An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
Robert Dallek's epic biography, AN UNFINISHED LIFE: John F.
Kennedy, 1917-1963, portrays the life of the 35th president of the
United States in award-winning fashion.
Dallek, a professor at Boston University, spent five years of
extensive research to produce this tremendous biography. Not only
did Dallek unearth Kennedy's own tryst with a White House intern
(which recently made national headlines), he also reveals Kennedy's
use of numerous prescription drugs during his turbulent life to
battle the multitude of inflictions that ravished his body since
While it isn't breaking news today, Dallek also presents the fact
that Kennedy, like his father, delved deep into adultery. Dallek
concludes that Kennedy's numerous affairs could be blamed on his
mother Rose's inept upbringing of their second of nine children.
Dallek makes several references to Kennedy's torrid appetite for
sex and its correlation with a neglectful mother, with which I tend
JFK lived a pampered life --- before and after his service in the
US Navy during World War II --- as the member of a prominent Boston
family. Extremely good looking, Kennedy was the quintessential
playboy and, as Dallek shows, used his power in politics before and
during his presidency to attract his female suitors.
In the mid-1950s, after Kennedy defeated Henry Cabot Lodge, the
crucial gears towards the presidency were put into place as JFK
left Congress and became a senator. Dallek illustrates numerous
examples during this time of the tremendous build-up of the Kennedy
political machine, constructed from his father's fortune.
Interestingly enough, Dallek also examines how Kennedy's father did
all he could and used all of his financial muscle to not only get
his son elected as senator, but also to have the nation embrace the
first ever Irish-Catholic candidate for the office of the
presidency of the United States.
Possibly one of the most interesting and stark examinations of
Dallek's biography is the involvement JFK's father had in his son's
political career. It is also worth mentioning the poignant fact
that the author reveals how the death of JFK's older brother Joe
during a botched bombing run in World War II eventually paved the
way for the younger brother's political career.
Kennedy's road to the White House in 1960, the Cuban Missile
Crisis, the Bay of Pigs incident, Vietnam --- it's all here in
Dallek's excellent presentation of JFK's legendary and tragic 1,000
days in office.
Being a Boston native and a journalist, I grew up on all the
nostalgia of the Kennedy legacy and "Camelot" that was left behind
after that fatal day in Dallas in 1963. Now, nearly 40 years since
Kennedy was shot to death and as "The New Frontier" came to a halt,
Dallek pushes aside all the myths surrounding JFK and presents his
subject like a true historian.
Despite Dallek's earlier assumption about Kennedy's mother, AN
UNFINISHED LIFE should be considered the finest biography ever
written about the slain statesman.
Reviewed by David Exum on January 24, 2011