JFK: Reckless Youth by Nigel Hamilton
Kirkus Star

JFK: Reckless Youth

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Perhaps the most revealing biography yet of Jack Kennedy coming of age, up to his election to Congress in 1946. Hamilton (Monty, 1986, etc.) has made the most of interviews with JFK's closest surviving relatives and friends, newly opened FBI and medical files, and, most importantly, unusual access to the future President's often raunchy, irreverent letters. Hamilton's most sensational contention--that Kennedy contracted gonorrhea at Harvard--probably will distract attention from the rest of this serious, revelatory study. In Hamilton's telling, the Kennedys were the most dysfunctional family this side of The Prince of Tides, characterized by an unhealthy competitiveness and a clannish loyalty that left them suspicious of outsiders. Hamilton finds it no wonder that JFK became a narcissistic womanizer: Rose Kennedy, with her ""sterile, convent-school values"" and trips away from her philandering husband and brood of nine, left him starved for parental attention. Sometimes, such resort to pop psychology is too automatic in explaining Kennedy's actions (e.g., that JFK was not simply attracted to the beauty of a Danish-born reporter wrongly suspected of spying, but was seeking maternal warmth missing from his own life). But Hamilton gradually develops JFK in all his charm and intelligence, an American Prince Hal awakening to his destiny: A young man cracking jokes at agonizing physical pain that would depress anyone else; engaging in bawdy boarding-school high jinks; soaking up political knowledge at college; and emerging carefully from the shadow cast by bullying father Joe and the equally narrow-minded, doomed heir-apparent Joe, Jr. A well-rounded, compelling biography that points the way for future scholars and will leave readers eager for Hamilton's planned future volumes on JFK.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1992
Page count: 976pp
Publisher: Random House