SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION: Joe Kennedy and His Sons by Ralph G. Martin

SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION: Joe Kennedy and His Sons

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Martin (Henry and Clare, 1991, etc.) adds to his portrait gallery of the rich and powerful with this stolid yet psychologically acute study of the Irish-American chieftain and his doomed clan. Previous Kennedy chroniclers like Nigel Hamilton and Thomas Reeves failed to explain how, if Joe Sr. was merely the bigoted, philandering, political puppeteer they depicted, his children could be so genuinely devoted to him. While not uncovering much new material, Martin--an observer of the family since his 1960 campaign study, Front Runner, Dark Horse (with Ed Plaut)--offers a more coherent explanation: For all the fear Joe inspired, he also supplied the physical affection the children did not receive from mother Rose. With his own presidential hopes dashed, he devoted his life to the careers of sons Joe Jr., Jack, Bobby, and Ted--and they in turn learned to be tough (""Kennedys never cry"" was their sometimes sardonic motto) and loyal. More dangerously, in vying for Joe Sr.'s approval, the Kennedy brothers exhibited envy that, according to Martin, ""merged with their competitiveness. It spurred them on. And, finally, it killed them."" Joe Jr., jealous of Jack's PT-109 heroics, volunteered for the risky air mission that proved fatal. Martin is less illuminating about the usual Kennedy gossip, such as Joe Sr.'s alleged Mafia contacts or Jack and Bobby's rumored affairs with Marilyn Monroe, than he is about how the brothers and their father interacted. While so politically attuned that they could complete each other's sentences, charming Jack and shy Bobby seldom socialized; and Bobby, while seeking to curb Ted's night-owl instincts (""he is a rascal""), also leaned on him for his optimism and sound advice on how to get along in the Senate. Neither vivid nor graceful, but at least nonjudgmental and understanding about this complex band of brothers and their father.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1995
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Putnam