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

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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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: 14 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 318 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #605,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Plenty of long, definitive works exist, but Brinkley takes his job seriously, filling 160 pages with a thoughtful, opinionated biography."―Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Alan Brinkley is the author most recently of The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He is also the author of Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression, which won the National Book Award, and The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War. He is the Allan Nevins Professor of History at Columbia University and has also taught at Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge. He lives in New York City.

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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 Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa78010f0) out of 5 stars 25 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By RBSProds - Published on Amazon.com
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.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa36dae70) out of 5 stars A New Biography of John Kennedy May 15 2012
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
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
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa36dae34) out of 5 stars John F. Kennedy's Short Presidency--What Did He Do and What Did It Mean? Jan. 27 2015
By Steven Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is another nice entry in the American Presidents series, originally edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr and--after his death-[-Sean Wilentz. In this instance, there is some poignancy in that' Schlesinger was an adviser to Kennedy. The books in this series are brief, making information available to readers who do not want massive 600 page biographies. In that, most of the volumes succeed (although I prefer such massive works!!).

The work itself takes a chronological perspective on Kennedy. We learn of his life from birth to death--with an epilogue about Kennedy's reputation and evaluation after his death.

Kennedy grew up with a degree of privilege. His father, Joseph, became wealthy as a financier and parlayed that into an eminent career. When Kennedy became interested in politics, he was well bankrolled.

Before that, we see his childhood and youth--wracked with physical ailments and sometimes fearing for his life. He was an indifferent student in college, although he was obviously quite intelligent. When World War II began, he became commander of a PT boat--PT 109. When the boat was destroyed in combat, Kennedy handled the crisis nicely--a major boost for him as he became politically oriented.

Then, the development of his political career--House of Representatives and then the Senate; his relationship with his future wife Jacqueline Bouvier; his continual womanizing; the trajectory of his career (a potential vice presidential candidate in 1956). In 1960, he contended for the Democratic nomination for President. He succeeded (with considerable support from his father).

We then see the development of his presidency, from miserable failures (the Bay of Pigs) to successes (The Cuban Missile Crisis). He tended to be cautious and did not leave a real legacy of actual success, although many of his initiatives came about under Lyndon Johnson's presidency. There is also a realistic depiction of his role in the development of the US involvement in Vietnam.

Several positive things about this book: it is realistic; it has a critical element to it; it provides a realistic appraisal of his presidency.

All in all, if the reader wants a rather brief biography of JFK, this is a pretty good option to consider.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1e78348) out of 5 stars There are two historians named Brinkley--this is the good one June 13 2012
By JLafayette - Published on Amazon.com
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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa1e7863c) out of 5 stars GREAT SERIES OF BOOKS Jan. 31 2014
By Frank Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read all the Biographies of the Presidents by way of the Presidential series. If you are going to do it, read John Hancock first because he was the first Continental Congress President. You will find as you read these how the lives of each President intertwined with the next. The job is a lineage.