Certain things come with the territory. Jack Kennedy, born in 1917 in the spring of the next-to-last year of World War I, was the second son of nine children. That’s important to know. The first son is expected to be what the parents are looking for. Realizing that notion early, he becomes their ally. They want him to be like them – or, more accurately and better yet, what they long to be.
Joseph Kennedy, a titan of finance, whose murky early connections helped him bring riches and power but never the fullest respect, had married in 1914, after a seven-year courtship, Rose Fitzgerald. The pious daughter of the colorful Boston mayor John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, she launched their substantial family when, nine months later, she presented her husband with his son and heir, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. For the proud couple, he would be their bridge both to joining and mastering the WASP society from which they, as Roman Catholics in early twentieth-century America, were barred.
Such stand-in status meant, for the young Joe, that he had to accept all the terms and rules put forth by those whose ranks he was expected to enter. The idea was to succeed in exactly the well-rounded manner of the New England Brahmin. Above all, that meant grades good enough to keep up at the right Protestant schools, and an ability to shine at sports, as well. In this last instance, there was no doubt about the most desirable benchmark of achievement. The football field was not just where reputations were made and popularity earned, it was where campus legends were born.
Joseph Kennedy’s handsome eldest boy would prove himself equal to the task. Entering Choate, the boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut, where he was a student from the age of fourteen to eighteen, he quickly made his mark. A golden youth, he became the headmaster George St. John’s ideal exemplar. Transcending his origins – which meant getting past the prejudices St. John was said to hold for his kind, the social-climbing Irish – Joe Jr., with his perfect body and unquestioning, other-directed mind, seemed to embody the Choate ethos without breaking a sweat.
A second son such as Jack Kennedy, arriving as he did two years later, finds himself faced with that old familiar tough act to follow. And, of course, embedded in the soul of any second male child is this Hobson’s choice: to fail to match what’s gone before guarantees disappointment, to match it guarantees nothing.
You have to be original; it’s the only way to get any attention at all – any good attention, that is.
Jack Kennedy, almost as soon as he got to Choate, quite obviously put himself on notice not to be a carbon copy. He was neither a “junior” nor would he be a junior edition. He would be nothing like the much-admired Joe, nothing like the Choate ideal. What he brought, instead, was a grace his brother – and Choate itself – lacked.
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher J. Matthews
We know so much about the public persona of President John F. Kennedy, yet little about the private man. To MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews, Kennedy has long been an avatar and a puzzle. Throughout his career as a congressional aide, writer and broadcaster, Matthews has collected stories about Kennedy from the people who knew him. With Jack Kennedy, he brings us closer to the man behind Camelot. This refreshing and insightful new biography charts the trajectory of Kennedy’s life from a child of privilege into a war hero and, finally, president of the United States.
As Matthews shows, his achievements were all the more remarkable in light of the constant illnesses he battled. Kennedy spent many of his teenage years suffering from various conditions, including scarlet fever and appendicitis. He was frequently hospitalized. Despite running a gamut of tests, doctors were unable to locate the source of his poor health. Bedridden for weeks on end, the young Kennedy immersed himself in history books. He especially valued biographies. Years later, he remarked to journalist Ben Bradlee that the chief reason he read biographies was to answer the simple question “What’s he like?”
Despite his love of books, the voracious reader was no stodgy bookworm. When he entered the exclusive Choate, Kennedy brought along his books and an infectiously charming personality. His older brother, Joseph, Jr., had been a football star at the storied prep school. Following in his footsteps was no easy task. Jack, however, quickly developed a reputation as a wit and rebel. His spirited ways occasionally got him in trouble with the headmaster. But Kennedy cherished his years at Choate. As Matthews reveals, his famous speech “Ask not what your country can do, ask what you can do for your country” was inspired by a refrain often repeated by the very headmaster he had so he vexed.
Always cognizant of his powerful father’s wishes for his future, Kennedy managed to assert himself and forge his own path. For example, although Joseph, Sr. had been a Harvard man, Kennedy chose to attend the London School of Economics. However, illness forced him to return home during his first semester. He attended Princeton for a time before eventually deciding on his own to take his place at Harvard. “Before Jack Kennedy could make himself president he first had to make himself Jack Kennedy,” contends Matthews.
Following Kennedy to war in the South Pacific, he chronicles his bravery and rescue of the crew of PT-109. He also provides us with a brilliant portrait of a young politician learning how to navigate his way through Washington. Jack Kennedy is an important biography of a consummate politician and American icon.
Hardcover Book : pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster ( November 01, 2011 )
Item #: 13-487576
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 x 1.375inches
Product Weight: 19.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
I think I wanted to know more about President Kennedy on a personal basis, but there were little insights here and there. The title, "Elusive Hero" kind of says it all, but Chris Matthews does acknowledge his heroism in his introduction. He does give a good history lesson and explains the politics of his presidential campaign, as well as his illnesses and pain that he endured. I guess I just wanted to know more about him as a person and husband.
Reviewer: Barbara T
Having read most of the major (and some obscure) histories and biographies written about John F. Kennedy through the years, I wasn't sure there would be much new to read in Chris Matthews' offering of "Elusive Hero", but after listening to Matthews speak about his inspiration for writing the book I wanted to hear more...I wasn't at all disappointed. Since reading this book I have given it to many individuals as gifts and referred it to many others. This book was anecdotal, weaving a portrayal meticulously footnoted to include research and interviews with hundreds of sources from the time period. Although many stories weren't new to me, others were, coupled with Matthews unique storytelling the events were fresh and alive. Those early years of the Kennedy campaigns were groundbreaking in terms of a different style of political observation and organization, their roots evident in many succesful political and business campaigns to this day. Aside from the historical substance of this book, what made it most captivating to me was its poignancy. This was a momentous time in our history and a most memorable, nostalgic time for many of us in our own lives. Chris Matthews was able to bring that time to life once again...it was hard to let it go.
There may be some things this book does not cover but the Kennedy approach and organization to politics was NOT left out. Will not become the 'standard' bio on JFK but is a fairly good read covering the early campaigns. JFK was an astute and dedicated politician. I was not at all disappointed in this book.
This book was a major disappointment. It reminded me of swiss cheese, what substance there was, was good, but the holes were just too large. Major events, such as his nomination in 1960 and his death are ignored. Matthews' story leads up to these events, then skips them and continues on with his narrative. Being a fan of Matthews and Hardball, I was saddened by the lack of substance.
Reviewer: Bill J