cover image JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917–1956

JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917–1956

Fredrik Logevall. Random House, $40 (816p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9713-2

The young John F. Kennedy was no callow playboy but a serious and self-directed man, according to this sweeping first installment in a planned two-volume biography by Harvard history professor Logevall (Embers of War). Covering Kennedy’s life up to his Thanksgiving 1956 decision to run for president, Logevall writes that though Kennedy may have resented his parents’ favoritism for his older brother, Joseph Kennedy Jr., he also “treasured the space and relative anonymity his status as the second son provided.” Logevall’s JFK is still a charming, detached ironist and womanizer, as in other accounts, but he was also possessed of a determined character and a sophisticated intellect, capable in his early 20s of making penetrating analyses of fascism and the strength of the German-Italian alliance while traveling through Europe before WWII. The author also emphasizes Kennedy’s independent-mindedness as he outgrew his father’s isolationist politics and frequently rejected his advice (though not his money) during later political campaigns. Logevall writes vividly of the hothouse Kennedy family culture, but also widens his lens to take in the forces of war, politics, and television that shaped JFK’s worldview and career. This richly detailed portrait sometimes feels romanticized in its evocations of Kennedy’s charisma, but Logevall helpfully reminds readers of the considerable substance beneath the glamour. Political history buffs will be enthralled. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins and Assoc. (Sept.)