52 RI Bar J., No. 3, Pg. 17 (November, 2003). Book Review: An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963.

AuthorJay S. Goodman, Esq.

Rhode Island Bar Journal

Volume 52.

52 RI Bar J., No. 3, Pg. 17 (November, 2003).

Book Review: An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

Book Review: An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963By Robert DallekJay S. Goodman, Esq.Jay S. Goodman is Professor of Political Science, Wheaton College, Norton, MA, and maintains a small Providence law and lobbying practice.For all those of a certain age, including many readers of this Journal, the approach of November 22nd, 2003 may cause a slight pause, a meaningful remembrance of things past. Can it really be forty years since President John F. Kennedy (JFK) was murdered in Dallas? Can we visualize him in our mind's eye as he would have been today at eighty-six years old had he lived? Would Viet Nam have been the same if he had lived? Would his tightrope act of concealing many dangerous sexual liaisons have become widespread public knowledge? Can any biographer add anything to the already voluminous literature on the late Massachusetts president?

Professor Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, (Little, Brown, 838 pp., $30.00, 2003) is at least the fourth JFK biography I have reviewed in this Journal. (Thomas A. Reeves, A Question of Character: The Life of John F. Kennedy, R.I. Bar J. Vol. XI, No. 3 [Dec. 1991], pp. 19-20; Richard Reeves, President Kennedy: Profile of Power, R.I. Bar J. Vol. XLII, No. 2 [Nov. 1994], pp. 23-24; and Seymour M. Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot - yet More Dish on JFK, R.I. Bar J., Vol. LXVII, No. 3 [Dec. 1998], pp. 13-15.)

Dallek's volume assumes at least a rudimentary knowledge of the JFK saga and is professionally aware of other biographies. Professor Dallek, of Boston University, well-regarded in the field, and frequently an amiable informed commentator on cable political talk shows, spent five years on the book and had the unique advantage of being the first historian granted access by the Kennedy family to confidential medical records zealously guarded through the late president's career and ever since as well. Dallek was permitted to view the records at the JFK Library and, most importantly, bring a physician with him. He could not take out or photocopy the records. During his career, and in a rising crescendo of biographies afterward, the president's health and care have been challenged - with widespread reports that he had Addison's disease and was medicated with cortisone and amphetamines. Those revelations make Kennedy a kind of double-concealor in his public life, of his health and his infidelities. Dallek has some new information on the second issue as well.

Kennedy's HealthDuring his lifetime it was well known that Kennedy had medical difficulties. During prep school he missed huge chunks of time and was often hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He dropped out of Princeton as an undergraduate because of undefined ill health. He was hospitalized in the Navy before getting...

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