hand the names of women who he took to the Lincoln bedroom or whatever bedroom, or the oval office you get my point If the press can give a list of ladies with whom you ve gone for a roll in the hay that stretches from here to Hanoi, you re not Clinton esque, you re a veritable poonhound I don t particularly count this against Kennedy, I m just saying that he could have given Carlos Danger a run for his money.Not Dallek s fault but definitely true There are few events in modern American history that get air time than JFK s assassination There s this overwhelming sense that the good times would have rolled in ways we can t even comprehend had Kennedy not taken that fateful trip to Dallas I m no timespace continuum wizard, so I can t say for sure, but I m guessing that Kennedy would have had some disappointments up his sleeve along with a trick of two he may have turned I didn t come away from this book disliking the guy, but I can t help but feel that he s kind of overhyped And yeah, I am holding him up next to Lincoln which might not be fair, but as Dallek points out the American public consistently rated him above Lincoln in their polls of greatest presidents, so the comparison bears mentioning Guess what American public You re wrong I can t even tell you how wrong You know what Go read Team of Rivals Right now Then, when you re done and have realized how awesome Lincoln was you can think about what you ve done Then, if you want to read a good biography about JFK, you should probably check this book out.

  5. says:

    This is an extraordinarily clear and detailed biography of the legendary yet all too human American president, John F Kennedy Robert Dallek, author of an acclaimed two volume biography of Kennedy s successor, Lyndon Johnson, has found, remarkably, untapped sources to bring additional life and light to Kennedy s story Chief among these new resources are vast elements of Kennedy s medical records, which indicate both the excruciating pain and personal contortions JFK went through in an effort to serve well as president while also keeping his disturbing medical conditions from the public Kennedy emerges from this book as not a great or epic president but as a very human being whose reach often exceeded his grasp and who sometimes did not reach far nor fast enough The picture the reader is left with is of an admirable, physically brave and stalwart man, who had a genius for the subtleties of politics and an occasional, unfortunate penchant for learning from his mistakes only after making large ones It is a fine book about a remarkable man.

  6. says:

    In a New York Times Book Review article on the 50th anniversary of JFK s assassination, Dallek s book was described as the best biography about the president Dallek, who spent five years researching and writing, has a deep appreciation of Kennedy s operatic story The book has rich detail about the president s persistent and serious health problems, which serve to make the life seem genuinely heroic as well as swaddled in troubling cover ups.

  7. says:

