Cover image for An unfinished life : John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
An unfinished life : John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
Dallek, Robert.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Waterville, Me. : Thorndike Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
1357 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
E842 .D355 2003B Adult Large Print Large Print

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An Unfinished Life is the first authoritative single-volume life of John F. Kennedy to be written in nearly four decades. Drawing upon firsthand sources, freshly unearthed documents, and never-before-opened archives, prizewinning historian Robert Dallek reveals more than we ever knew about Jack Kennedy, forever changing the way we think about his life, his presidency, and his legacy. In a tale that stretches back to Ireland, An Unfinished Life describes the birth of the Kennedy dynasty, the complexity of Jack's early years, and the mixture of adulation and resentment that tangled his relationships with his mother, Rose, and his father, Joseph. Forced into the shadow of his older brother, Joe, Jack struggled to find a place for himself until World War II, when he became a national hero and launched his career. Dallek reveals for the first time the full story of Kennedy's wartime actions -- including the machinations that got him into the war despite severe disabilities -- and the true details of how Joe was killed, opening the door to Jack's ascendancy. Here is the gripping story of Jack's first political campaigns and his transformation from an awkward speaker to a brilliant politician with irresistible charm. An Unfinished Life explores Jack's work as a senator from Massachusetts, carries us through the fiercely contested 1960 campaign against Nixon, and takes us on to the White House itself. We learn for the first time how and why Bobby was chosen to serve as attorney general, how JFK selected Lyndon Johnson to be vice president, and how they and the rest of Kennedy's team -- Bundy, McNamara, Schlesinger, Sorensen, Rusk, and others -- faced the Bay of Pigs, threats against civil rights activists in the South, the conflict in Laos, the Cuban missile crisis, the struggle for a test ban treaty, and the assassination of Diem. Dallek reveals fascinating new details about each of these challenges and many more, and gives us a picture of Kennedy as a man very much in command of his times -- able, soon after arriving in the Oval Office, to wage a secret war against his own generals when they advocated first use of atomic bombs in situations Kennedy felt certain would lead to an all-out nuclear war. An Unfinished Life also discloses for the very first time that Kennedy was far sicker than we ever knew. While laboring to present an image of robust good health, Kennedy was secretly in and out of hospitals throughout his life, so ill that he was administered last rites on several different occasions. Kennedy's ever-worsening health left him propped up by a secret combination of medications throughout his presidency, while behind closed doors he required assistance for even such basic acts as climbing stairs. The revelations about Kennedy's health throughout this biography force a complete reevaluation of Kennedy's reputation and provide a fuller look inside his life and his motivations than has ever before been possible. Robert Dallek has created a vivid portrait of a man who, because he knew how close he was to death, lived as much as he could -- sometimes hurting others in the process. We meet a young Jackie, follow their courtship, and watch their marriage in public and private. Dallek explores Kennedy's many infidelities, revealing some for the first time ever. An Unfinished Life also gives us a brilliantly detailed portrait of the deep bond between Jack and Bobby, and of their enduringly complicated relationship with their father. Never shying away from Kennedy's weaknesses, Dallek also brilliantly explores his strengths. The result is a full portrait of a bold, brave, human Kennedy, once again a hero. An Unfinished Life is the book Americans have been waiting forty years to read. Now, at long last, we have the definitive biography of Jack Kennedy. Book jacket.

Author Notes

Robert Dallek has taught at Columbia, UCLA, and Oxford. He is currently a professor of history at Boston University

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

McGonagle's commanding voice and sober approach fit well with this scholarly, fascinating look at the life of an American icon. Dallek (Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973) plumbs several pertinent family papers for fresh revelations on Kennedy's health and liaisons, and ably outlines his upbringing, family history and path to the presidency. McGonagle is an experienced actor, and he keeps the reading at an even pace while rarely straying from a restrained, dignified tone. His impersonation of the Kennedys' famous Boston accents is only passable, and the occasional snippets of swelling music, complete with majestic trumpet calls, will strike some as over-the-top. But these are minor imperfections in an otherwise excellent recording. This audio abridgment is a worthy substitute for those interested in a stimulating new look at Kennedy's life, but who may not have the time to tackle the book's nearly 1,000 pages. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Forecasts, May 12). (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Dallek has done here for Kennedy what he did for Lyndon Johnson (Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant). He has written the most accessible, balanced, and scholarly biography yet of JFK. Given access to more records about Kennedy than any previous biographer, he concludes that the Addison's disease and chronic back pain Kennedy endured most of his life resulted from steroid injections he received for a variety of childhood illnesses. The outstanding feature of the book is that Dallek praises and faults Kennedy without the emotionalism that detracted from many earlier biographies. Kennedy is criticized for his well-documented womanizing and for taking a political instead of a principled stand on civil rights while President because he didn't want to risk losing the considerable support of Southern Democrats. Kennedy, once reelected in 1964, would have removed American troops from Vietnam, suggests the author, a theme also advanced by Howard Jones in Death of a Generation. Dallek acknowledges that this is not the final account of Kennedy; as more documents become available, new interpretations and different conclusions will be forthcoming. For now and the immediate future, it is the Kennedy biography against which others will be measured. Highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The availability of new documents, oral histories, and telephone and Oval Office tapes prompted presidential historian Dallek (Boston Univ.) to revisit John F. Kennedy's personal and political life. Dallek's research in medical records demonstrates that Kennedy was sick throughout his life. Beyond back problems and Addison's disease, an adrenal insufficiency, Kennedy suffered from acute gastrointestinal illnesses. Dallek suggests that the medicines doctors administered to the young Kennedy for his colitis and digestive problems may have exacerbated his back problems and Addison's disease. The author also discovered that among President Kennedy's numerous mistresses was a White House intern of college age, but judges that neither Kennedy's health nor his womanizing impaired his presidential performance. Scholars will find, however, little that is new about Kennedy's presidential policies. Dallek's discussions of the Bay of Pigs, Berlin Crisis, nuclear arms race, and Cuban Missile Crisis are pedestrian and ordinary. He offers no new insights into covert interventions in areas such as Brazil and British Guiana. Dallek speculates that, during a second term, Kennedy would have limited US involvement in Vietnam, but President Johnson could reasonably conclude that he was continuing his predecessor's Vietnam policies. Summing Up: Recommended. All libraries. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Two-year Technical Program Students; Professionals/Practitioners. Reviewed by S. G. Rabe.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Part 1 Growing Up
Chapter 1 Beginningsp. 3
Chapter 2 Privileged Youthp. 26
Chapter 3 The Terrors of Lifep. 69
Part 2 Public Service
Chapter 4 Choosing Politicsp. 111
Chapter 5 The Congressmanp. 134
Chapter 6 The Senatorp. 177
Part 3 Can a Catholic Become President?
Chapter 7 Nominationp. 229
Chapter 8 Electionp. 267
Part 4 The President
Chapter 9 The Torch Is Passedp. 299
Chapter 10 The Schooling of a Presidentp. 328
Chapter 11 A World of Troublesp. 373
Chapter 12 Crisis Managerp. 415
Chapter 13 Reluctant Warriorp. 442
Chapter 14 The Limits of Powerp. 470
Chapter 15 Frustrations and "Botches"p. 504
Chapter 16 To the Brink--And Backp. 535
Chapter 17 New Departures: Domestic Affairsp. 575
Chapter 18 New Departures: Foreign Affairsp. 607
Chapter 19 An Unfinished Presidencyp. 631
Epiloguep. 703
Acknowledgmentsp. 713
Sourcesp. 716
Notesp. 717
Bibliographyp. 805
Indexp. 812