Large Print Reviews
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963
By Robert Dallek
Reviewed by Anna Dogole - July 14, 2003
Had John F. Kennedy's life not been ended by an assassin's bullet, what would have been his legacy? Had he lived a full and productive life would he have remained an American icon or would he have faded from the public's consciousness once his term as president ended? These are questions to which we can never truly know the answers. One thing that we can be sure of is that so many myths have grown up around our imagine of the martyred president that it can be difficult to truly get a sense for whom he really was. In An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek has taken a critical look at John F. Kennedy's life, presidency, and death. The picture that emerges is not that of an untarnished knight. Rather he paints a portrait of a man who was very ill and often in pain, who had many personal flaws, yet was a man who always strove to do what he thought would be most beneficial for the nation that he led.
Dallek, a renowned historian, presents a candid and concise look at JFK's life, beginning with an overview of the Kennedy dynasty and JFK's relationship with the other members in his family. This compelling narrative chronicles JFK's early life, his military exploits during World War II, and the events that propelled him into politics. He also frankly discusses the political machinations that were put into play to help JFK into political office, and the role that his family's wealth and position played in his advancement. Dallek also candidly discusses JFK's various love affairs - both those before and after gaining the presidency. However, I found that the most interesting aspect of this biography was Dallek revelations about just how sick JFK really was, and how heavily medicated he had to be to control the chronic pain that he suffered. I was also interested to learn that from Dallek's research it appears that JFK would have limited the US's involvement in Vietnam.
I found this biography to be both eye opening and even handed. Dallek seems to admire JFK, but is more than willing to admit that JFK was not perfect - and to go into detail concerning these imperfections! Dallek's revelations about JFK are well-researched and authoritative, and he presents a great body of information about JFK that I've never come across in other books. Despite being a scholarly work, An Unfinished Life is a very approachable book (for a lay person) and the narrative is very easy on the ear. Dallek's overview of JFK's life is so fascinating, and the story flows so well, that it is hard not to listen to this book in one sitting. I highly recommend this book, not only for those interested in the life of John F. Kennedy, but also for anyone interested in a compelling and unforgettable biography of an American legend.
This review is based on the abridged audio edition of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963, read by Richard McGonagle.
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