Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JFK's Life of History and Illness; Bio Reveals Personal Battles

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JFK's Life of History and Illness; Bio Reveals Personal Battles

Article excerpt

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

Author: Robert Dallek

Data: Little, Brown, 711 page, $30

Review by David DeCamp

The pomp of John F. Kennedy's life might dwarf the actual circumstance of his leadership.

But Robert Dallek's new biography, An Unfinished Life, puts forward a dispassionate, detailed account of Kennedy's rise to power and mixed record in his truncated presidency. Most notably, Dallek gained access to loads of medical records to detail the sometimes life-threatening illnesses throughout Kennedy's life.

The book has arrived with much fanfare for the medical revelations, which run through the narrative larger than the Kennedy fortune, charm and enduring aura in American society. In focusing on the often overwhelming medical details in Kennedy's rise, the biography actually makes JFK more heroic, however justly.

Kennedy's illnesses started in his youth and continued to increase. He had Addison's disease, colitis, gastrointestinal maladies and degenerative back and urinary track problems.

Much of Dallek's effort goes toward saying how heroically Kennedy overcame them, even in the darkest hours, even while hiding it from Americans. It's a case of hiding something that would have made him unelectable yet even more regarded for his personal leadership in office.

During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy was moderately medicated by his standards. Dallek says then and other times, the medication did not hinder Kennedy's decision-making.

"The public had only a limited understanding of how resolute Kennedy had been. Health problems continued to dog him during the crisis," Dallek writes.

"He took his usual doses of antispasmodics to control his colitis; antibiotics for a flareup of his urinary tract problem and a bout of sinusitis; and increased amounts of hydrocortisone and testosterone as well as salt tablets to control his Addison's disease and increase energy."

It is enough to send you to a medical reference book, particularly after 711 pages. Dallek's work, however, does not drag, though it lacks the lush nature of recent presidential biographies such as those on John Adams or Theodore Roosevelt. …

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