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review 2017-06-03 02:57
The Road to Camelot: Inside JFK’s Five-Year Campaign - Thomas Oliphant,Curtis Wilkie

This magisterial, ambitious book traces, in considerable detail, the path John F. Kennedy undertook in his quest for the Presidency between 1955 and 1960.

From the time Kennedy first ran for Congress in 1946, he faced many challenges - both professionally and personally (given the periodic precariousness of his health, which remained largely a secret during his lifetime) - in forging a career in public service. "THE ROAD TO CAMELOT" shows the reader how it was that Kennedy in 1955 (by then a freshman Senator) with the assistance of one of his top aides (Ted Sorenson), a dedicated 'band of brothers' who had played a significant and invaluable role in helping Kennedy further his career (i.e. the 'Irish Mafia', which consisted of Kenny O'Donnell, Lawrence O'Brien, Dave Powers, and Dick Donahue), his brother Robert, and several key Democrats (many of them on the state level) who recognized Kennedy's potential and devoted themselves to him - began the long and laborious task of capitalizing on the national prominence he received from his failed attempt to win the vice presidential slot on the Adlai Stevenson ticket at the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

What is significant is that Kennedy started campaigning across the country in a rather understated way considerably earlier than any of his potential rivals in the Democratic Party. Indeed, the party leadership underestimated Kennedy as did many others. His youth, Catholicism, and his lack of any significant, legislative achievements were regarded as factors that would discount him as a viable presidential candidate. What also struck me as truly remarkable and incredible is the organization that Kennedy and his supporters were able to develop in many of the states (often as a way of bypassing some of the state Democratic Party machines that were either mildly non-receptive or openly opposed to his candidacy) between 1957 and 1960. In the process, future presidential campaigns would never be the same again. For that reason, "THE ROAD TO CAMELOT" is a book that everyone should read who wants to learn how it was that John F. Kennedy overcame many obstacles and defied the odds to secure the Democratic presidential nomination and be elected President in 1960.

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review 2017-04-16 13:25
JFK - Why He Continues to Mean So Much as a Great & Inspirational Leader
ALL HIS BRIGHT LIGHT GONE: The Death of John F. Kennedy and the Decline of America - Peter McKenna

The title of this book comes from the remarks made by Jacqueline Kennedy in a March 1964 newsreel in which she thanked the nation for its expression of sympathy to her in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. She spoke of her husband in the following way: "All his bright light gone from the world."

The author goes on to share with the reader how he, who had been a wayward youth in high school during Kennedy's tenure in the White House, had been inspired by JFK to become more engaged in study and public affairs, and to lead a more purposeful life. He then provides a brief biography of JFK, showing what factors in his background helped to make him a statesman of substance and a wise, charismatic, discerning, and dedicated President of the United States. In doing so, the author does not shy away from touching upon President Kennedy's weaknesses (e.g. his affairs). After all, JFK was human and subject like all human beings to err from time to time. But McKenna looks at the totality of President Kennedy and seeks to explain why, more than 50 years after his death, he continues to inspire millions of people across the world.

The author contends that President Kennedy - who had been well-traveled and a voracious reader and student of history, government, and economics all his life - understood, unlike some of the presidents who followed him, that the United States, from its inception, was a democratic republic, "the most enlightened form of government" devised by humanity. Given that understanding of the country, Kennedy "knew it was based on trust in government and the belief that the common good is more important than the enrichment of individuals or special interests." Therefore, President Kennedy made it his focus to govern wisely in the best interests of all Americans while encouraging its citizens to "embrace [their] civic responsibilities" and "to believe that politics is a noble profession." Nowhere perhaps does President Kennedy explain this position better than in the address he made to students at Vanderbilt University on May 18th, 1963.

"I speak to you today, ... not of your rights as Americans, but of your responsibilities. They are many in number and different in nature. They do not rest with equal weight upon the shoulders of all. Equality of opportunity does not mean equality of responsibility. All Americans must be responsible citizens, but some must be more responsible than others by virtue of their public or their private position, their role in the family or community, their prospects for the future, or their legacy from the past. Increased responsibility goes with increased ability. For those to whom much is given, much is required.

"Of the many special obligations incumbent upon an educated citizen, I would cite three as outstanding: Your obligation to the pursuit of learning; your obligation to serve the public; your obligation to uphold the law. If the pursuit of learning is not defended by the educated citizen, it will not be defended at all.

"For there will always be those who scoff at intellectuals, who cry out against research, who seek to limit our educational system. Modern cynics and skeptics see no more reason for landing a man on the moon -- which we shall do -- than the cynics and skeptics of half a millennium ago saw for the discovery of this country. They see no harm in paying those to whom they entrust the minds of their children a smaller wage than is paid to those to whom they entrust the care of their plumbing.

