Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jack Kennedy Elusive Hero

Jack Kennedy Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews is one of the best books that I have ever read, bar none.  And I am not even a big fan of non-fiction reading!  I should not have been so surprised at what an excellent writer Chris Matthews is, because he is an outstanding journalist, but this book out-surpassed my expectations!

By the time Jack Kennedy ran for President of the United States, I was ten years old.  My grandfather was the political writer for our local newspaper, my mother was a precinct captain, and my grandmother was County Treasurer.  So I had some experience with listening to political conversations around the family.  Interestingly, my family were all strict Republicans.  Then Jack Kennedy came along and my mother adored him!  I remember quite clearly as a child, being  frightened during the Bay of Pigs incident and our practicing getting under our desks at school.  And then that horrible day in 1963, when I was a freshman in high school, and we learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I remember my aunt telling us about my uncle who was in his car driving somewhere when he heard the news on the radio and he pulled the car over and sat and sobbed, unable to drive.  That was how it affected people.

So when I heard Chris Matthews being interviewed about his new book, I had to read it.  Something old pulled me to the story.

This is not a book about Jack Kennedy being assassinated.  It is not a book about any of the speculations, rumors, or gossip about Jack Kennedy.  It is a book about who he was.  Jack Kennedy loved history and as a child read historical biographies voraciously.  He said that the reason people read biographies is to answer the question "What was he like?".  This is what Chris Matthews set out to do with his book on Jack Kennedy.   And the answers were fascinating.

This book is based on in-depth interviews with those who knew and worked closest with Jack Kennedy, friends and former staffers.  Most of the book is about his life leading up to becoming President. I was fascinated with how he slowly and painstakingly campaigned for years leading up to the election.  I don't know that there was ever a time following his service in World War II that Jack Kennedy did not plan to be President of the United States.  The history of those times is amazing and Jack Kennedy's judgement and wisdom to lead us as a country was extraordinary; even when he erred, he learned and never made the same mistake.  He held to what he believed was right, even when others advised differently.  I was especially taken with his stance and fortitude dealing with the civil rights issues.

 "He loved courage, hated war, lived each day as if it were his last."  As Matthews writes, “I found a fighting prince never free of pain, never far from trouble, never accepting the world he found, never wanting to be his father’s son. He was a far greater hero than he ever wished us to know.”

Great, great book.

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