While JFK remains the subject of endless media attention and national fascination more than 40 years after his assassination, Dallek's book provides fresh revelations and perspective. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (21)
An unfinished end
I can only agree with all the more elaborate reviews on this book that give it at least 4 stars.
I have read biographies from Churchill to Rockefeller and what I like, is when you get enough detail of the person's life, set in the background of their times, to make history come alive. This biography succeeds in that. It is a wonderful and interesting read that will surely give you something out of it; well researched, well written, objective, yet full of detail and not void of the expert view of the historian.
This easy to read book comes with new information never before available, but before you get your hopes high, they are mainly on the medical record of JFK. Not on what happened the 22th November 1963.
But before we get to JFK's last day, I would like to say the whole historical context, and especially the merits of JFK's administration in those difficult times are described in great detail. So anyone wanting to know about the Cuba crisis, the racial unrest, or Communism threats and Vietnam; this is the book.The writer stays wisely away from hagiography and treats JFK very objectively, as if to let the reader come to his own conclusions, which is how a biography should be. But some interesting details that could have spiced the book up were missing. They are the Marilyn Monroe affair and a more detailed account of what happened the day JFK was shot. I think, since JFK has become a story, even in his own life, that these stories have become very relevant to his history. After all, Dallek agreed that history was nothing else than an unending debate. Somehow Dallek must have thought these questions were not historically relevant. Maybe he wanted to limit himself to relevant and recorded facts, forgetting the reader could perfectly make up his own mind on what he would think were facts and innuendo .
Let's begin with the affair JFK had with Marilyn Monroe. I have seen an interview (forgot the name of the man), that also had an affair with her. She complained often to him that sex with JFK was always a 'quicky', with the obvious answer as a president he did not have much time. Including more source material like this would have spiced things up, and intriguing it certainly would have been. Why could gossip not be interesting history, too? If the author can dig into tons of medical files, why not in tons of interviews with people that Marilyn might have involved with and might have talked to about her affair with JFK? The fact she was clearly dumped by JFK possibly even added to her troubles and ultimately her suicide (my conclusion, since she had been troubled all her life, and also had tried before with pills). It would have been relevant to mention a conspiracy theory as to her death too in this volume. Some even say she died because she was silenced by the Kennedy's, although it could easily be falsified since JFK's philandering was no secret anyway. Nevertheless, no biography of JFK could omit a page of Marilyn's story since her premature death was so closely connected, at least in time, with that of JFK. It would have been enough to refer the reader to the sources, or shortly comment that what comes next might just be innuendo. After all, why could the orally transferred information used in the rest of this book dealing with political information, not be lies too, as all recorded history, for that matter?
Then the 22th November of 1963. One reviewer remarked this book was well written, bringing out both the genius and the weaknesses of JFK, therefore also ringing true in the tricky parts. I agree, except for the weakest point in the book, namely the authors handling of the most tricky question of all: who might have killed JFK? I hoped, since the title also hinted to that, that I would get a wealth of possible theories. I was wrong. He is quite blunt about it, accepting no conspiracy theories, and that, after almost stretching to full tension the last say half year of JFK's administration to great detail, as if to prepare us not only for the loss after that fateful day, but also bringing together as in an Agatha Christie end the many suspects: the mob, right wing extremists in the south, Cuba or Russian connections, the military that was in favor of a war in Vietnam, etc. Whodunit? All he has to say in half a page is that it was Oswald. Really, shouldn't JFK's killing have been a major part in this book, including all the possible theories about his assassination? After all, the question 'Who killed JFK' is almost more famous than JFK himself.
Instead, the author waves this away by saying all the alternative theories were never conclusive, forgetting that neither the one that Oswald alone did is totally foolproof. History should look at all the facts, thus also at facts that do not add up. True, people might want to find reasons, as to give the meaningless some meaning. If only one madman like Oswald could have such a disastrous impact on the world, it surely would be hard to accept. After all, had he lived, Vietnam could have been averted, the Cold War might have been less cold, with better relations with both Cuba and the USSR. But this psychological remark does not mean JFK's killing is therefore explained since people cannot accept the obvious. JFK's death is not that of Elvis. It is not whether he died or not and whether we could let him go or not, but who did it.
