The Kennedy family is undoubtedly one of the most famous, if not the most famous, family of 20th Century America. Most who even follow the family at a distance know that their story is a harsh one. Even the most skeptical people around are tempted to believe in something such as a “family curse” when hearing their family story. This is a very well written, and heavily detailed book on the father, or “patriarch” of the family, Joseph P. Kennedy.
This book was a bit long. Reading on a Kindle, one can’t immediately look at the book and feel intimidated. Had I looked at an actual hardback version of this biography, I might have passed. It probably looked awfully large. We must remember, though, that Joseph Kennedy had an incredibly rich, full life, and such a large compendium is rightly justified. Although I was definitely worn down by the end of the book, I didn’t feel that the writing was long winded nor too detailed.
Although the book (like most biographies) is told in a linear narrative, I felt at many times I was reading multiple biographies. There’s Kennedy the astute successful businessmen, Kennedy the Hollywood producer, Kennedy the ambassador to England, and Kennedy, the father to the famous JFK. Through all of these episodes, we’re constantly also kept in the loop with wife Rose and his nine children. There’s just enough ‘family’ here to keep the reader familiar with all of their comings and goings, but the majority of the focus is on Kennedy’s many different endeavors throughout his lifetime.
I found it interesting that, whereas the book painted the man with a rather favorable brush, I came away with the impression that I really didn’t like the man. Although he worked very hard for his money and rightfully earned his accomplishments, I was left with the impression that he waved his wealth in the face of all of his associates, and those that didn’t step in line with his ambitions or goals were quickly ostracized and demonized by him. I suppose tons of money can do that to one’s character; especially in the times when Kennedy lived.
My favorite part of the book was Kennedy’s tenure as Ambassador to England in the 1930s leading up to World War II. This section of the book could have easily commanded its OWN book. I’ve read many history books on World War II, and the events leading up to it, but it was fascinating to read about it through Joseph Kennedy’s eyes. It was also probably the key reason why I ended up not liking the man. Like many Americans, Kennedy was an isolationist prior the Pearl Harbor bombing, but unlike most, he remained an isolationist throughout the entire war, convinced it was a giant mistake. We read time and time again how Kennedy simply didn’t think England had a fool’s chance to win, and like Neville Chamberlain, he went through hell and highwater to appease Hitler to keep the war from expanding; even without the US being involved. When one reads between the lines, one gets the impression that Kennedy was more interested in protecting his wealth than he was stopping a maniacal dictator from trying to take over the world.
Of course, one must not treat the man too harshly when his oldest son, Joe Jr. was killed during the same war that Kennedy vociferously opposed while on a secret bombing mission. Most know that Joe Jr’s death would be the first of four of Kennedy’s children tragically killed, in addition to another child reduced to a vegetative state after a failed lobotomy. So as rich and powerful as he was, he definitely didn’t have an easy go of things.
Still, it seemed as though Kennedy comes across as a rich arrogant aristocrat who simply jumps up and down and pouts when others don’t see things his way. During his tenure as Ambassador to England, we read multiple instances of clashes between Kennedy and President Franklin Roosevelt. Powerful men create uncontrollably powerful egos.
Kennedy does come across as a caring head-of-the family, always making time for each of his nine children, but at the same time seems to want to spend more time making gobs of money than having family excursions. Throughout most of the book, we read that wife Rose goes on multiple cross-continent vacations either by herself, or with some of the brood; but never with her husband. Kennedy seems to want to be more of a ‘responsible father’ as opposed to a ‘loving dad’. When such pressures are put on one by their parents, you can’t help but wonder if things were more disjointed behind the scenes than what is revealed here. Sadly, Kennedy is quite the womanizer and seems to spend much more time away from wife Rose that he does with her. Rose seems resigned to her destiny, and we rarely hear her complain. I guess this was the norm for the rich and powerful back then. Maybe it still is, I don’t know. It seems like many people today still can’t differentiate ‘success’ from ‘happiness’.
When second (now eldest) son Jack enters politics, Kennedy makes his son’s political future another one of his personal ambitions. It’s no secret that Jack is very successful in all of his efforts; all the way up to being President of the U.S.A. Although this book barely mentions the shady speculative innuendos that are largely hinted at elsewhere, you definitely come away with the impression that Kennedy’s money and influence is the main factor that escalates Jack into the White House at such a young age. Even when his son becomes President, Dad can’t help but pout.
Apparently he was disgusted that his son won the election by such a narrow margin, and again rants and raves at all of those that he feels were responsible.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began reading this. Due to many unscrupulous rumors around the double life of Joseph Kennedy, I wouldn’t have been surprised had this thing been a full-scale slinger of mud. In hindsight, I’m glad it wasn’t. The author seems biased to the good side of his character, yet after finishing the book, I came away with the impression that I admired Joseph Kennedy’s accomplishments, but can’t really say I admire him as a person or a husband.