cover image The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s 1938-1940

The Ambassador: Joseph P. Kennedy at the Court of St. James’s 1938-1940

Susan Ronald. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-25023-872-6

Biographer Ronald (Condé Nast) delivers a dense and unflattering portrait of Joseph Kennedy’s tenure as the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. in the early years of WWII. Casting Kennedy as an anti-Semite and a dangerously inept diplomat, Ronald details his “burning” political ambitions, his role in wrangling the Catholic vote and “turning the tide of public opinion” in favor of Roosevelt in the 1936 election, and his push to become ambassador (“I will certainly be glad to have him out of Washington,” Roosevelt said). Once in London, Kennedy enraged his Washington, D.C., overseers by repeatedly passing off personal opinions as official State Department stances, and angered his hosts by predicting a decisive defeat if Britain went to war with Germany. His resignation in 1940—after a disastrous visit to the U.S. in which he attacked Jewish film producers for making anti-Nazi movies and claimed the situation in England was “hopeless”—ended his public career, but Kennedy would eventually see his sons reach the political heights he had not. Ronald overstuffs the narrative with extraneous details (dinner party seating charts, accounts of Rose Kennedy’s travels), lessening the impact of her subject’s dangerous diplomatic blunders. Readers will wish this sprawling history had a sharper focus. (Aug.)