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John F. Kennedy: The American Presidents Series: The 35th President, 1961-1963 Hardcover – May 8 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition edition (May 8 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805083499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805083491
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.7 x 2.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #338,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wanted to read this brief account of Kennedy's privileged life because the previous books in this series have been so compellingly interesting - Truman, both Roosevelts and Johnson about whom I knew little except for his remarkable record in progressing the Kennedy Civil Rights agenda. The books are just the right length for a good review of these political giants who often have feet of clay.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 18 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By RBSProds - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Five EXCELLENT Stars. The latest edition in "The American Presidents Series" is an outstanding, detailed, and sobering historical account by historian Alan Brinkley of the family background, political career, the tumultuous "1000 days", and the historical significance of the 35th President of the USA, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The eloquent unchanging 'boilerplate' "Editor's Note" by Kennedy's 'special assistant', the late Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr is very fitting for this volume. Despite one historian who thought the assassinated Kennedy's short tour of presidential duty would be viewed as a "flicker" in the lineage of presidents, his legacy, as shown in this book, endures in a positive light because of his successes and despite his failures and much unfinished legislative business. This historical analysis gives many interesting facts about his life and times. A sickly child in a large family with a father driven for business success and a mother at times overwhelmed by the nine children, JFK was initially a mediocre student at the Choate prep school, during which time he began the sexual prowess which was evident during his White House years. The author tracks JFK's progress through Choate and Harvard, his WWII naval service, and his political career (with his father, Joe, successfully intervening at key times). Mr. Brinkley does a great job putting the major and minor events of JFK's life in context without unnecessarily dwelling on any topic: the true story of PT 109, meeting Jackie, the Catholicism effect, NIxon's knee, the "fluid Presidency" style, the Republican and southern Democrat House coalition against him, the disastrous "Bay of Pigs" invasion, the US vs USSR Vienna summit, the Cuban missile crisis, the "freedom rides" and the volatile civil rights issue, his lack of legislative success, "Ich bin ein Berliner", the expanding Vietnam war, the infamous Kennedy libido & his many women, Hoover, why Jackie fled a White House reception in tears, the assassination, and his incomplete goals for programs such as civil rights, Medicare, HUD, and the war on poverty. The excellent post-assassination "The Afterlife of John F. Kennedy" chapter details the many reasons for the unusual legacy of this presidency. This overview of the Kennedy life and presidential years is an excellent capsule history, laden with details that may be new even for many of us who lived through those "camelot" days of John F. Kennedy's 35th Presidency of the United States. Highly Recommended. Five INTERESTING Stars! (225 pages ~526 KB. Contains some expletives. This review is based on a Kindle download, reviewed in text and text-to-speech modes.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A New Biography of John Kennedy May 15 2012
By Robin Friedman - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Kennedy (1917 -- 1963) served as the 35th president from 1961 until his assassination on November 22, 1963. Many baby boomers, including myself, have strong memories of Kennedy; and many people of all ages tend to see his presidency as a watershed moment for the United States. Alan Brinkley offers a sober, thoughtful, and measured account of Kennedy's life and presidency in his new short biography, "John F. Kennedy", the most recent volume in the American Presidents series edited by the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Sean Wilentz. Brinkley has written extensively on 20th Century American history; his works include books about the New Deal and American liberalism.

It is difficult to think clearly about Kennedy because of the memories his name evokes, coupled with the assassination and the United States' subsequent political history. During and after his presidency, Kennedy was a highly charismatic, graceful figure who, in the view of many, was taking the United States in a new direction with a sense of mission and purpose. He was dynamic and young. Others, on both the left and right, were less enchanted and more critical. Brinkley is fully aware of the divergent views of our 35th president and he works hard to present a realistic assessment. His book suggests that Kennedy was a gifted but flawed individual who overcame severe health problems on the one hand but who behaved recklessly and carelessly thoughout his life on the other hand, particularly in his sexual relationships with women. Kennedy's presidency, Brinkley argues, would not meet the standards of greatness. Its legislative accomplishments were limited. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion and subsequent clandestine activities in Cuba haunted Kennedy's administration. Yet the president had successes in defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis and in his belated but eloquent support of civil rights.

