Washington Post news editor and features writer Bzdek (Woman of the House: The Rise of Nancy Pelosi, 2007) recasts the brothers’ famous story in four acts, as each picks up the torch in the aftermath of tragedy.
Act I chronicles their childhood under a harsh father, Joseph P. Kennedy, who groomed his sons for politics from a very young age; it ends with the death in World War II of Joseph Kennedy Jr., oldest brother and the family’s political hope. In the second act, John takes Joe Jr.’s place and goes from congressman to senator to president in scarcely over a decade. Act III follows Robert as he soldiers on after John’s assassination, becoming a senator and a presidential candidate, only to be shot in 1968. In the final act, Edward, too, runs for president and eventually becomes the lion of the U.S. Senate. Bzdek sees the Kennedy legacy not as a brief, shining moment, but as an ongoing part of the modern American story, with each brother continuing the mission of his predecessors. It’s not a highly original insight, but the author delineates it succinctly and compellingly. Bzdek shines in his selection of details that reveal the Kennedy’s humanity: Joseph Sr. unfurling a map at the dinner table to make geopolitical points to his children; John showing up for his first day as a congressman in tennis shoes and no jacket; Robert weeping onstage at the 1964 Democratic Convention; Edward’s determination to give a speech at the 2008 Democratic Convention despite his diagnosis of brain cancer. Little here will surprise Kennedy buffs, but Bzdek does a fine job with the material.
A short but well-told overview.