Previous biographies of John F. Kennedy have been based almost entirely on newspaper files and personal recollections. Geoffrey Perret's Jack is both the first comprehensive one-volume biography of JFK and the first account of his life based on the extensive and important documentary record that has finally become available, including Kennedy's personal diaries, hundreds of hours of taped conversations from the White House, recently declassified government documents, extensive family correspondence, and crucial interviews sealed for nearly forty years. The result is a gripping, accurate, and ultimately moving portrait of America's most charismatic president.
Jack provides much-needed context and perspective on Kennedy's bewilderingly complex personality. It offers an even-handed account of the seamy side of his life - orgies and abortions, health and drug problems - along with valuable insights into JFK's truly idealistic and visionary character.
Jack presents a compelling account of the volatile relationship between Kennedy and his wife, including Jackie's attempt to divorce him, move to Hollywood, and become a film star. At the same time Perret explains how, together, they created the Kennedy style.
Jack reveals how the restless, innovative Kennedy was able to overturn more than a hundred years of political tradition, forge the modern political campaign, and, once in the White House, modernize the presidency. His success was so complete that all serious presidential candidates since 1960 have sought to compare themselves to JFK, not challenging his legacy but embracing it.
Jack is filled, too, with numerous revelations, such as the true story behind the lobotomy of JFK's sister Rosemary. And here, for the first time, is a comprehensive account of Kennedy's numerous and varied ailments from childhood on, including his back problems.
Perret describes how JFK got the two most important decisions of his administration right: his handling of the Cuban missile crisis and his stance on civil rights. As to Vietnam, Kennedy did not believe it was worth fighting for, and in the last months of his presidency he began formulating a secret plan for neutralization and withdrawal - if he won the 1964 election. But that, of course, was not to be: Convinced he would die young, Kennedy foresaw that a violent death would claim him. Throughout his brief time in the White House he was haunted by a vision of a man standing at a window, looking down at him, holding a rifle.
Jack: A Life Like No Other is a book like no other. Here, at last, John F. Kennedy seems to step off the page in all his vitality, charm, and originality.
Perret (Ulysses S. Grant, etc.) delivers a flawed biography of JFK in which the subject trapped in the crosshairs of shoddy research and poor prose style seems unable to come to life. Perret's machine-like, event-driven narrative delivers one well-known fact after another, but the author repeatedly fails to get close to the normally ingratiating Kennedy. Further, Perret's narrative is too often driven by the few new sources he's been able to discover. Thus due to a recently unearthed travel diary we get every detail concerning JFK's generally uninteresting 1937 tour of Europe. Other of the book's problems stem from sweeping generalizations and various errors of both fact and interpretation. Discussing Joseph Kennedy Sr.'s Wall Street activities, Perret informs readers that "big stock market speculators" were blamed (by whom? the public? the government? the newspapers?) for the 1929 stock market crash. As regards errors of fact, a few include Perret's misquoting the widely known Catholic prayer "Hail Mary," his references to "Catholic ministers" and his assertion that Jack's bad back did not date from childhood (as medical records clearly show). Perret embarks on yet another arguable sidetrack from reality when he asserts that Kennedy who always took great pains to separate his public life from his religious life backed out of a 1948 event involving Protestant ministers after being "ordered" to do so by "the Catholic hierarchy," and then took the unusual step of confessing the same to journalist Drew Pearson. The anecdote, originating with Pearson, deserves scrutiny that Perret does not seem disposed to deliver. And that, sadly, is the story of this book. Photos not seen by PW.