An Unfinished Life: John F Kennedy, Robert Dallek, Little Brown and Company, 2003, 711 pp
I have now completed the third biography on my list of US Presidents who have been in office during my lifetime: Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. It appears that to be taken seriously a presidential biography must be a door-stopper no matter how long their lives or how many terms they served. John F Kennedy only lived for 46 years and only held the Presidency for 1000 days but he still got 711 pages of text from Robert Dallek.
This reading about presidents' lives is probably the most difficult of my various reading projects but also hugely satisfying in terms of an overview of American federal government and politics. Who they were and how they became presidents is a mirror on American life. But the main idea I have come to is that the news media gives us a distinctly skewed view of our presidents and the disconnect between who they really are and what they have to deal with as the leaders of our country compared to what we are told about that while it is happening only grows wider as the new media keeps up with technological changes over the years.
Despite huge swaths of boring day by day depictions of JFK's nomination and election campaigns as well as the major crises he faced during his term, I learned much more about the man than I was ever taught in school. I gained an understanding of why he was and continues to be so revered. He was THE man for the times in 1960; young, handsome, intelligent, and forward looking. He was also a consummate politician with an inborn sense of how to advance his career, complemented by what he learned from his father. He was far more ill for his entire life than was publicly known. Medicated to his eyeballs much of the time, his health was a risk and a big long story covered fully in Dallek's book.
Though I suspect the author down pedaled it to a large degree, Kennedy was an unrepentant and continuous womanizer. As a teenager I was infatuated with the romance between Jack and Jackie. In An Unfinished Life, Jackie only gets about 20 pages, so now I will need to read some books that give more of her side of the story. I was left feeling it was all a political show.
I wonder if I could have or should have read a different Kennedy biography. Robert Dallek's dull and pedestrian writing style certainly did not match his flamboyant subject.
(An Unfinished Life is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)