An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

Article excerpt

Robert Dallek, An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, Little Brown and Company, 2003, Boston.

Robert Dallek stands as one of the finest presidential biographers in the historical profession. In his previous work on Lyndon Johnson, Dallek demonstrates a remarkable ability to provide a balanced historical appraisal of a monumental political figure. His more recent effort on John F. Kennedy accomplishes the same feat. Dallek's biography of JFK is noteworthy among similar studies in that the author obtained access to previously unavailable medical records and personal material. The John F. Kennedy Library provided many of these documents and thereby should share in some of the credit for the success of this account.

What Dallek so expertly demonstrates are the continuities of Kennedy's life and political career. These include his lifelong interest in foreign affairs. The author details Kennedy's focus on international and diplomatic history during his preparatory school and college years and how this interest helped to create a sense of familiarity and confidence with these issues during his tenure as president. This continuity also existed in some of the less reputable aspects of Kennedy's personal life. Dallek makes clear that Kennedy's involvement with women was usually self-serving, shallow, and even unseemly. From his preparatory school experience, Kennedy demonstrated a chauvinistic and even boastful relationship with his many female conquests. …


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