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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Editors' Choice

A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian takes us as close as we have ever been to the real John F. Kennedy in this revelatory biography of the iconic, yet still elusive, 35th president.

“An utterly incandescent study of one of the most consequential figures of the twentieth century.” (Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States)

Winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize • Named Biography of the Year by The Times (London) • Named One of the Best Books of the Year by The Sunday Times (London) • New Statesman • The Daily Telegraph • Kirkus Reviews

By the time of his assassination in 1963, John F. Kennedy stood at the helm of the greatest power the world had ever seen, a booming American nation that he had steered through some of the most perilous diplomatic standoffs of the Cold War. Born in 1917 to a striving Irish American family that had become among Boston’s wealthiest, Kennedy knew political ambition from an early age, and his meteoric rise to become the youngest elected president cemented his status as one of the most mythologized figures in American history. And while hagiographic portrayals of his dazzling charisma, reports of his extramarital affairs, and disagreements over his political legacy have come and gone in the decades since his untimely death, these accounts all fail to capture the full person

Beckoned by this gap in our historical knowledge, Fredrik Logevall has spent much of the last decade searching for the “real” JFK. The result of this prodigious effort is a sweeping two-volume biography that properly contextualizes Kennedy amidst the roiling American Century. This volume spans the first thirty-nine years of JFK’s life - from birth through his decision to run for president - to reveal his early relationships, his formative experiences during World War II, his ideas, his writings, his political aspirations. In examining these pre-White House years, Logevall shows us a more serious, independently minded Kennedy than we’ve previously known, whose distinct international sensibility would prepare him to enter national politics at a critical moment in modern US history. 

Along the way, Logevall tells the parallel story of America’s midcentury rise. As Kennedy comes of age, we see the charged debate between isolationists and interventionists in the years before Pearl Harbor; the tumult of the Second World War, through which the United States emerged as a global colossus; the outbreak and spread of the Cold War; the domestic politics of anti-Communism and the attendant scourge of McCarthyism; the growth of television’s influence on politics; and more.

JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956 is a sweeping history of the United States in the middle decades of the 20th century, as well as the clearest portrait we have of this enigmatic American icon.

©2020 Fredrik Logevall (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“An utterly incandescent study of one of the most consequential figures of the twentieth century....With JFK, Fredrik Logevall has reinvented the genre of presidential biography, casting new light on the man and, far more profoundly, on the times. This is a brisk, authoritative, and candid biography, and a wonderfully compelling history of America’s heady and troubled mid-century rise.” (Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States)

“Our best historian of the Vietnam War now turns to another subject you thought you already knew, and he makes John F. Kennedy as alive and compelling as if you were reading about him for the first time. Fredrik Logevall portrays the young JFK with the masterful intimacy and sympathy that only a great scholar and writer could achieve.” (George Packer, author of The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America and Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century)

"Other authors ... have ably chronicled this epic saga, but none has told the tale of the thirty-fifth president’s formative years better or more thoroughly than the Harvard history professor Fredrik Logevall.... From all the carefully marshaled evidence a picture emerges of an uncommonly curious, sometimes frivolous but increasingly earnest young man on his way to shaping an informed, cleareyed, unsentimental sense of the world and his nation’s place in it.” (David M. Kennedy, The New York Tim­­­es Book Review)

What listeners say about JFK

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Great book

Great book, wish the second part was available now! Mark Deakins is one of the best narrator’s in the business.

5 people found this helpful

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Great read.

Beautifully narrated & written . I lived the years of the Kennedy & admired his tenacity and brilliance.everyone should read this wonderful book.
Ester AclanRn, BSN

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Great listen for anyone interested in JFK.

This book was VERY detailed starting from his birth and before. I recommend this to anyone fascinated with JFK..You’ll definitely learn things I promise you never knew about him and his family.