The author slips here, not offering the reader a detailed full account of all the evidence pointing in many possible directions. Instead, he makes us accept it was Oswald, even though some army specialists say no one could have fired three consecutive shots in such a short time. Others even say the directions of the entry wounds indicated the shots did not come from one location. There is also the question why Oswald was killed by that nightclub owner (who knew Oswald according to some statements) before he could reach court. Oswald might have been silenced, implying he was in a plot with more people. For me, this was a reason to drop one star.
Maybe we have to wait to 2013 for more files to open after 50 years, if I am correctly informed. If so, I would welcome the same author again to publish a second version, this time including more information on what might have happened. Then I will be happy to give him the five stars which he undoubtedly deserves, or 10, if one day it would be proved Oswald was indeed the sole killer.
Dallek on JFK
The book begins with the early history of the Kennedy family and goes on thru his school days, military service and his early political career in the House and Senate. His love for democracy, civil liberties, and anti-communist stance is evident in his life before his ascent to the Presidency.
Kennedy's finest hours during his presidency are shown in his dealings with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights issues, tax cuts and business development, friendly diplomatic initiatives, and the start up of man's journey to the Moon. However, Dallek also covers well his darkest hour of reluctant leadership at the Bay of Pigs.
The documentation of John Kennedy's medical records is staggering. Testerone and steroids were among the drugs he took for his back and may explain his excessive womanizing, though he may have learned this behavior from his father Joe.
Relatively little time is spent on the assassination and I consider this a plus in this biography. There are too many books that focus on the assassination and not on his legacy. The assassination of John Kennedy represented a great loss- the death of a charming prince with an inspiring personality. Maybe we should accept the Warren Commission's report at face value, stop accusing people that we dislike for his death, and honor JFK's memory by practicing the principles of government that he best cherished, such as political equality and freedom for all, compassion for the less fortunate, and a level-headed leadership in times of crises.
JFK well written-not the full story
Dallek has done a fine job of delving into the medical history of JFK and how it impacted his life and presidency.However, the constant chronicling of his medical ailments becomes a bit much and repetitive at times.The new information is appreciated just not to this length.Dallek focuses more on a few domestic and foreign policy issues and leaves out some that he believes may not be as relevant.He does a fine job of exploring the politics of JFK's decisions which is helpful in assessing what it took to get things accomplished at the time.
There is a lot of back and forth from 1961-1963 which makes for a not so smooth read sometimes.His major domestic focus is civil rights - segregation, health care, the economy coming out of the recessions of the 50's, the space program (hinting that JFK really used the potential military benefits of space exploration as a cover for simply gaining an edge over Russia and building prestige for the US).His major foreign policy emphasis is Cuba-Castro, Russia-Khrushchev, Vietnam and Diem and some others that fall under the communist threat umbrella.Although he does a decent job of detailing the politics and emotion of JFK, the details are sporadic which does not help in getting a cohesive argument presented.All in all Dallek is great and I learned a lot.For a more intriguing account of JFK and also Bobby and Joe Kennedy I highly recommend the book Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot.Brothers is a fantastic read and offers a more in-depth analysis into the character and personality of JFK and Bobby.He also covers some of the more sensations aspects of each with out offering too much speculation.
This is an incredibly detailed account of kennedy's life. Whats most remarkable is the detail and how the author made this book so easily readable.
A gem on JFK
Robert Dallek is one of the foremost historians on the Presidents, and this gem is no exception.
In An Unfinished Life Robert Dallek does a great job of being objective on JFK. Most of the books on him, are either one way or the other, Dallek does a nice job of 'staying in the middle'. Another thing that makes this book a gem is the access that Dallek got to the medical records of JFK. This allows Dallek to delve into the issues that JFK had during the campaign, and throughout his life.
This biography really is a gem, that should be read by those interested in the Presidency, and in the man John F. Kennedy.
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