    I can t decide if I am disappointed with JFK s unfinished presidency or with Robert Dallek s pedestrian account of his tragic life I must have set my expectations too high Historians rank Kennedy as one of the ten best and An Unfinished Life is the highest rated single volume biography of America s 35th president.Dallek does a solid job of chronicling Kennedy s early life Like TR and FDR, Jack trod a path of Northeastern wealth and privilege that led to Harvard Like both Roosevelts, he would have to overcome formidable health challenges Dallek speculates that Jack s father Joe most likely pulled some strings to allow his ailing son to see action in the South Pacific as the captain of PT 109 This was when I began to struggle with Dallek s narrative Dallek allows his access to newly obtained medical records to overshadow Kennedy s wartime exploits in Ch 3 After wading through all the medical diagnoses and treatments, I had a good sense of the sinking of Jack s boat and his heroic rescue of his men, but Dallek subsequently relates, And for the next six weeks he got in a lot of fighting and, to his satisfaction, inflicted some damage on the enemy p 100 What fighting What damage Dallek makes it clear that for all his charisma, quick wits and eloquent speeches, Kennedy accomplished little during his 12 years in Congress, with his father playing a crucial role at every turn Kennedy s most notable and controversial action was to not vote to censure Sen Joseph McCarthy for his Communist witch hunt Kennedy did become a celebrity and launched his presidential run with the publication of Profiles in Courage, but as one of his colleagues put it, Why not show a little less profile and a little courage p 217 Even though JFK s election in 1960 was every bit as close as Truman s in 1948, Dallek s account lacks the drama or verve of David McCullough s Truman JFK was in the poorest health of anyone to become president He was always taking at least ten different drugs, including pain killers, to treat a range of ailments, led by Addison s disease and a bad back As one doctor reviewing his medical files put it, Kennedy was doped up p 471 This makes it all the amazing that JFK was competing with LBJ to be the most promiscuous president Indeed, Dallek spends time discussing Jack s affairs, ranging from Marilyn Monroe to a White House intern thinking of you, Bill , than he does Jackie Kennedy and his two children Foreign affairs wise, Kennedy is best known for approving the CIA s botched invasion of Cuba in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later Dallek is strongest in relating these two events, but he fails to convey the public s widespread fear that the world was on the precipice of a cataclysmic nuclear war Dallek and most analysts have praised Kennedy for standing up to Khrushchev s dispatch of nuclear weapons to Cuba, but what if the mercurial Soviet leader hadn t turned back his ships once Kennedy imposed the blockade Yes, the missiles violated vague notions of the Monroe Doctrine, but did they qualitatively change the nuclear threat posed to the U.S No Besides, Soviet troops remained even after the nukes were removed American also became a little bit pregnant in its military commitment to Vietnam on Kennedy s watch I would pinpoint the moment of conception as 15 November 1961 when Kennedy announced a tripling of the number of military advisers in Vietnam Dallek does not provide the figures, but according to militaryfactory.com, American soldiers died during Kennedy s first year in office 16 than during the previous five years under Ike The U.S went from having several hundred to 16,000 troops dispatched when Kennedy died Based on my reading of Ambrose s Eisenhower, Ike saw Vietnam as a fool s errand Kennedy also failed to listen to his policy coordinator at the State Department Kennedy s failure to reject the hawks and conventional wisdom showed poor judgement and a lack of leadership on the critical issue of the decade just as W, Hillary and Biden would do the same 40 years later Dallek does make a strong argument that JFK would not have escalated like LBJ did in 1965 because he was skeptical and would not be facing reelection Still, Kennedy started America down a disastrous track that LBJ failed and even Nixon would struggle to take America off of Kennedy s unambiguous accomplishments were modest He did sign the first nuclear arms control agreement with the Soviets and pledged to take Americans to the moon by the end of the decade Amazingly, Dallek doesn t even mention Kennedy s famous We Choose to Go to the Moon speech at Rice University in September 1962 My favorite accomplishment Kennedy created the Peace Corps I wanted to join when I was at U.C Berkeley, but when I discovered they had pulled out of South Korea several years earlier, I chose a different path Kennedy s ambitious domestic agenda, particularly expanding civil rights and social welfare, would have to be accomplished by his successor To my great surprise, Dallek provides only a cursory account of Kennedy s assassination, devoting only a few sentences to the event itself Reading about JFK made me realize that I have had the good fortune of meeting three of the most important people from Kennedy s inner circle Chief speechwriter Ted Sorensen gave a talk to my fellow interns at the World Affairs Council in SF when I was a senior Ten years later, I made a point of introducing myself to Defense Secretary Robert McNamara at a conference in Washington, D.C because we both went to Cal And I interviewed key adviser Arthur Schlessinger for a Korean newspaper a few years after that How I wish I had asked them about Jack This review makes me realize that I am disappointed with Dallek than JFK because I still want to read much about Kennedy and those around him To his credit, Dallek mentions his favorite previous biographies of Kennedy, especially those by Richard Reeves and Seymour Hersh I was surprised that Kennedy relied heavily on advice from Dean Acheson, which moves him up my supporting roles reading list One of the joys of reading about so many presidents is discerning the thru stories of folks who serve multiple presidents, like like Lincoln s John Hay and FDR s Henry Stimson I had planned to read Profiles in Courage until I learned it was written primarily by Sorensen First I plan to read Chris Matthews Bobby Kennedy 2017 Bobby was Jack s closest friend by far Next will be McNamara s In Retrospect 1997 as much to better understand the Vietnam tragedy That means I should also read Max Hastings Vietnam 2018.

  8. says:

    it was published in 2003, Robert Dallek s An Unfinished Life John F Kennedy, 1917 1963 was the first full scale, single volume biography of JFK in over three decades Dallek is a presidential historian and former professor of history at Boston University, Columbia University and UCLA He is the author of nearly two dozen books including a two volume series on LBJ and Nixon and Kissinger Partners in Power Dallek s book benefits enormously from his having been granted almost unprecedented access to Kennedy family documents including newly revealed information relating to JFK s seemingly endless array of medical ailments He also convinced a former Kennedy administration press aide to release new information concerning an affair between JFK and a White House intern.Some of this fresh primary source material underpins the book s earliest chapters which describe Kennedy s youth his fascinating family lineage, his privileged childhood, his persistent medical issues and his unwavering penchant for womanizing But readers seeking a sensational JFK expos are likely to be disappointed.While the early narrative provides a devastating indictment of Kennedy s ill formed moral core, Dallek is predisposed to focusing on politics over prurient predilections This biography is long on hard history and avoids allowing Kennedy s indiscretions to hijack the narrative The author s skillful dissection of JFK s complex medical situation, however, does pervade the text.Once Kennedy begins his political career in 1946, the spotlight shines brightest on his public rather than private life his family recedes into the background and there is surprisingly little coverage even of Jackie More than half the book is reserved for Kennedy s 1,036 day presidency and Dallek s style is consistently serious, sober minded and impressively objective.Not surprisingly, discussion of Kennedy s presidency is dominated by US Soviet relations, Cuba and Southeast Asia With the exception of civil rights where the author is often critical of Kennedy s leadership failures , domestic issues receive significantly less focus But this is reflective of Kennedy s own interests and emphasis.The most interesting chapters are those dealing with Kennedy s relationship with Nikita Khrushchev their meeting at the Vienna Summit, in particular and the Bay of Pigs debacle The book ends with an interesting Epilogue considering Kennedy s reputation, assessing his legacy and briefly pondering what might have been While the biography is almost always engaging there are occasions during Kennedy s presidency when the narrative bogs down and becomes tedious But this is generally the fault of cumbersome foreign policy issues facing Kennedy at the time rather than with the author s writing style.In addition, JFK s assassination is described in just a single paragraph with no lens on the transition of power to LBJ The ensuing pages consider the impact of Kennedy s death on his family and on the country but, for many readers, history will seem to stop too abruptly at the moment of Kennedy s death.Overall, Robert Dallek s An Unfinished Life John F Kennedy, 1917 1963 proves an excellent introduction to the life and death of the thirty fifth president Some readers will find discussion of Kennedy s medical afflictions strangely pervasive others will be surprised not to read of his lewd behavior But, in general, Dallek s biography covers John F Kennedy s life thoroughly, thoughtfully and with extraordinary balance and objectivity.Overall rating 4 stars