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent Portrait of JFK & His Times

This is an extremely well done biography & masterfully narrated. Have read & studied John F. Kennedy a lot, but still learned a LOT from this book. It is a vivid & lifelike portrait of JFK, but also of his family & the remarkable times in which he lived. I cannot imagine a better portrait of the man as he really was. Smart. Funny. Sloppy. Suave. Sometimes insensitive & manipulative. But beloved, bold & inspiring. The Kennedy family history is fascinating & crisply told. His father Joseph P. Kennedy receives a thorough & balanced treatment. The father's philandering established a pattern for his sons & JFK was prolific & reckless in this regard even as he matured & established himself as a public figure of substance. The recounting of JFK's travels in pre-WWII Europe is outstanding, as is the story of how it influenced him & how he differed from his father & his older brother with regard to isolationism vs. interventionism. The same is true for the chapters on PT-109 & Kennedy's myriad health problems. Logevall also does first-rate work on the Kennedy family's close connections to red-baiting demagogue Joseph McCarthy. All the other significant figures in JFK's young life received their due, including, of course, Jacqueline, Rose, Bobby, sister Kathleen, friends like Lem Billings & aides like Ted Sorenson. Just a really great book that never lags or bogs down. The narration by Mark Deakins is virtually flawless & beautifully fits the text. Highly recommend.

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy

A very thorough book on the life of John Fitzgerald kennedy. the narration was very good and clear with much information on this president.

2 people found this helpful

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Phenomenal Biography

In short, Friederik Logevall has produced a phenomenal biography.

This biographical manuscript is comprehensive yet held my interest from beginning to end. Spanning the years 1917-1956, the arc of this book examines, in great detail, how the Second World War and early Cold War shaped JFK. A significant advantage Friederik Logevall has in approaching a JFK biography, is his previous scholarship on the Vietnam War. Specifically in his book "Embers of War The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam". The present volume concludes at the 1956 DNC, after JFK failed to secure the vice-presidential nomination. Just on the eve of when JFK begins to shape many of the pivotal events of the Cold War himself. For this reason, I am looking forward to Logevall's second volume. (In particular JFK's role in the early stages of the Vietnam War.)

Mark Deakins has long been one of my favorite narrators and delivers a splendid performance in the present volume. I very much hope he narrates the second volume of this Duology.

(Mark Deakins narrates two other presidential biographies I highly recommend; Days of Fire by Peter Baker and Traitor to His Class by H.W. Brands)

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A fantastic listen

I very much enjoyed listening to this book. I couldn’t stop listening! If you enjoy presidential biographies, this one is outstanding. It is meticulously well-researched and is also very readable. The narrator also does a great job, with his deep voice and his adjustment for different people’s voices.

The only part of the book I had trouble staying engaged on was some of the foreign policy talk when JFK was a member of Congress/Senator, yet that makes up a minor portion of an expansive book.

Overall, an amazing book that I highly recommend to anyone fascinated by JFK’s life and times up to 1956.

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Well Worth the Listen

Surely, this must be the most detailed biography of Kennedy to date. Having heard it, I eagerly look forward to the second half. I was surprised to learn that “Jack” seemed more destined to greatness than his older brother Joe and Joe, much to his bitter disappointment seemed to realize it before his untimely death. My respect for Kennedy grew, for he was a very independent thinker in the realm of foreign policy. A speech he gave in the mid-1950s on the topic of Vietnam War was very far-sighted. It sounded like an evaluation of the war that could have been written in 1969. I’ve always been skeptical of claims by his advisors that he would have never gotten the US so deeply involved there. I can certainly see that his thinking was more along the lines of not getting involved. He also had the opportunity to see the world, especially Europe when it was on the verge of WWII. He developed his own view of what American foreign policy should be. He developed it with the influence of Winston Churchill, of whom he was a fan and against his own father; an isolationist through and through. There is much in this book about his pre-marital affairs and his extra-marital affairs. He could easily have ruined his political hopes through this activity and took great and unnecessary risks in this matter. In that world before the rise of modern feminism, he got away with it. On the other hand, in our modern world post-feminism presidents of been public womanizers and have won support from both the left and the right. Perhaps how much his behavior might have mattered had it been uncovered has been overblown. This volume ends with the completion of the campaign of 1956 with “Jack” contemplating his future in politics. I look forward to hearing part 2.

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Fascinating look at JFK

Goes deep into family history and how and why Kennedy became the man he was. Can’t wait for part 2

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The book skips

Very disappointing. I was really looking forward to this book but the audio quality is terrible. It skips every other sentence. This is the first time I have this issue on audible.