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O'Brien, a retired historian (Univ. of Wisconsin, Fox Valley) and biographer of Joe Paterno, Theodore Hesburgh, Philip Hart, Vince Lombardi, and Joseph McCarthy, is well qualified to tackle the subject of JFK as a legend and a man. His biography excels at putting both areas into perspective. Initially, historians mainly wrote sympathetic accounts of the slain President-of his youthful vigor, intelligence, and inspiration. A genuine World War II hero and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, JFK married the ultimate glamorous, intelligent woman and had photogenic children to match. These "Camelot" accounts have since been challenged by revisionists who seemingly have cracked the veneer of style over substance in the life of a playboy and serial adulterer during his two years and ten months as President. Yet if many scholars now rank him as only an average president, the general public continues to view him as one of the greatest. Despite Kennedy's immaturity, he emerges here as an active and flexible politician, like other great Presidents. Rather than uncover new facts, O'Brien brings balance to the life of the fallen hero of the Cold War, which is the major contribution of his well-written and empathetic biography.-William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Publicity for this book claims that until now there has been "no first-class modern biography that takes advantage of the huge volume of new material released from government archives and the JFK Library": somewhere there is a copywriter who missed Robert Dallek's magisterial and bestselling An Unfinished Life (2003), Dallek having been the first Kennedy biographer since Doris Kearns Goodwin to enjoy full, unrestricted access to all materials in the Kennedy Library. That being said, retired University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley history professor O'Brien (Vince: A Personal Biography of Vince Lombardi) offers a serviceable consideration of JFK that's as much a survey of the literature as it is a biography. The majority of O'Brien's footnotes refer to published sources, and this is reflected in O'Brien's prose. For example, his chapter on PT-109 is full of quotations from and allusions to the writings and conclusions of such authors as Robert Donovan, Joan and Clay Blair, and Nigel Hamilton. The estimates and guesstimates of these writers, plus others, are measured and compared, and then O'Brien sums up with his own analysis of JFK's adventure in the Pacific. One thousand pages of this makes for a singularly inclusive-though at times exhausting-summary of JFK scholarship past and present. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Scott Waxman. (Mar. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
The prevailing feeling among many is that everything there is to know about John F. Kennedy is already known. Surely there have been so many books about his life--as a politician and as a man--that it's easy to feel overwhelmed. But O'Brien, taking advantage of new documentary material (including the recently archived correspondence of Joseph Kennedy and the papers of JFK's friend Le-Moyne Billings), has found a somewhat different focus on the familiar story and offers a balanced rejoinder to some of the harsher, revisionist biographies that have appeared in recent years. Fair and balanced doesn't always make for the most exciting of books, however, and in some places readers can see the scales being weighted to hang evenly. Still, O'Brien does yeoman's work pulling together material from various sources for this complete overview. The book favors providing reliable information about events over speculating on emotions or the effects of various relationships, but readers do see Kennedy evolve as a man and as a force in history. An up-to-date and substantial addition to the Kennedy shelves. --Ilene Cooper Copyright 2005 Booklist
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Ever since his life was cut short unexpectedly and tragically, there has been a steady flow of books chronicling the good, bad, and even the ugly aspects of John F. Kennedy's thousand-day presidency. Some recent books, such as Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 (CH, Jan'04, 41-2988), have shed new insights into Kennedy's troubled medical history and his now-legendary sexual escapades. O'Brien (emer., Univ. of Wisconsin, Fox Valley), on the other hand, takes a more holistic approach. His goal is to synthesize the views of scholars writing about Kennedy these past 40 years. For the most part, he succeeds admirably. One minor quibble is that the book ends rather abruptly on the day of Kennedy's death. Curiously, little is written about Kennedy's legacy. The author and publisher have included a generous array of photographs and an extensive bibliography and index. Scholars and specialists, however, will be disappointed with the lack of footnotes. A PDF version may be obtained from a separately listed Web site. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Most levels/libraries. B. Miller University of Cincinnati
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
A sprawling, unwieldy, yet readable life of the fallen president. O'Brien (History Emeritus/Univ. of Wisconsin) professes to have spent more than ten years on this book, and there's no reason to doubt him: he cites just about every study and incidental work in the literature, and his own massive contribution sometimes slows to a real-time crawl as he describes key events in Kennedy's presidency. Indeed, the author tends to give perhaps too much consideration to gainsaying theories, such as the politically edged charge that JFK was no hero as the commander of PT-109. O'Brien tosses that charge about for a few pages before noting what he might have more simply written: the men aboard the doomed swift boat considered their skipper to be a hero, so what more do we need? But plenty of people had it in for Kennedy all his life, the author hints. Early on, for instance, the FBI seems to have taken considerable interest in his love life, believing that a Danish bedfellow of his was a Nazi spy; an official dossier was just one price JFK had to pay for his lifelong philandering. Yet O'Brien seems reluctant to do more than mention matters that have exercised other writers, such as the illegal origins of the Kennedy family fortune and its patriarch's links to organized crime, not to mention his antediluvian political ideas. (O'Brien does write, however, that Joseph Kennedy got into much hot water at the beginning of WWII for remarking that "Democracy is finished in England. It may be here.") The best portions chronicle JFK's abbreviated presidency, showing how he allowed himself to be manipulated on the matter of Vietnam while gaining more solid knowledge of Cuba and the Soviet Union, and how the president, a sharp student of economics, tried to work magic with tax cuts that flew in the face of a wartime deficit, a condition that will seem familiar to readers today. Not problem-free, but worthy, ambitious, and of much interest to students of recent US history. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.