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on November 3, 2011
This might be a worthwhile book for readers who know very little about President Kennedy and his times. For reasonably well-informed students of that era, however, there is very little that is new here.
This may sound like nit-picking, but the book has some annoying errors that a more careful writer and/or editor would have avoided. Matthews calls the President's younger brother Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy. His actual name was Robert Francis Kennedy. He says Senator Joe McCarthy died in 1956, when it was actually May, 1957. He also says JFK was chosen as America's 34th President, when almost everybody knows he was the 35th.
Errors like these make a reader wonder what else Matthews might have gotten wrong.
If you want an authoritative treatment of JFK, I recommend Robert Dallek's "John F. Kennedy: An Unfinished Life"
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on November 15, 2011
This is my first ever review of a book on Amazon. I am a huge Kennedy reader and have read probably every biography out on both Jack and Bobby for the last 15 plus years. I am also a fan of Chris Matthews who always has an interesting perspective especially on the political spectrum. His book is quite the let-down. It is nothing more than a breezy memoir (even though he did not know Kennedy) which could have been written by any of Jack's close circle of friends. The book has some nice tidbits but it has all been covered before and even though Matthews has a thesis which is nothing more than (1) Kennedy compartmentalized his life and the people around him so no one got the full picture of the man, (2) he was incredibly loyal to his life-long friends who he relied on his whole life and in particular when he got the White House, and (3) Kennedy's thinking and views developed and grew as he went from being the millionaire playboy son to being a congressman to senator to President. While anyone would agree with all of some of these thoughts nothing is new here. If you really want to learn about JFK then go to Dallek's excellent biography called "An Unfinished Life." I think this book is good for the young (13 plus) budding historian as an introduction to JFK in an easy to ready, not too dense format and highlights the important milestones. In that case, it could whet the appetite of the young reader and give him/her the impetus to read the more serious and detailed books on JFK.
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on November 1, 2011
First of all, let me say that this is a well written and passionate account of Jack Kennedy the man - an American President who deserves the accolade of "Hero." Chris Matthews' conversational approach to the story, really draws you in, as though you are sittng across from him in your den having a single malt scotch. His narrative never fails to fascinate. In the end, the reader understands, that more than any other 20th Century figure, Jack Kennedy made the decisions that allowed future generations to be born, and our world to continue. A very fine book indeed.
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on November 23, 2011
If you're thinking of buying the Kindle eBook, maybe think twice. I'm reading it, and enjoying the easy story telling style. But the Kindle format is annoying. Every page has random underlining that makes no sense for being there. There are family photos and scanned documents, hand written by JFK that are too small to read. I would love to know what he wrote. Customer service told me there's was nothing I could do to enlarge it.
Update: I returned it for refund. Too expensive to be like this. I'll either get it in a hard copy or skip it.
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on November 1, 2011
In 1960 I was in the 11th grade and very caught up in the Kennedy vs Nixon campaign. Thanks to my dad's involvement in local democratic politics I was given the opportunity to become what was known as a "Kennedy Girl". We dressed up in red white and blue and attended political functions to promote JFK. One of my most thrilling memories is getting to shake Kennedy's hand at Selfridge AFB in Michigan. Thankfully there was a local newspaper photographer on hand to capture me and several other Kennedy Girls with JFK and Gov. G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams, providing me with a wonderful memento of the occasion.

I've read so many different books on Kennedy over the years and my first thought was "not another book on JFK, please". After reading the review I thought maybe this one might be worth the effort.
Way to go Chris Matthews!
This book told me so much about him that I didn't know and reminded me of things I had forgotten.
I'm so glad decided to read "yet another book on JFK".
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on November 7, 2011
I found Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero to be a fair read, and definitely not a bad book. I didn't find it very compelling, but I can see how it would be interesting, informational, and insightful for those who are just starting to learn more about Kennedy. It would be the perfect primer before a leap to something more significant/in-depth, perhaps for a student or someone who does not have much experience reading about Kennedy. There are many insightful stories and tidbits in the book, and it is certainly easy to read, not "textbook-y".

Those who are knowledgeable about Kennedy's life will definitely not find anything groundbreaking in "Elusive Hero", although there may be a little story or two that are new. I didn't notice any information that was "unearthed" or uncovered by Mr. Matthews, and the few insights that did seem new (to me) were not all that important in comparison to Kennedy's life as a whole, and definitely not groundbreaking. The portion of the book devoted to Kennedy's line "Ask what you can do for your country" is not new information, as some may have been led to believe; the origins of this phrase (at Choate) have been discussed in other biographies before this one.

