LETTERS TO KENNEDY by John Kenneth Galbraith


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Collections of letters are precious when the correspondents are prominent and the content is of enduring value, for example the Adams/Jefferson letters. In this volume the correspondents are certainly important people, but it’s hard to find additional justification for publication. Veteran economist Galbraith’s letters to John F. Kennedy, from 1959 through mid-1963, are grouped by editor Goodman (History/Rutgers Univ.) into three sections: politics, economics, and foreign affairs. The last is by far the meatiest; the first two are brief and seemingly padded by trivial notes communicating pleasantries or future intentions and are included only to display a clever phrase in the prose. However, Galbraith’s commentary on taxation does provide striking examples both of how things never seem to change and of how thoroughly they can change. On one hand, he notes the existence of “a large part of American conservative and business opinion” that favors tax cuts no matter what the consequences to the budget or the country. On the other hand, in warning against a tax cut, Galbraith claims that “the worst tag of all” is “irresponsibility,” a seemingly archaic view now, when irresponsibility on tax cuts (in relation to budget demands) is apparently a requirement for election to public office. The letters relating to foreign affairs are more substantive, reflecting Galbraith’s posting as ambassador to India. From this vantage point he felt free to comment on south and southeast Asian affairs in general, and notable among his observations are repeated warnings against relying on Diem in Vietnam, an assessment that proved accurate but went unheeded. Reports on politics in India and a military clash with China will be of moderate interest for students of south Asian politics, but ultimately there is little here to capture the attention of the general reader.

Pub Date: May 29th, 1998
ISBN: 0-674-52837-9
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1998


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