  9. says:

    This is a very good biography of JFK, focusing principally on his presidency Dallek obviously admires Kennedy, but that does not prevent him from being critical of his subject when he believes that the criticism is warranted.Dallek s principal contribution is to document thoroughly than any previous biographer Kennedy s many medical problems, the treatment he received and the extent to which the President, his family, his doctors and others conspired to conceal those problems from public view In the end, Dallek concludes that, although he was often in pain, Kennedy managed his afflictions well and they did not adversely affect his ability to function as president Dalleck also speculates, however, that in the modern age it would be impossible for a presidential candidate to conceal such problems as effectively as Kennedy did He also assumes that someone with Kennedy s medical history could almost certainly not be elected to the office today.Dalleck details Kennedy s extensive womanizing, both before and after he married Jackie, and which continued unabated during his presidency Dalleck speculates that perhaps this compulsion resulted from the example that JFK s father had set and from Kennedy s fears about his own mortality because of his medical problems Again, Dallek concludes that his womanizing did not distract Kennedy from the larger tasks that confronted him and so did not prevent him from being an effective president Though many reporters and others knew or speculated about Kennedy s philandering, as quaint as it now seems, the press still believed that a president s private life was off limits Dallek also points out that many of the journalists and editors who covered the Kennedy administration had extra marital affairs of their own and so did not want to cast the first stone Dalleck again assumes though, that no candidate with Kennedy s record in this department could be elected today.Otherwise, Dallek s account is a fairy familiar one He admits that Kennedy made mistakes early on in his administration, the Bay of Pigs fiasco principal among them He also concedes that Kennedy came slowly to the cause of civil rights and tempered his actions by calculating the political consequences, which is hardly surprising He also insists, though, that Kennedy learned from his mistakes and grew to be a better president as a result.Dallek gives Kennedy very high marks for his handling of the Cuban missile crisis, and reading his account one realizes how perilously close we came to the possibility of nuclear annihilation Kennedy was determined to give diplomacy every chance to work, even against the advice of military figures and others who argued for an attack on the missile sites and an invasion of the island Considering some of the trigger happy people who have occupied the office since 1963, one reads these chapters and becomes enormously grateful for the fact that this crisis fell to JFK and not to some of his successors.Probably the greatest argument left from the Kennedy administration is the question of what JFK would have done with respect to Vietnam Dallek covers in great detail Kennedy s handling of the problem and, based in part on new evidence, concludes that, had he lived, Kennedy almost certainly would not have enlarged the war Dallek also concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of the President.This is a rich, compelling book and may be the best biography of Kennedy that we now have Reading it, one can only regret that, even for all his faults, JFK did not live long enough to serve a second term as president.

  10. says:

    I understand that one can debate whether JFK was an effective President, but can t most of us agree that he led one of the most fascinating lives of any 20th century American Robert Dallek s biography also believes he was an effective President and I have to agree on many issues Dallek outlines the decisions Kennedy made during his 1000 days along with reasons why His first challenge the Bay of Pigs was set up during Eisenhower, but Kennedy accepted blame for his incorrect decision to execute the invasion Then comes the Cuban Missile crisis and it sure seems JFK deserves huge points for avoiding nuclear disaster Throughout his presidency he and mostly RFK confront the issues of civil rights Dallek s and JFK himself argued he was effective, but there is a successful argument that JFK could have and should have done There were many complicated issues, but the most serious was Vietnam Dallek states that Kennedy now worried that a defeat in Berlin or over Vietnam,.could be a decisive blow to his Presidency What would have happened with Vietnam if Kennedy had finished his own life Dallek s analysis helps us reach our own conclusion.