"But the educated citizen knows how much more there is to know. He knows that knowledge is power -- more so today than ever before. He knows that only an educated and informed people will be a free people; that the ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all; and that if we can, as Jefferson put it, 'enlighten the people generally,' 'tyranny and the oppressions of mind and body will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.' And, therefore, the educated citizen has a special obligation to encourage the pursuit of learning, to promote exploration of the unknown, to preserve the freedom of inquiry, to support the advancement of research, and to assist at every level of government the improvement of education for all Americans -- from grade school to graduate school.

"Secondly, the educated citizen has an obligation to serve the public. ... He may be a civil servant or a senator, a candidate or a campaign worker, a winner or a loser. But he must be a participant and not a spectator. At the Olympic Games, Aristotle wrote, 'It is not the finest and strongest men who are crowned, but they who enter the lists. For out of these the prize-men are selected. ' So, too, in life," he said, 'of the honorable and the good, it is they who act who rightly win the prize.'

"I urge all of you today, especially those who are students, to act -- to enter the lists of public service and rightly win (or lose) the prize. For we can have only one form of aristocracy in this country. As Jefferson wrote long ago in rejecting John Adams's suggestion of an artificial aristocracy of wealth and birth, 'It is,' he wrote, 'the natural aristocracy of character and talent.' 'And the best form of government,' he added, 'was that which selected these men for positions of responsibility.' I would hope that all educated citizens would fulfill this obligation, in politics, in government, here in Nashville, here in this State, in the Peace Corps, in the Foreign Service, in the government service, in the Tennessee Valley, in the world! You will find the pressures greater than the pay. You may endure more public attacks than support. But you will have the unequaled satisfaction of knowing that your character and talent are contributing to the direction and success of this free society.

"Third and finally, the educated citizen has an obligation to uphold the law. This is the obligation of every citizen in a free and peaceful society. But the educated citizen has a special responsibility by the virtue of his greater understanding. For whether he has ever studied history or current events, ethics or civics, the rules of the profession or the tools of the trade, he knows that only a respect for the law makes it possible for free men to dwell together in peace and progress. He knows that law is the adhesive force of the cement of society, creating order out of chaos, and coherence in place of anarchy. He knows that for one man to defy a law or court order he does not like is to invite others to defy those which they do not like -- leading to a breakdown of all justice and all order. He knows, too, that every fellow man is entitled to be regarded with decency and treated with dignity. Any educated citizen who seeks to subvert the law to suppress freedom, or to subject other human beings to acts that are less than human degrades his inheritance, ignores his learning, and betrays his obligations. Certain other societies may respect the rule of force. We respect the rule of law."

And sadly, as the author sets out to show the reader, President Kennedy's death had "a far more profoundly negative impact on the United States than is commonly realized" or appreciated.


This is demonstrated through the administrations of the some of the presidents that followed Kennedy (e.g. LBJ in his support of the Vietnam War and his failure, in certain respects, to be fully honest with the public; Richard Nixon; and Ronald Reagan who promoted the belief among the public of government as enemy of the people, de-emphasized the value and importance of civic virtue and public service in a democratic republic, and extolled the virtues of corporatism in creating a strong economy and society.)

Despite some editing errors I discerned in some of its pages (hence the 4 stars), this is a book I would strongly urge anyone to read who is deeply concerned about the present state of the nation, the levels of corruption in Congress from which its leadership profits at the expense of the public good, and wishes to become more constructively and purposefully engaged as a citizen to help reverse the tide of perversion that has overtaken the republic for the past 50 years. Furthermore, study the life and presidency of John F. Kennedy and take inspiration from a man who possessed rare gifts of brilliance, wit, and compassion.

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review 2016-10-27 02:15
Breakthrough: The Making of America's First Woman President - Nancy L. Cohen

Earlier this year, I attended a book reading at a local bookstore where Nancy L. Cohen gave an expansive and compelling presentation about the discoveries she made and interviews she carried out with a variety of women political leaders, analysts, and activists (of varying ages) in her latest book, "BREAKTHROUGH: The Making of America's First Woman President." She gave me much food for thought as someone who has been deeply frustrated with our current dysfunctional political system (Capitol Hill). So, it was that several weeks later, I bought this book and began to read it with great care.

"Breakthrough" is very readable and provides the reader with "an intimate portrait of the savvy women who have built an alternative to the old boy's club and are rewriting the playbook for how women can rise and thrive in politics." The reader also learns how far women in the U.S. had to go in terms of securing their rights as full-fledged citizens, as well as proving themselves as effective legislators on the state and national levels. Indeed, we as a nation have now advanced to the point that we have a well-qualified, proven and experienced candidate in Hillary Rodham Clinton who may be elected as the next President of the United States very soon.

Thank you, Nancy L. Cohen, for showing me how much closer the U.S. can come to achieving "a more perfect union" through utilizing the energies and talents of women who see public service as a means for building a better society for everyone.

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review 2016-10-15 02:23
JFK & JACKIE: We Hardly Knew Ye
Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years - Barbara Leaming

Upon immersing myself in "Mrs. Kennedy: The Missing History of the Kennedy Years", I felt as if I were an actual witness to a marriage between 2 remarkable people, whose lives together became bound up with the politics, culture, ethos, and destiny of a nation.