You can tell that Chris Matthews reveres and adores Kennedy - so much that it began to come across as almost too strong to me. It makes sense, and should not be unexpected, since Matthews labels Kennedy as a hero not only in the title of the book, but in the preface on page 3 ("...a figure we would come to know so well, one who would soon mean so much to us, to me.") and on page 11 ("He was a far greater hero than he ever wished us to know.").

I found that certain parts of Kennedy's life seemed left out of much of the picture, or barely discussed. Kennedy's affairs with various women, for example, are merely hinted at, with a minuscule amount of content dedicated to that portion of Kennedy's life. Chris Matthews doesn't go into any detail about "The Dark Side of Camelot" except to say things like Joe Kennedy Sr. had a "murky" or "questionable" past. I would have liked to have read more about Jack Kennedy's "murky" side, not because it is nice to read or is exciting, but only because it seems to have been an important part of Kennedy's life. It would be an important part of anyone's life.

Through the chapters I could recognize where pieces of information on historical events seemed missing, and where I remembered more details in other books. Some portions of Elusive Hero seemed sketchy and/or almost not entirely researched (or perhaps intentionally lacking detail). For example, on page 333, regarding the Bay of Pigs invasion, Matthews writes "It's hard to say just why Kennedy went along with his advisors, most of whom seem to have either had their heads in the sand or were otherwise enacting agendas of their own." However, in JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters, as well as in other books, we learned that the CIA had been working on plans for an invasion of Cuba long before Kennedy was even president, and that Kennedy approved the Bay of Pigs invasion after rejecting a larger assault, and after repeated assurances from top advisors, including the assurance that the exiles would be met and joined by Cubans in a revolt. While Matthews touched on some of these things, he seemed to only have skimmed the surface and nothing more, and I noticed this on several occasions throughout the book.

I wonder if Matthews had certain priorities with this book, and knew what he wanted to focus on and what he wanted to leave out (which would explain why certain parts were lacking detail, or other things seemed left out). If so, I wouldn't blame him - maybe he wasn't looking to write the most balanced and detailed account of Kennedy's life. If readers are looking for that in this book they may be disappointed. Chris Matthews did seem genuine with his writing, and I don't agree with those who say he's out to only make a buck. I think this may just be Chris Matthews' take and his "vision" of who Kennedy was and what he meant to Matthews, but also America.

Overall, a decent look at Kennedy's life, and not a bad or terrible book, but something that experienced readers on Kennedy will likely find unsubstantial.
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on January 25, 2012
I found this book poorly researched, heavily agenda driven, and simply uninformative in adding any novel scholarship or knowledge or viewpoint on how Kennedy can be uniquely examined. That Matthews tries to paint JFK as a true conventional cold warrior explains how he truly misunderstands Kennedy and how the author himself has become a reinforcement for purely conventional in the box thinking.

JFK was far from a conventional cold warrior. Looking back at his dealing with Vietnam as a Senator and his speeches against known views against colonialism as well as his perturbation about US policy in Congo, Indonesia, Cuba by the previous regime, one can tell much more nuance and reservation existed in his thinking, none of which Matthews captures in his heavy handed approach.

First off, the author only spends less than a 1/5 of the book on the actual Presidential years and chooses to paint Kennedy as a personal hero in the war, PT boat venture, and so on. This would be fine and perfectly acceptable if he did not miss so many valid examples of JFK as an elusive hero in his stances on major cold war issues.
Things ignored that make JFK elusive:
1) Reaching out to Castro through back channels to achieve the closest thing to detente with Cuba that has ever been achieved
2) More understanding of behind the scenes in getting rid of establishment figures in Dulles and Cabell and other top CIA guys post bay of pigs
3) Vietnam withdrawal policy, national security action memo 263.

Moreover the author fails to use the most recent authoritative works as sources for his work. He endeavors to talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis and there is no mention of the Kennedy Tapes, which are actual tapes transcribed from primary sources.

Couple of books worth reading and which have been recognized as historically authoritative and which the author completely ignores: JFK and Vietnam, Kennedy Tapes, JFK: Ordeal in Africa.
This book relies too much on a couple of older more outdated historical works by Herbert Parmet. JFK: The presidendy of John F Kennedy and Jack: The Struggles of JFK. Both were written in the early 80s and much has been learned after their publication, especially with the release of documents since.

