John F. Kennedy, His Inner Circle, and the Improbable Rise to the Presidency
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The daughter of Kenneth O’Donnell, a principal adviser to John F. Kennedy, discusses the strategies, successes and failures that led to JFK’s becoming the 35th president.

O’Donnell, who had access to some key recordings and interviews her father had conducted, has written previously about him and the Kennedys, A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O’Donnell (1998). It was through Robert Kennedy (whom he had known at Harvard) that O’Donnell entered the Kennedy inner sanctum and became a dominant member of what the author calls “the Irish Brotherhood” (she disdains the darker “Irish Mafia” locution). O’Donnell begins the tale in Chicago in 1956, when JFK failed to win the vice-presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Then she rewinds a bit, taking us back to the late 1940s. We witness JFK’s run for the Senate, watch the warriors working during the 1952 election, return for a closer look at 1956 and then arrive at the major focus of the story—the 1960 election, which consumes nine chapters. The author ends with the inauguration and the Bay of Pigs, responsibility for which she endeavors to lay at the feet of the Eisenhower administration. O’Donnell’s subtitle is a bit misleading: Yes, she deals a bit with the other Irish advisers (Larry O’Brien and Dave Powers, principally), but the vast majority of the attention is on her father. Few of her characters have smudges. Yes, JFK had a wandering eye (mentioned once, never discussed), and RFK had a temper. But mostly it’s virtue that interests the author—JFK’s debating skills and intelligence, O’Donnell’s bluntness and fierce loyalty (we’re also told—more than once—that he was “quick as a cat”), and RFK’s organizational skills. Lines from Camelot end the text.

Swollen with a daughter’s pride but also full of gripping detail.

Pub Date: March 17th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-61902-462-5
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Counterpoint
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2015


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