PRESIDENT KENNEDY by Richard Reeves

PRESIDENT KENNEDY

Profile of Power

KIRKUS REVIEW

Behind the scenes in the Kennedy Administration--in well- documented, unusually revealing depth. Reeves (The Reagan Detour, 1985, etc.) draws on scores of recently released documents (including transcripts of Oval Office audiotapes) and interviews with surviving New Frontiersmen to create a day-to-day, sometimes even minute-by-minute, chronicle of JFK's decision-making. While finding the President to be "intelligent, detached, [and] candid if not always honest," Reeves also shows him as disorganized, impatient, and addicted to the notion that it was "brains," not ideology or idealism, that counted. Not only are certain neglected aspects of the Kennedy presidency explored in great depth here (e.g., how this bored, restless White House economics student came around to Keynesianism)--but so are topics delved into countless times before. The cumulative impression is of a natural politician who reacted to events rather than mastering them. JFK confronted Khrushchev without igniting a nuclear war, and he concluded the landmark limited test-ban treaty, but he stumbled at the Bay of Pigs, was tugged reluctantly from his view that civil rights involved political rather than moral issues, and became increasingly mired in Vietnam. Kennedy's philandering is acknowledged, but without hyperbolic attention, and his use of drugs to counteract Addison's disease is discussed in relation to the effect on his performance (notably at his disastrous Vienna summit with Khrushchev). Reeves's narrative could use more commentary on how Kennedy either enhanced or diminished his office, as well as a fuller explanation of how his forceful father affected his thinking. But the author excels at examining how the President dealt with the burdens of office--seething at generals' stupidity, picking the brains of all he met, chuckling at the ironies of the political game. Neither Camelot elegy nor scathing revisionism--but the kind of cool, dispassionate narrative that JFK himself might have appreciated.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-64879-9
Page count: 816pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993




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