The Kennedy that emerges from Brinkely's book is a careful, pragmatic politician with a reclusive temperament. He was markedly cool-headed and unemotional. In one of the most perceptive observations in the book, Brinkley writes, "{i[t is one of the many ironies of Kennedy's posthumous image that a man who himself was so uncomfortable with passionate commitment would inspire so much of it in others." The charisma that Kennedy possessed, the devotion of many people to him, and the possibly inevitable falling-off has generally struck me as, on the whole, unfortunate in its impact.

In its short compass, Brinkley's study covers both Kennedy's life and his presidency. Kennedy's wealthy and powerful father was critical in exerting influence and money in Kennedy's early terms in Congress and in the Senate. During these terms, Kennedy showed something of a devil-may-care character with few strong legislative accomplishments to his credit. An indifferent student for most of his life, Kennedy read widely, achieved fame with his historical writing, and won a Pulitzer Prize. Although his father had to exert pressure to allow Kennedy to serve in the military, Kennedy emerged as a war hero for his naval rescue efforts on PT-109.

Kennedy won a close election for president against Richard Nixon in 1960 and proceeded to establish what he termed the "New Frontier" with the still-famous call from his Inaugural Address: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." In successive chapters, Brinkley carefully parses through the major foreign and domestic issues in Kennedy's administration, from the Bay of Pigs Fiasco, to the Cuban Missle Crisis, to Berlin and Laos, to Civil Rights and to the confrontations with business and with U.S. Steel. Brinkely shows a Kennedy impatient with meetings, the Federal bureaucracy, and hierarchy. He governed in a seemingly undisciplined way. Although the term is usually associated with other leaders, the "imperial presidency" was not far from Kennedy's administration. The book shows both Kennedy's accomplishments and his failings. A late chapter of the book covers Kennedy's role in Vietnam. Brinkley shows that Kennedy played a substantial role in American involvement. He declines to speculate on what Kennedy might have done if he had lived. In the final chapter of the book, Brinkley discusses the many theories put foward following Kennedy's assassination. In explaining the continued fascination with Kennedy, Brinkley writes that many people:

"look back nostalgically to an era that seemed to be a time of national confidence and purpose. Kennedy reminds many Americans of an age when it was possible to believe that politics could be harnessed to America's highest aspirations, that it could be rooted in a sense of national community, that it could speak to the country's moral yearnings."

Brinkley offers a careful, restrained look at Kennedy and his influence on the "national imagination". This is one of the better books in the American presidents series. It portrays Kennedy with understanding.

Robin Friedman
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Solid Kennedy Bio After A Few Series Stragglers Feb. 4 2014
By Zachary Koenig - Published on
Format: Hardcover
After reading the Truman & Eisenhower books in the American Presidents series and being very disappointed by those entries, I was really hoping that the J.F.K. installment would revive my interest. It did the trick, as I flew through this one faster than many previous!

I think the reason that this bio works so well is because it seems that author Alan Brinkley doesn't really like Kennedy all that much (or, at least doesn't buy into the "Myth of Camelot" like some do). However, that being said, Brinkley still manages to produce a very competent and engaging biography of Kennedy without injecting too much of his own biases into the matter. Essentially, I really felt that Brinkley was able to "see both sides" of the Kennedy Administration, whereas other authors in this series either deify or take to task their subject a bit too much.

Also, Brinkley doesn't let this bio get dragged down in personnel rosters or legislative affairs. He focuses on what I believe this "short bio" series should focus on: the President as a person, as well as the major workings of and events within their administration(s).

Overall, this is one of the best entries in the series. It really revived my interest after a few laggards.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A Superb Introduction to the JFK Presidency and Legacy Nov. 7 2013
By dcreader - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination has engendered numerous new studies of all aspects of John Kennedy’s life and presidency, ranging from the critical to the fawning. For those who wish to take stock of the Kennedy Presidency without axe grinding, Alan Brinkley’s 2012 entry in the American Presidents Series provides a succinct, up to date and highly judicious survey. In just over 200 pages (including notes, bibliography and index), Brinkley touches on all phases of Kennedy’s personal life and presidency and provides a nice tour of the enormous literature on JFK. For Brinkley, the challenge for historians of Kennedy is to understand why a President with so modest a tangible presidential record meant, and continues to mean, so much to so many.

