JACK KENNEDY by Barbara Leaming


The Education of a Statesman
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In which JFK, proud son of Ireland, turns out to be a complete Anglophile.

Leaming had previously concentrated on Hollywood types—Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn—before turning to the life of Jackie (Mrs. Kennedy, 2001). Now she turns her attention to her celebrated husband’s life. We learn that when JFK realized that he could not supplant older brother Joe as the apple of his father’s eye, he determined to become the exact opposite, a slacker and slob. (The father, she notes, was as much an architect of appeasement at Munich as Chamberlain, which gave JFK yet another dauntingly high benchmark to match.) The descent didn’t last long, thanks in part to the influence of sister Kathleen, who died early—but not before Jack “had finally emerged as the man she had always insisted he could be.” Whereas many biographies of JFK are devoted to his playboy ways and alleged fondness for the easy life, Leaming demonstrates that he had toughness and resolve matched by a good mind; when he decided to reform himself in prep school, JFK daily dissected the New York Times, memorized every detail and constructed counterarguments to every statement. That was the habit of mind that Bill Clinton prized so much; in turn, JFK had learned it from a father figure, Winston Churchill, who exerted both metaphysical and actual influence over the Kennedy White House. Leaming is particularly effective at showing how Kennedy’s admiration for Churchill led to his consistent anticommunism.

Thoroughly well written and constructed, with fresh views on the Kennedy presidency and the difficult path that led to Camelot.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 2006
ISBN: 0-393-05161-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2006


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