Burgs Sunday book review
Jacqueline Kennedy, Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, forward by Caroline Kennedy, Hyperion, 2011.
Reviewed by Paula Alston, Library Director, Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library.
Time has not really dimmed our fascination with the Kennedys. It has been 50 years since John F. Kennedy served as the 35th President of the United States. And on November 22, 2013, it will be 50 years since that sad day in Dallas. Most Americans old enough to remember that November day, can tell you where they were when they heard the news. I was 9 and on a playground at my Catholic elementary school in Montana. There has been a large body of work published about his life and presidency. I think the next eighteen months will produce many more. Two recent titles are reviewed below.
“Jack Kennedy, Elusive Hero” is written by Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s Hardball and author of several books. Matthews writes, “In searching for Jack Kennedy, I found a fighting prince never far from pain, never far from trouble, never accepting the world he found, never wanting to be his father’s son. He was a far greater hero than he ever wished us to know.”
Matthews spent years researching Kennedy and getting to know the people who surrounded him, from his days at Choate through his presidency. They provided him with much insight in Kennedy’s youth and early days. He had an unhappy childhood, with an overbearing father and an absent, disinterested mother. He was a sickly child and spent much time reading, and he loved a good prank. He was a true hero during World War II with his heroics surrounding the sinking of his PT boat and his gallant effort to save his crew. In this highly readable biography, we also learn much about his runs for the Senate and the presidential campaign, as well as his relationship with Richard Nixon. Though they were often pitted against each other, they formed a friendship early on in their political careers and respected each other.
Matthews’ most important conclusion is that Kennedy’s decision not to invade Cuba in 1962 likely saved the world from nuclear war. “He had done it not by winning a war, but by averting one far more horrible than any leader in the past could have imagined.” And he butted heads with his military leaders and other advisors in the process.
Couple the Matthews book with “Jacqueline Kennedy, Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.” Only four months after the death of her husband, Mrs. Kennedy sat down in her living room at her new home in Washington, D.C., for a series of seven interviews recorded between March 2, 1964 and June 3, 1964. Her interviewer was well known Harvard historian and special assistant to the president, Arthur M. Schlesinger, a person she felt comfortable with. She wanted to make sure that the record of his administration was preserved. She requested that the tapes be placed in a vault and sealed for fifty years. Caroline Kennedy decided to use the 50th anniversary of the JFK Presidency to release the tapes.
The transcripts are written as she spoke them but have many footnotes to help fill in the gaps. The library also has the audio CDs of the interviews. It is interesting to listen to her voice and hear the background noises from so long ago. Airplanes taking off, trucks on N Street, the tinkle of ice cubes and the kids as they ran into the room. The interviews end with a three year old John Kennedy Jr. playing with the tape recorder.
Jackie provides an insider’s look but also her personal views of the people and the events that shaped this time in our history. She talked with candor about Martin Luther King, Lyndon Johnson, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the writing of Profiles in Courage. Finally we have the opportunity to hear what she had to say.
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