A Pulitzer Prize–winning historian takes us as close as we have ever been to the real John F. Kennedy in this revelatory biography of the iconic, yet still elusive, thirty-fifth president.
“An utterly incandescent study of one of the most consequential figures of the twentieth century.”—Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States
By the time of his assassination in 1963, John F. Kennedy stood at the helm of the greatest power the world had ever seen, a booming American nation that he had steered through some of the most perilous diplomatic standoffs of the Cold War. Born in 1917 to a striving Irish American family that had become among Boston’s wealthiest, Kennedy knew political ambition from an early age, and his meteoric rise to become the youngest elected president cemented his status as one of the most mythologized figures in American history. And while hagiographic portrayals of his dazzling charisma, reports of his extramarital affairs, and disagreements over his political legacy have come and gone in the decades since his untimely death, these accounts all fail to capture the full person.
Beckoned by this gap in our historical knowledge, Fredrik Logevall has spent much of the last decade searching for the “real” JFK. The result of this prodigious effort is a sweeping two-volume biography that properly contextualizes Kennedy amidst the roiling American Century. This volume spans the first thirty-nine years of JFK’s life—from birth through his decision to run for president—to reveal his early relationships, his formative experiences during World War II, his ideas, his writings, his political aspirations. In examining these pre–White House years, Logevall shows us a more serious, independently minded Kennedy than we’ve previously known, whose distinct international sensibility would prepare him to enter national politics at a critical moment in modern U.S. history.
Along the way, Logevall tells the parallel story of America’s midcentury rise. As Kennedy comes of age, we see the charged debate between isolationists and interventionists in the years before Pearl Harbor; the tumult of the Second World War, through which the United States emerged as a global colossus; the outbreak and spread of the Cold War; the domestic politics of anti-Communism and the attendant scourge of McCarthyism; the growth of television’s influence on politics; and more.
JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917–1956 is a sweeping history of the United States in the middle decades of the twentieth century, as well as the clearest portrait we have of this enigmatic American icon.