Drawing on previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives, An Unfinished Life is packed with revelations large and small -- about JFK's health, his love affairs, RFK's appointment as Attorney General, what Joseph Kennedy did to help his son win the White House, and the path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement had he survived.
Robert Dallek succeeds as no other biographer has done in striking a critical balance -- never shying away from JFK's weaknesses, brilliantly exploring his strengths -- as he offers up a vivid portrait of a bold, brave, complex, heroic, human Kennedy.
In this riveting tour de force, Boston University history professor Dallek (Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961 1973) delivers what will most assuredly become the benchmark JFK biography for this generation. A master of the art of narrative history, Dallek is also the first biographer since Doris Kearns Goodwin to be granted unrestricted access to key Kennedy family papers (most importantly, the Joseph and Rose Kennedy Papers) in the JFK Library. This is a substantial and significant trove to which Dallek brings a refreshingly critical eye. He has also mined many nuggets of key information from the papers of JFK's colleagues, doctors and friends.Thus Dallek has significant new ground to break on a range of fronts including but not limited to Kennedy's health, politics, personal recklessness and love affairs. Dallek's revelations about JFK's health, based on previously unavailable medical files maintained by Kennedy's personal physician, have already received significant publicity from the Atlanticexcerpt in December 2002. But here Dallek expands on that information and reveals (for the first time) the full extent of the medical coverup orchestrated by the Kennedy family: a coverup that involved the destruction of key medical records even after JFK was in his grave. On the political front, Dallek uses new inside information from a Kennedy associate to reveal the detailed mechanics (and enormous scope) of the use of Kennedy money to purchase the West Virginia primary in 1960. At the same time, Dallek has new evidence on both Jack's philandering and his recklessness. Example: During the same 1960 campaign on which his father spent millions, JFK risked it all by inviting an underage cheerleader to his hotel room. As is appropriate, close to two-thirds of this biography covers Kennedy's truncated presidency. In one of the book's most important sections, Dallek marshals new evidence that JFK did not view with favor the expansion of the war in Vietnam, and that he most likely would not have sanctioned such an expansion. Throughout the book, Dallek stops short of worshipping his subject. He is a Kennedy admirer, but he never allows this admiration to cloud either his focus or his truth telling. Dallek is to be thanked for providing the thoroughly researched, well-sourced, responsible and readable biography that has for so long been wanting in Kennedy scholarship. Illus. not seen by PW.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Big Picture on JFK's Presidency.... An interesting life albeit unfinished...
The is the first bio/historical book I read on JFK and I enjoyed it... At times, I felt a little more editorial that the bios I have read on FDR and Lincoln from Doris Kearns Goodwin, but Dallek does a great job on providing a big picture sense to the JFK Presidency and its place in History even though it is fairly recent in historical terms. It also gives you hope to think that each future President is being prepared in his youth for the challenges that will be faced by the next generation. All the foreign service and international assignments that JFK had while climbing the ladder, while expected in people of his "zip code", ended up being a crucial part of his preparation to understand and tackle the nuances and intricacies of the complex foreign relations with the Soviet Union, Asia, South America, and Europe that defined his Presidency and his legacy.
Good Read but Dry
All in all an informative bio of JFK. Rather dry or perhaps academic in tone it nonetheless sheds some new light on the man and his times particularly his health issues and the Cuban missile crisis.
A highly informative and informational story of the president. Extremely enjoyed the early life and war stories.