An admirably balanced assessment of an enormously complicated man who, wrongly but not ignobly, stood athwart history.



A sympathetic reappraisal of Joseph P. Kennedy’s controversial tenure as America’s ambassador to Britain.

With the European dictators Mussolini and Hitler becoming increasingly belligerent, Kennedy’s 1938 appointment to the Court of St. James’s came at an especially dangerous time. The first Irish-Catholic ever to fill the distinguished position, the successful businessman actively sought the honor. Despite friends’ warnings that his background, temperament and talents ill-suited him for the job, Kennedy headed for London intent on keeping the United States neutral in the war everyone feared was approaching. At first, along with his large and attractive family, he charmed all of London. In a detailed text that never becomes tedious, Swift (The Roosevelts and the Royalty, 2004, etc.) explains how it all turned sour and how the ambassadorship quickly morphed from a glittering culmination into the sad undoing of Kennedy’s public-service career. While he concedes that Kennedy’s own ambition, independence, pride, stubbornness and thin skin contributed to his failure, Swift insists, for the most part persuasively, that the old fox was himself outfoxed by FDR, who knew precisely how to manipulate him. Kennedy’s isolationism, his fear of the devastation that would be wrought by a second world war, Swift reminds us, perfectly mirrored popular opinion in the United States. Focusing primarily on how the ambassador gradually lost the confidence of both the U.S. and British governments, Swift also pays significant attention to Rose, who reveled in the social status accorded the ambassador’s wife; to daughter Kathleen, who became something of a debutante sensation; to sons Joe Jr. and Jack, who served intermittently as aides to their father; and to an array of famous names—Nancy Astor, Clare Booth Luce, Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh, Pope Pius XXII—who were all part of the Kennedys’ orbit.

An admirably balanced assessment of an enormously complicated man who, wrongly but not ignobly, stood athwart history.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-117356-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Collins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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