John F. Kennedy. By Peter J. Ling. New York: Routledge, 2013. 312 pp.
The seemingly infinite public and scholarly interest in the life, presidency, assassination, and legacy of John F. Kennedy (JFK) is evident in the abundance and variety of books that continue to be written about him. Since the early 1990s, biographies of Kennedy and general histories of his presidency include President Kennedy: Profile of Power by Richard Reeves (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek (Boston: Little Brown, 2003), John F. Kennedy by Michael O'Brien (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2005), The Presidency of John F. Kennedy by James Giglio (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006), and Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012). Unlike earlier comprehensive, political biographies of JFK, namely, Herbert S. Parmet's two-volume biography from the 1980s (Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy [New York: Dial Press, 1980] and JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy [New York: Doubleday, 1983]), these biographies are more specialized and often emphasize a particular perspective on JFK. For example, Reeves and Dallek examined how Kennedy's poor health and use of controversial drugs affected his political career and presidency. Matthews provided a detailed character study of JFK.
In his book, John F. Kennedy, Peter J. Ling provides a political biography and history of JFK's presidency with its own unique perspectives, purposes, and emphases. In his book's introduction and conclusion, Ling provides readers with a useful paradigm for studying and assessing JFK's life, presidency, and legacy. Ling writes, "As a historical biography, this book makes a concerted attempt to situate Kennedy in his times, particularly in relation to the early Cold War" (p. 2). Consequently, the tone and content of Ling's book are neither laudatory nor dismissive of JFK, his presidency, and its consequences. Consistent with his initial assertion that JFK's policy positions, behavior, decisions, and rhetoric must be understood and analyzed within the context of the Cold War and American anti-Communism, Ling concludes, "In short, instead of seeing Kennedy as an icon of the liberal 1960s, one should see him as a product of the conservative 1950s" (p. 278).
This perspective is crucial for the reader to understand how Ling's book responds to both liberal and conservative critics of JFK's...