Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE PRESIDENCY OF JOHN F. KENNEDY by James N. Giglio

THE PRESIDENCY OF JOHN F. KENNEDY

By James N. Giglio

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-7006-0515-0
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kansas

 Brisk, solid survey of a brief and controversial presidency, by Giglio (History/Southwest Missouri State Univ.). Elected with virtually no mandate in what Giglio says was a stolen election, Kennedy managed in his ``thousand days'' to put his stamp on the American reality. He soon forged his mandate, Giglio points out, by media mastery and by using supreme political skills that allowed him to give the appearance of firm, virtuous positions while keeping options open as he successfully identified himself with causes (civil rights, anti-imperialism) that in reality he accepted only shallowly, and avoided acting on. Judging gently, supporting his views with precise, well-integrated evidence, Giglio gives a relatively unbiased picture of JFK. We see the future President begin as his father's creature, supported every step of the way by money, influence, and manipulation, and grow into a man learning from traumatic confrontations with Khrushchev (in Vienna) and with American blacks (at a breakfast that left him virtually speechless). Kennedy's Achilles' heel--his unproductive relationship with Congress--is plainly drawn, but his judgment on the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis are not seriously faulted, while his creation of the Peace Corps is seen as genuinely historic. Most interestingly, Giglio documents JFK's lifelong physical frailty, superbly concealed in the mythology of the war hero and athlete. A victim of Addison's disease (not to mention satyriasis) for years, Kennedy came close to death as a young man and was also in constant, uncorrectable back pain, often severe. Regularly injected with steroids and pain-killers, he was also receiving, until his death, amphetamine shots from a notorious doctor-to-the-stars. A balanced and thoughtful account that avoids the hagiography or damnation of so many other JFK bios, revealing the man in all his complexity, from his wily, hypnotic charm to his political decisiveness when it could not be avoided.