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An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963by Robert Dallek
Synopses & Reviews
An Unfinished Life is the first authoritative single-volume life of John F. Kennedy to be written in nearly four decades. Drawing upon firsthand sources, freshly unearthed documents, and never-before-opened archives, prizewinning historian Robert Dallek reveals more than we ever knew about Jack Kennedy, forever changing the way we think about his life, his presidency, and his legacy.
In a tale that stretches back to Ireland, An Unfinished Life describes the birth of the Kennedy dynasty, the complexity of Jack's early years, and the mixture of adulation and resentment that tangled his relationships with his mother, Rose, and his father, Joseph. Forced into the shadow of his older brother Joe, Jack struggled to find a place for himself until World War II, when he became a national hero and launched his career. Dallek reveals for the first time the full story of Kennedy's wartime actions — including the machinations that got him into the war despite severe disabilities — and the true details of how Joe was killed, opening the door to Jack's ascendancy.
Here is the gripping story of Jack's first political campaigns and his transformation from an awkward speaker to a brilliant politician with irresistible charm. An Unfinished Life explores Jack's work as a senator from Massachusetts, carries us through the fiercely contested 1960 campaign against Nixon, and takes us on to the White House itself. We learn for the first time how and why Bobby was chosen to serve as Attorney General, how JFK selected Lyndon Johnson to be vice president, and how they and the rest of Kennedy's team — Bundy, McNamara, Schlesinger, Sorenson, Rusk, and others — faced the Bay of Pigs, threats against civil rights activists in the South, the conflict in Laos, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the struggle for a test ban treaty, and the assassination of Diem. Dallek reveals fascinating new details about each of these challenges and many more, and gives us a picture of Kennedy as a man very much in command of his times — able, soon after arriving in the Oval Office, to wage a secret war against his own generals when they advocated first use of atomic bombs in situations Kennedy felt certain would lead to an all-out nuclear war.
An Unfinished Life also discloses for the very first time that Kennedy was far sicker than we ever knew. While laboring to present an image of robust good health, Kennedy was secretly in and out of hospitals throughout his life, so ill that he was administered last rites on several different occasions. Kennedy's ever-worsening health left him propped up by a secret combination of medications throughout his presidency, while behind closed doors he required assistance for even such basic acts as climbing stairs. The revelations about Kennedy's health throughout this biography force a complete reevaluation of Kennedy's reputation and provide a fuller look inside his life and his motivations than has ever before been possible.
Robert Dallek has created a vivid portrait of a man who, because he knew how close he was to death, lived as much as he could — sometimes hurting others in the process. We meet a young Jackie, follow their courtship, and watch their marriage in public and private. Dallek explores Kennedy's many infidelities, revealing some for the first time ever. An Unfinished Life also gives us a brilliantly detailed portrait of the deep bond between Jack and Bobby, and of their enduringly complicated relationship with their father.
Never shying away from Kennedy's weaknesses, Dallek also brilliantly explores his strengths. The result is a full portrait of a bold, brave, human Kennedy, once again a hero. An Unfinished Life is the book Americans have been waiting forty years to read. Now, at long last, we have the definitive biography of Jack Kennedy.
"In this riveting tour de force...Dallek delivers what will most assuredly become the benchmark JFK biography for this generation....Dallek is to be thanked for providing the thoroughly researched, well-sourced, responsible and readable biography that has for so long been wanting in Kennedy scholarship." Publishers Weekly
"Cutting through the haze of distortions and myths which have encased John F. Kennedy's legacy, An Unfinished Life sets the historical record straight. Granted special access to a treasure trove of new documents, Robert Dallek tells the story of Kennedy's dazzling life with scholarly detachment, shrewd analysis, and pitch-perfect prose. An Unfinished Life is hands-down the best biography of JFK — the American president and icon who refuses to fade away. A truly remarkable achievement." Douglas Brinkley, author of The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans
"A stellar work by one of our finest historians, as candid and penetrating as it is balanced and judicious." James MacGregor Burns, Jetson School of Leadership Studies, author of Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox
"An Unfinished Life is one of the most engrossing biographies I have ever read. Robert Dallek's superbly informed account of John F. Kennedy's triumphant public life makes a magnificent counterpoint to his fascinating revelations about Kennedy's history of illness and pain. An Unfinished Life is nothing less than a masterpiece." David Herbert Donald, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Charles Warren Professor Emeritus of History and American Civilization, Harvard University; author of Lincoln
An Unfinished Life is the first major, single-volume life of John F. Kennedy to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing upon previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives to tell Kennedys story. We learn for the first time just how sick Kennedy was, what medications he took and concealed from all but a few, and how severely his medical condition affected his actions as President. We learn for the first time the real story of how Bobby was selected as Attorney General. Dallek reveals exactly what Jack's father did to help his election to the presidency, and he follows previously unknown evidence to show what path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement had he survived.
Dallek lifts JFK out of the gossips and back onto the world stage, showing that while he was the son of privilege, he faced great obstacles and fought on with remarkable courage. Never shying away from Kennedy's weaknesses, Dallek also brilliantly explores his strengths. The result is a portrait of a bold, brave, human Kennedy, once again a hero.
Everywhere acclaimed for its compelling narrative, its fresh insights, and its dispassionate appraisal of John F. Kennedy's presidency, this #1 national bestseller is the first full-scale single-volume biography of JFK to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing on previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives, An Unfinished Life is packed with revelations large and small - about JFK's health, his love affairs, RFK's appointment as Attorney General, what Joseph Kennedy did to help his son win the White House, and the path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement had he survived. Robert Dallek succeeds as no other biographer has done in striking a critical balance - never shying away from JFK's weaknesses, brilliantly exploring his strengths - as he offers up a vivid portrait of a bold, brave, complex, heroic, human Kennedy.
The #1 bestseller that forever changed how we thought about JFK, published with a new epilogue in time for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination.
When it was originally published in 2003, AN UNFINISHED LIFE brought to light new revelations about JFK's health, his love affairs, his brothers and father, and the path JFK would have taken in the Vietnam entanglement if he had survived. A blockbuster bestseller, the book was embraced by critics and readers as a landmark assessment of our 35th president. Now, in time for what promises to be remarkable media attention on Kennedy's death and legacy, AN UNFINISHED LIFE returns with a new, strikingly incisive examination by Robert Dallek in which he further assesses JFK's impact and hold on American culture.
About the Author
Robert Dallek is one of the most highly regarded historians in America, and the author of six books, including the acclaimed two-volume of Lyndon Johnson, Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant. His Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy won the 1980 Bancroft Prize and was nominated for an American Book Award, and American Style of Foreign Policy was a 1983 New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
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