Review 1667: JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956

JFK is a biography that makes you feel you really understand John F. Kennedy despite it being the type of biography not necessarily aimed at mass consumption. Although it is eloquently and clearly written, it contains about 150 pages of notes and sources. It examines the first 39 years of Kennedy’s life in a balanced fashion, showing both strengths and faults, and is absorbingly interesting. It also tries to dispel some of the myths about Kennedy’s political career, showing, for example, that his interest in politics began long before his older brother’s death, in answer to the belief that he entered politics at his father’s urging as a replacement for his dead brother.

Although a lot of people are fascinated by the Kennedys, I knew only the basic facts and found the home life of his family growing up to be a very strange one. First was their emphasis on competition and winning, one that was extreme and probably explains the tendency toward alcoholism in a few of its members (not JFK, who was not a drinker). A few details stood out—one that family members didn’t seem to have permanent bedrooms in Hyannis Port but treated the house more like a hotel. Very odd.

I was less interested in his development as a politician than I was in the earlier material, but still, even though I knew, for example, that Kennedy was not the vice presidential nomineee in 1956, Logevall was able to make the Democratic convention truly exciting.

Logevall is a Harvard historican whose last book won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for history. This is a serious, well-researched biography that nevertheless offers much interest to the more casual reader.

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