Not a book that adds scholarship in any substantial way to existing body of knowledge, is heavily driven by attempt to reinforce this establishment ideal that JFK was conventional by the book cold warrior, and is poorly researched (fatal flaw). In a way its understandable that a cable tv host simply lacks the attention to detail and ability or desire to glean new scholarship from intensive study of existing work including primary source. The cable tv business feeds at the trough on the opposite end of that spectrum. The one that rewards black and white, conventional, shallow shilling by perpetually moving mouthpieces in the D &R debating format of today. This was closer to a cut and paste conventional history reliant on outdated sources at the the expense of more valid and recent research--no wonder the author found Kennedy so elusive!

I learned more about the author in this attempt at biography than the subject unfortunately.
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VINE VOICEon November 2, 2011
Let me say up front I am a huge fan of Chris Matthews' TV program. What appeals to me is his combination of practical nuts and bolts political savvy, a historical take on political events, and what I consider his idealism--you might even say he has a streak of romanticism about politics. In Chris Matthews' political world there are heroes. If you like this approach and you are interested in JFK you are bound to love this book.

This book made me think of Plutarch's Lives--portraits of public figures, warts and all, that illuminated their inner character. I was struck by Kennedy's early experience in war and the way it made him want to do something to further the cause of peace. Kennedy seems to have had intimations of his fate--just as many of Plutarch's Greek and Roman heroes did. Because of health problems he lived with the prospect of an early death. His personal hero was a brave man struck down young by a sniper.

I read JOHN KENNEDY: AN UNFINISHED LIFE previously and was very much moved by it. The Matthews' book gave me more of a sense of how independent Kennedy was from his father--how far he broke away intellectually from his father's isolationism (which Matthews shows persisted even into the Cold War). It also presented a fuller portrait of Kennedy the politician--his skill and true toughness. And this book brings the reader closer to Kennedy the person. We see him through various eyes and get a vivid sense of the man.

One could write a biography of Kennedy and focus on the private flaws. We know what they were. It is also possible to do what Chris Matthews does here--see a fallible human being bearing physical and emotional pain but determined to make a contribution. JFK did not do everything right. It's easy looking back with hindsight to see where he erred. But assisted by an extraordinary younger brother--Bobby--he contributed to civil rights. He was one of the American presidents who held the line against totalitarianism and ultimately defeated it. With Bobby Kennedy's crucial help, he made the right choice in the Cuban missile crisis, and in doing so may well have saved the world for all of us. He reached his goal--he truly did something for peace. This wonderful book leaves readers uplifted and inspired, and feeling that we know the man.

I bought the audio edition. The writing was not lyrical but it was fine--the kind of clear journalistic writing that does not call attention to itself. The emphasis is on storytelling--illuminating anecdotes. And in sum this is one fascinating story--I could not stop listening. If I have a criticism it's that I wish Chris Matthews had narrated more than the first chapter himself. His voice made that chapter especially vivid. The narrator did a great job--brought an excellent actor's skill to his task. Being a fan, I still preferred Chris.
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on January 24, 2013
I was disappointed in this book. The writing was clunky and begged for an editor. Matthews switches from third person to first person voice seemingly on a whim which I found very distracting. There was little analysis just a breezy, simple look at JFK's life. As mentioned in previous reviews there were glaring errors - Robert Kennedy's full name was Robert Francis Kennedy not, as Mathews wrote, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy. JFK was the 35th President not the 34th. Such errors point to a lack of basic research and the lack of competent fact checking. For a serious look at JFK I recommend Kennedy and Counselor both by Ted Sorensen also A Thousand Days written by historian Arthur Schlesinger.
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on November 15, 2012
There's little I can add to the negative reviews of Elusive Hero. That's really quite validating since this is one of the worst books I've ever read, and I LIKE Chris Matthews. The best part of the book was his autobiographical introductory chapter, which I really did enjoy...no sarcasm intended here. I was so disappointed in what followed and I can't believe Simon & Schuster would actually publish such a terribly written and poorly edited book. I even wondered if anyone had proof-read it or if nobody had the heart to tell Chris that it was simply NOT GOOD. I'm certainly not an avid reader but when it comes to books, I try to finish what I start. This one has been a struggle and I still have 100 pages to go! I find myself exasperated at all the names and quotes of people who don't even seem interesting enough to remember from one chapter to the next.

One thing I will say which I haven't seen stated in these reviews is that I come away feeling that JFK was a conniving and cunning opportunist, stabbing many people in the back, playing both political parties for all he gain, all for the sake of his political advancement. In spite of all the stories I've read about JFK's flawed character, I've always admired him. This book draws all of that in question. Even though it reads like a valentine to a legendary politician, Elusive Hero actually presents quite an unflattering and even disturbing portrait of JFK.
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