Reviews: More JFK, in brief
Editor's Note: On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, The Post and Courier's book page is featuring short reviews of 16 new books about JFK. Today, we continue with three more.
BY MICHAEL NELSON
Special to The Post and Courier
THE LETTERS OF JOHN F. KENNEDY. Edited by Martin W. Sandler. Bloomsbury Press. 384 pages. $30.
"The Letters of John F. Kennedy," edited by Martin W. Sandler, is a collection of letters primarily to and from JFK. The letters are organized in five chronological sections. Early letters include much correspondence with family members.
There is an interesting exchange of letters between Sen. Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt in which the senator implores Roosevelt to stop repeating unsubstantiated rumors about his father. Others are exchanged with Winston Churchill, one of President Kennedy's heroes; Khrushchev; former presidents Truman and Eisenhower; and friends and colleagues such as J. Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
There are also letters from civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins and James Farmer.
The letters cover a wide range of topics, including Kennedy's Catholicism (contemporary readers may find these exchanges particularly interesting as few today appreciate the passion that issue provoked: A full quarter of the voting population polled said that they would never vote for a Catholic).
Letters from private citizens are also included. Additionally, each letter is introduced by Sandler's explanatory paragraphs. This is a very good cross-section of correspondences by and to JFK. It makes for an entertaining and interesting read.
THE KENNEDY YEARS: A Memoir. By Jacques Lowe and Thomasina Lowe. Rizzoli. 256 pages. $45.
The late Jacques Lowe was JFK's official photographer during Kennedy's presidential campaign and the early years of his administration. On Sept. 11, 2001, Lowe's archive of 40,000 negatives, which was stored in the World Trade Center in New York, was destroyed in the terrorist attack.
Fortunately, he still had contact sheets and negatives for some of his iconic photos of JFK in his loft. More than 250 of these are published in "The Kennedy Years: A Memoir," an artistic record of the Kennedy family in the White House.
Lowe's beautiful photographs include those of Robert F. Kennedy and his family beginning in 1956, as well as JFK from 1958 through 1961. Lowe's book makes a wonderful companion piece to "Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House," the 2010 book featuring the photography of Cecil Stoughton.
CAMELOT'S COURT: Inside the Kennedy White House. By Robert Dallek. Harper. 512 pages. $32.50.
Robert Dallek, whose acclaimed biography, "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963," was published in 2003, has followed that up with a book focusing on Kennedy and his advisers.
"Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House," examines the men with whom Kennedy surrounded himself. While not as distinctive as Lincoln's "team of rivals," Kennedy's team was primarily comprised of people he felt were not ideological but, rather, analytical. This did not always serve him well; people like Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy later admitted that their lack of a clear philosophy provided insufficient mooring on important foreign policy issues like Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the ideologues on the right, primarily the joint chiefs, and on the left, such as George Ball and Chester Bowles, vied to be heard.
Kennedy encouraged differing opinions among his advisers so that he could make informed decisions, ultimately trusting his own judgment. Dallek makes some questionable assumptions. For example, despite evidence that "Kennedy was reluctant to adopt Eisenhower's prescription for forcing Cuba to conform to U.S. designs," that the president was resistant to the CIA and military chiefs' Cuba strategy and that JFK sought to open a back channel for peace talks with Castro, Dallek writes, "For all the rhetoric about a fresh approach to old problems," Kennedy was "locked into ... conventional thinking."
Despite this shortcoming, the book as a whole is enlightening, engaging and recommended.
Reviewer Michael Nelson is a writer and editor in Charleston.