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Forty Ways to Look at JFK Hardcover – October 25, 2005

4 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rubin's latest (after Forty Ways to Look at Churchill) is at times fresh and imaginative, but too often superficial. Attempting to find a unique angle of entrée to the enigma of the Kennedy mystique, Rubin breaks the legend down into 40 brief chapters, each a uniquely angled lens through which she examines his life, his achievements and failures, his friendships and betrayals, his courage and cowardice, his influences and motivations, the source and nature of his appeal or notoriety and why he remains a figure of such intense, conflicted passions. We learn that Kennedy "became the focus of an idealism that he—with his pragmatic view of the world—didn't share." The problem is that the categories feel arbitrary, and the reader—rather than having the 40 separate encounters cohere into a nuanced portrait—is too often subjected to familiar banalities: "Kennedy was the first president to realize photography's power"; "Kennedy won the trust of reporters, in part, by showing trust in them." When Rubin attempts to sink deeper into the source, she comes up empty-handed: "Jack Kennedy had a single quality that lifted him into triumph... he captured the interest and admiration of the public." 29 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The author of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill asks one simple question: What made Kennedy Kennedy? Everybody writes about the Kennedy phenomenon, but what is it exactly? Rather than churn out yet another JFK biography, searching desperately for a new angle, Rubin approaches the Kennedy story from a variety of tangential perspectives. She begins, for example, with two chapters that relate the same essential facts but with slightly different spins. In "Kennedy as Ideal Leader: A Positive Account," Rubin notes that Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, the book that won him the Pulitzer. In "Kennedy as Showy Opportunist: A Critical Account," she includes the fact that Drew Pearson claimed Kennedy wrote the book with professional help. This technique, which she uses in various ways throughout the book, allows us to see JFK from myriad angles. He was a brilliant, idealistic man; no, he was a dull-witted scoundrel. What is the truth about JFK? Rubin leaves that up to the reader to decide but not before offering a clever and thought-provoking scan of the alternatives. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (October 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345450493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345450494
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #799,187 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I'm the author of "Happier at Home" and "The Happiness Project," about my experiences as I test-drove the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happy, to see what really worked. Happily, both books became New York Times bestsellers. My newest book "Better Than Before", releases March 17, 2015.

On my blog, www.gretchenrubin.com, I write about my daily adventures in happiness.

My previous books include a bestselling biography of Winston Churchill, "Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill," and one of John Kennedy, "Forty Ways to Look at JFK." My first book, "Power Money Fame S..: A User's Guide," is social criticism in the guise of a user's manual. "Profane Waste" was a collaboration with artist Dana Hoey. I've also written three dreadful novels that are safely locked away in a drawer.

Before turning to writing, I had a career in law. A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, I clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. I live in New York City with my husband and two daughters.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What a fabulous read this book is! If you thought you knew about the Kennedy mystique, think again -- Gretchen Rubin gives us the whole story of Kennedy's presidency and Kennedy the man -- family man, political man, lover man and man's man. Best of all, she does it in witty and vibrant short essays (just as she did in her terrific "Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill"). The essays range from "Kennedy's Lies" (there are some real shockers here) to "Kennedy's Use of the Media" (he was way ahead of his time). For anyone who wants to know more about this period in American history, or this particular and still-fascinating American, "40 Ways" is a must.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read 40 WAYS... and some of these reviews, I'm compelled to respond Josesph Goodfriend's contention that the book is a "bizarre waste of time." The opposite is true. Unlike many biographers, Rubin presents different and opposing sides to her subject, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions rather than manipulating her research to shove a singular thesis down their throats. As for the idea that Rubin doesn't include endnotes or footnotes, THAT'S bizarre. There are 40 pages of endnotes, as well as an extensive bibliography. This book is an excellent, complex -- and incredibly well-researched -- portrait of JFK. Congrats to the author!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thousands of pages have been written and thousands of pictures have been taken. We know all that there ever was to know about John Kennedy, right? Wrong! Once again Gretchen Rubin is teaching us something about a 20th Century Icon. As with Churchill in her previous book, countless works have been written about Kennedy that have discussed his accomplishments and dissected his personality. Rubin has once again masterfully put it all in one book. She has an enjoyable writing style and objectivity that is found in few biographers. She is a master of understanding human complexity and putting her protagonist in the context of the time that he lived. One of the most fascinating aspects of this book and her other works is that she understands that most larger than life figures work on their image constantly. For Kennedy, much of his career was about brand management. Rubin tells us what was real about the man and what he and his advisers created in their brand laboratory. Kennedy springs to life, you can feel his energy, his contradictions, the pressure that his father put on him. You can feel his physical pain and his pathos. JFK's sense of elegance, his style, his ability to respond to pressure, she captures it all.

What affected me most about this book was that for all of his privilege, Kennedy had a feeling for the poor, and they felt it. The Civil Rights Movement was already in full gear, but he legitimized it with the power of the presidency. Years ago, when I was in the Bronx visiting my little brother's apartment (little as in the Big Brother Program), his mom had President Kennedy's picture on top of her ancient TV. I asked her why. She said that "He and his brother Bobby wanted better lives for all of us, they were the first whites to really stick up for us.
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Format: Hardcover
Rubin has written forty chapters on different facets of President Kennedy's character, and on different opinions about his actions as a man and as a President. Although Rubin has an annoyingly choppy and repetitive writing style and the book probably goes on too long, much of it, like JFK himself, is pretty fascinating. There can hardly be a better example of the fact that most of us are a bewildering mixture of good and bad. the Kennedys could have achieved almost anything if they'd been raised with a set of strong ethical values.
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Format: Hardcover
This book claims to offer a new and challenging way of doing biography, but instead it strikes the reader as a lazy compilation of forty-plus mini-essays written to be the basis for someone else doing a biography. I have no idea why this way of approaching a subject seems to have any merit. A reader confronting two juxtaposed essays about JFK's philandering will naturally wonder why the writer didn't synthesize and integrate the essays into one chapter. So, too, a reader confronting a brief sketch of JFK's life giving a positive view of the man followed by a brief sketch giving a skeptical or negative view of the man, each with coverage that parallels omissions in the other, will wonder why the author didn't get to work to synthesize the two essays into a sensible, balanced sketch of JFK's life that would serve as an introduction to the rest of the book. Ditto for paired essays celebrating and criticizing JFK's record on civil rights. Any sensible reader who has read a good deal of history or biography, or a good deal about JFK, will recognize that the truth is somewhere between the two extremes, and become vexed with the author's refusal to do the needed work. The book's coverage is eccentric and not satisfactory, the writing is superficial, the research is thin at best. The reader looking for a study of JFK that introduces a complicated subject briefly yet with respect for the complexity will do better to read Alan Brinkley's short life in Holt's AMERICAN PRESIDENTS series or Robert Dallek's short life for Oxford University Press. Both are better written and researched, more thoughtful, more complex, and more satisfying.
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