cover image John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Alan Brinkley. Times, $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8349-1

Brinkley is a Columbia University professor of history and National Book Award winner for Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and the Great Depression. In this latest addition to the American Presidents series, Brinkley’s concise biography of the iconic John F. Kennedy offers judicious opinions of the 35th president’s overall legacy. Brinkley doesn’t shy from Kennedy’s well-documented flaws, noting euphemistically that even after becoming a U.S. senator in 1952 he was “slow to grow up.” Brinkley focuses on the highlights of his subject’s eventful presidency, giving the basics of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s early role in Vietnam policy, and the civil rights movement. Regarding the latter, Kennedy’s journey from holding a politically expedient view to a commitment to “the political and moral necessity of the end of segregation” is central. Brinkley treats Kennedy’s assassination matter-of-factly, commenting that the bottomless conspiracy controversy is evidence of Kennedy’s sustained power over the national imagination. In Brinkley’s final analysis Kennedy’s successes were modest and his legacy based on his embodiment of the unfulfilled promise of an America that, in retrospect, seems to many to have been a time of “national confidence and purpose.” Agent: Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic. (May)