cover image Four Friends: Promising Lives Cut Short

Four Friends: Promising Lives Cut Short

William D. Cohan. Flatiron, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-07052-4

Prep school grads drift toward untimely ends in this underwhelming biographical elegy. Business journalist Cohan (The Last Tycoons) profiles four classmates who attended the elite Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., with him in the 1970s and died by their early 40s: Will Daniel, a social worker who was run over by a taxi while walking drunk; Harry Bull, a CEO who drowned with his daughters in a boating accident; Jack Berman, the most sympathetic figure, a lawyer who was killed in a mass shooting; and, most spectacularly, Camelot heir John F. Kennedy Junior, who crashed his plane into the Atlantic, killing himself and his wife and sister-in-law. But there’s little distinction in their stories as Cohan relates them: pot-smoking, wavering grades, and indulgent schoolmasters at Andover; assists from family wealth; no startling successes or noble failures. Cohan’s attempts at pathos fall flat (“Daniel grappled his entire life with how to handle the fame and adulation that came from being the grandchild of [Harry Truman]”), and his theme of youthful promise snuffed out rings hollow, especially in the gossipy Kennedy section, which reveals a profound lack of promise—Kennedy repeated 12th grade—fulfilled by lasting underachievement. The result is an uninvolving study of privileged men felled more by bad judgment than tragic fate. (July)