The Definitive Kennedy Biography
by Laurence Leamer
William Morrow & Co; ISBN: 0688163157
There must be a small-sized public library just devoted to the Kennedy family. However, now there is one book that is definitive: Laurence Leamer's The Kennedy Men 1901-1963 (William Morrow,2001).
This 800+ page book follows the lives of Joseph P. Kennedy and his four sons through John F. Kennedy's assassination, with a novel-like approach. Just as the late Kenneth Sydney Davis portrayed FDR in a series of books that thoroughly portrayed a life and events in it, Mr. Leamer has reviewed the lives of the Kennedys in great detail and assesses in print most of the controversial activities discussed in more opinionated and partisan texts. For instance, unlike more sensational books, Mr. Leamer does not think the Chicago Mob "won" the 1960 election for JFK by its work in Illinois, and explains why he thinks so.
Although the book is about the five Kennedy men, most of it revolves around Jack Kennedy, a highly complex and amoral man. Mr. Leamer treats JFK like a flawed warrior driven by an unusually strong sex drive and a need to show himself as a healthy man. There is no doubt that the author likes JFK in spite of himself as he shows the evolution of a rich playboy to a man who began to reform the notions of the Cold War and a segregated society.
Two things struck me in this book: one, the virulent Anti-Semitism of Joe Kennedy that was passed on to his children; and second, the author's obsession with the Kennedys' sex lives.
I realize that hatred for the Jews was an integral part of American and European culture during most of this century. The events of World War II and the Holocaust made hating the Jews less fashionable in politically correct surroundings, but I did not fathom the depths this hatred fostered among the appeasers in England and isolationists in the USA during the years leading up to Pearl Harbor. Joe Kennedy was at the center of this universe that would rather be in a Jew-free world than fight Hitler's efforts to rule the world. It's a minor miracle that his sons survived politically with this albatross around their necks.
As to the sex, Mr. Leamer must have written about most of the assignations of Joe, Joe Junior, Jack, Bobby and Ted. The Kennedys rate their own sweeps-week E Channel special titled: "The Kennedy Guys and their Broads--A guide to the Art of Schtupping." I understand the author's point on this--JFK's liaisons exposed him to needless danger, personal and political, but I really didn't appreciate the comprehensive detail.
I think the book's sections on Robert Kennedy also capture his essence and life. I'm sure the subsequent volume will show the growth of the most complex and endearing Kennedy.
The life of JFK and his family is our American fairy tale. The excitement Jack Kennedy brought to this nation in his brief tenure defined all politics afterwards. That Mr. Leamer could capture this excitement and provide a balanced portrait are reasons to cherish this book and the memories.
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This story was published on January 2, 2002.