KENNEDYS by Clint Willis


Stories of Life and Death from an American Family
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A gallimaufry of musings on the Kennedy family showcases some classy political writing.

Willis (Mob, p. 1475, etc.) pulls together 21 articles and book excerpts to form a collection centered on Jack, Bobby, and Ted. The aim is to provide revealing glimpses into a family that has struck a deep chord in American life, and although the insights don't necessarily hold any water, much of the writing here is superb. “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” Norman Mailer’s acid deflation of the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, reminds us that when it came to political reporting, he could out-Wolfe and out-Thompson them all. An excerpt from Richard Reeves's President Kennedy chillingly recalls the bad advice JFK took from Maxwell Taylor and Walt Rostow concerning Vietnam, and the good advice he ignored from the likes of George Ball. In a portion of The Dark Side of Camelot, Seymour Hersh contributes an uncharacteristically sensitive look at the role JFK’s father played in shaping his personality. There are a couple of gripping airplane disaster stories (Kathleen's death, Ted's near-miss) and a brooding piece from Jack Newfield’s Robert Kennedy: A Memoir about the changes Bobby underwent as his political education transformed him from intolerant authoritarian to a man who identified with all of life's losers. There are also a couple of unexpected pieces: a portrait of the pitiful Marina Oswald from Norman Mailer’s Oswald’s Tale and “The Exner File,” historian Michael O'Brien’s examination of Jack's mob connections as mediated through girlfriend Judith Exner. “The Holy Family,” Gore Vidal's 1967 essay on the fraudulence of the Kennedy mystique, shows Jack outmaneuvered by Khrushchev and made to look ludicrous by the Bay of Pigs fiasco, trumped on all his social legislation by a truculent congress. But if there was one thing the Kennedys excelled at, it was projecting an image; they continue to cast it long after death.

Into the Kennedy aura once more, but brightly.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-56025-333-9
Page count: 400pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2001


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