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FORTY WAYS TO LOOK AT JFK by Gretchen Rubin Kirkus Star


by Gretchen Rubin

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-345-45049-3
Publisher: Ballantine

The 1,037 days of Camelot and the life preordained to produce it. What was real, and what wasn’t?

Readers who like sequentially flowing biography may initially recoil at Rubin’s approach. This isn’t what we now know about Kennedy; it’s what we’ve known all along—words, pictures, ideas, deeds—resorted and pinned together as if on a corkboard in a homicide case. But if it worked at all with the former Yale law professor’s initial subject, Winston Churchill (Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, 2003), it works to the nines with Kennedy. Her first chapter, for instance, showing JFK as an ideal leader, is followed by a critical account based on different sources. Whether Kennedy, had he lived, would have extricated the country from Vietnam is handled similarly later on, in two speculative, conflicting accounts, both convincing, that make a clear case that there were differences between his public record and his confidences to aides. It all sheds light on why historians have tended to rate his presidency considerably lower than the public recalls it. Yet Kennedy’s machinations to project an image that captured what Lincoln once pegged as “public sentiment” were so successful, Rubin argues, because he himself was a unique vehicle. The author does not shrink from delineating the scope of JFK’s promiscuity and marital infidelity; taken together, JFK’s sexual exploits represent an appalling amount of risk (appetite aside), rendering insignificant, by comparison, the dalliances of, say, Harding and Clinton. It does impinge on his greatness, Rubin allows, but doesn’t deny it.

Fascinating presentation of what, for most Americans, made Kennedy who he was.