Brinkley covers Kennedy’s family, upbringing and education, noting the importance that publication of his Harvard thesis (with considerable rewriting and support from a team of researchers) played in making a name for him, enabling him (along with his family’s money) to win a seat in Congress in 1946, followed by a successful 1952 Senate run. For Kennedy, though, Congress was just a route to the Presidency, and Brinkley details how he matured politically as he ascended the ladder, becoming a formidable national presence during his failed effort to obtain the Democratic party’s vice presidential nomination in 1956.

The next four years would see Kennedy enjoy flowery press coverage of him and his young family, helping him overcome questions about his youth, health and commitment to liberalism raised by his rivals for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination. Brinkley does a good job in explaining how Kennedy outmaneuvered his colleagues with what was arguably the first modern primary campaign, combining extensive air travel and large expenditures to win primaries as a means of demonstrating his electability to the small handful of party bosses who controlled the nomination.

Brinkley deals forthrightly with Kennedy’s shortcomings. He covers Kennedy’s womanizing and his efforts to cover up his health problems without going into too many details for a 200 page book. All of the high (and low) points of Kennedy’s presidency are examined, including the Bay of Pigs, civil rights, the Vienna Summit with Khrushchev, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the nuclear test ban and Vietnam. The overall picture of Kennedy that emerges from Brinkley’s book is a highly balanced one that will likely dissatisfy both those who continue to idolize him and revisionists who have sought to undermine his legacy on those issues.

In fact, Brinkley gives Kennedy significant credit for championing civil rights legislation (though noting how late he was to act), resolving the Cuban Missile crisis without taking steps that could have led to nuclear war, and negotiating and obtaining ratification of the limited nuclear test ban. He punts on the question of what Kennedy would have done with Vietnam had he lived, though. Finally, he assigns Kennedy a significant share of the blame for his failure to make more progress with Congress on major legislation. Many items on his agenda such as civil rights legislation, tax cuts and Medicare would only become law once LBJ, a master legislator, took the helm.

Brinkley concludes with a look at how Kennedy’s perceived legacy started out brightly (65% of the population claimed to have voted with him after his assassination compared with 49% who actually did) only to falter with attacks from both sides of the political spectrum. Yet, Kennedy left a lasting legacy for many. Brinkley concludes that he remains identified with a particular moment in American history that rested in between the quiet Eisenhower era and the turbulent Johnson/Nixon days when Americans were highly optimistic about the future and therefore remains “as a bright and beckoning symbol of the world that many people believe they have lost.”
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
There are two historians named Brinkley--this is the good one June 13 2012
By JLafayette - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I wonder if Alan Brinkley has ever wondered if his "brand" is being tarnished by the quickly-written, turgid books published by Douglas Brinkley. Douglas Brinkley publishes about a book a year and it always shows. He is like so much confetti--a nothingness in the air.

Alan Brinkley, on the other hand, is a true scholar, his books on Huey Long and Henry Luce, among others, reveal the mark of a true historian, one who conducts careful research and provides readers with intelligent, unbiased works that are thoughtful and enduring.

Alan Brinkley's brief biography of President Kennedy is no exception. It's hard to imagine that there could be anything new to say about JFK, especially in the wake of more recent massive works on the 35th president. But Brinkley presents a man who, despite his many health problems, had the kind of drive for public office and abiding sense of irony that was perhaps only combined to such great effect in the personality of Abraham Lincoln.

Brinkley does a nice job of giving us a president who was deeply flawed personally--his legendary sexual daliances may have never brought him down in a more compliant media era, but it certainly left him open to blackmail from Soviet agents. But also we see a JFK who was, like Lincoln, open to new ideas and always evolving. In just a short three-year period Kennedy went from being not very interested at all in the civil rights movement, to embracing it as a moral cause crucial to the future success of America. JFK also entered office determined to ratchet up the stakes between the U.S. and the USSR. By 1963 he was more open to dialogue with the Soviet government. This would probably not have been the approach taken by Ronald Reagan twenty years later, but its important to note that the Soviet leadership during JFK's era was much younger and more willing to push the nuclear button, or at least willing to threaten to do so. By the time of Reagan's ascendancy, many of those same leaders had lost their edge, and were more concerned with the kind of conventional land warfare that allowed Reagan to stand up to them without risking a nuclear holocaust.

Brinkley also nicely uses the archives of the JFK Library in Boston to produce behind-the-scenes correspondence during Kennedy's rise to power and his presidency, giving this book a nicely personal touch.

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