A thorough and lively history of America’s first family during WWII.
For the Kennedys, the years leading up to and during the second world war were formative—such is the theme that guides Renehan (The Lion’s Pride, 1998, etc.) in his ably crafted history of the operatic family. He focuses most of his attention on the Kennedy men, specifically Joe, Joe Jr., and “Jack,” although he does give mention to younger siblings—and some time is spent on Kathleen. But it’s the father and his heirs that drive Renehan’s narrative. Joseph Kennedy, family patriarch, sought to turn his wealth into political power. Appointed American Ambassador to England in return for years of Democratic loyalty and fundraising, Kennedy Sr. saw the office as an opportunity to gain the social acceptance that snobby Protestant powers at home had denied him. Ambassador Kennedy felt he had arrived, and attention from the press made him bold. He allowed himself to flirt with the idea of running for president, while Roosevelt—who understood Kennedy well—made sure he didn’t cause trouble. Kennedy’s stance on the war soon made him irrelevant. At the Court of St. James, he harped on the inevitability of British defeat and counseled that Hitler be appeased no matter the cost. Neither message went over well, and Kennedy soon bitterly found himself at home, unemployed and out of touch. Meanwhile, Joe Jr. lived with the burden of his father’s expectations. Competitive and intellectually clumsy, Joe Jr. struggled to grow into the man he and his father wanted him to be. Harvard and Harvard Law were struggles, his stints in England made him appear clumsily American, and his efforts at advancement in war were forced and ultimately deadly. Jack, on the other hand, contrasted his brother’s effort with ease. The grace that would later mark his presidency was evident in his youth. Despite chronically poor health, everything seemed to come easy to the second son. School passed effortlessly—his thesis was published to acclaim—and heroism, when it came, fit him well.
A strong addition, unobtrusively narrated, to a well-covered subject.