At the time of their marriage in September 1953, the husband, a freshman United States Senator with budding promise of reaching the White House, hailed from a rich, prestigious Irish-American family steeped in the Catholic faith. His wife, who came from a slightly less wealthier background, was a graduate from Vassar who had studied at the Sorbonne, possessed artistic and intellectual attainments, and shared certain, profound affinities with her husband, which the author makes plain in considerable detail as the story progresses.


I have had a deep-seated fascination with JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy for years, and this book I found hard to break away from once I began reading it in earnest. Even if you have little interest in politics or history, the book's human interest element alone makes for compelling reading. It makes alive to the reader the sensibilities of an era --- the 1950s and early 1960s --- in such a way that one almost feels as if the past has become the present. This is a book that I could read again and again, without tiring of it, despite the horrific tragedy of Dallas and its aftermath in which Jacqueline Kennedy, now a widow, struggled to re-establish a meaningful life for herself and her children.

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review 2016-06-12 16:02
Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years - David Talbot

This is a well-documented, heavily researched book that looks into what the Kennedy Years were really like in this country between JFK's election to the Presidency in 1960 and the assassination of his brother, Robert Kennedy, in June 1968.


Though I was born several months after President Kennedy's assassination, I have had an interest in his life and political career since I was a child. And in subsequent years as my knowledge of President Kennedy's life and presidency has grown and deepened, I have grown in admiration and respect for what he (and Robert Kennedy, as the Attorney General and presidential special advisor) was able to achieve and tried to accomplish in the best interests of the U.S..


Talbot goes to great lengths in this book to show the obstacles and challenges --- many of them from within the government itself -- that the Kennedys encountered to their policies and proposals. This became more pronounced in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis when President Kennedy resolved to embark on "a strategy for peace", which he spoke of so eloquently in his "Peace Speech" at American University on June 10, 1963. Indeed, within weeks of this speech, the basis of a limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was worked out between Washington and Moscow on August 5, 1963. And in the following month, the Senate approved the treaty by a resounding 80 to 19 margin.


President Kennedy was seen as a threat by influential elements within the Pentagon, the CIA (which --- following the failure of its Bay of Pigs invasion plan and JFK's dismissal of its Director, Allen Dulles, in November 1961 --- became brazenly disdainful of the President and resistant to his tentative efforts to try and reform the Agency), and elements of the anti-Castro Cuban exile community. War and the promoting of the threats of war were big business at the time. After all, we were living at the height of the Cold War. And the Pentagon, the CIA, and the anti-Castro Cuban exile community profited from that.  The Kennedys could have opted to "go with the flow" by not challenging the prevailing ethos in political circles and the government itself, likely ensuring themselves a longer tenure in the White House. Yet, both came to perceive through the ongoing civil rights struggle against racial segregation in the country and in their own efforts to crack down on the Mafia - as well as addressing a host of other international and domestic crises and challenges - that the country could not go on as it had since 1945. Indeed, it was President Kennedy who said that "those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable." Consequently, President Kennedy was marked for assassination - not by Moscow or Havana, but by a powerful clique in this country made up of business, military and political leaders invested in maintaining what Eisenhower spoke of in his Farewell Address as "the military-industrial complex." So along with the CIA and the Mafia, they conspired and hatched a plan that killed a President riding in an open motorcade in Dallas on November 22, 1963.


"BROTHERS: A Hidden History of the Kennedy Years" takes the reader through that tragic day in Dallas, and illustrates how Robert Kennedy was deeply traumatized by his brother's death. What I found especially interesting as I was reading this section of the book was that, from the moment Robert Kennedy learned of his brother's death (via a phone call from J. Edgar Hoover, whose tone of voice conveyed in no uncertain terms, that he no longer considered himself beholden to the younger Kennedy as Attorney General) that he immediately suspected that JFK had been killed as a result of a conspiracy. That I did not know before reading this book. The reader then becomes part of the painful journey Robert Kennedy undertakes, not only to come to terms with his brother's death, but to continue the fight against the dark elements within the government itself. Kennedy bided his time, resigned his post in the Justice Department, and won election to the U.S. Senate from New York in 1964. Robert ("Bobby") Kennedy's evolution proceeded apace. Indeed "[i]n the last years of his life, Bobby Kennedy became increasingly estranged from Washington's political elite. His growing commitment to a new, multiracial America - which allied him with the crusade of Martin Luther King Jr. - was viewed with alarm by J. Edgar Hoover, who regarded both men as dangerous. And his critique of American foreign policy, ... drew the baleful eye of the White House and CIA."


For anyone who wants a deeper understanding as to why both Kennedy brothers remain an inspirational and relevant force in our politics and in the consciousness of many Americans and admirers across the world, READ THIS BOOK. It made startlingly clear to me their extraordinary fearlessness and unique humaneness as leaders who sought to build and ensure a better, safer world for all people.



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