32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2001
Along with Herbert Parmet's "Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy", Richard Reeves' "President Kennedy" is one of the two best biographies that I have read about a legendary (and much-romanticized) American President. Unlike Thomas Reeves' hatchet-job "A Question of Character", which basically could be called a job in "character assassination"; or books such as Arthur Schlesinger's "A Thousand Days", which idolize Kennedy and ignore his flaws and failures as President, Richard Reeve's book maintains an admirably objective and balanced view of our 35th President. Reeve's Kennedy is neither a liberal saint nor a debauched devil, but is instead a complicated and often frustrating man who is woefully unprepared for the Oval Office when he moves in in January 1961, but does possess a great many gifts that save him when he gets into trouble. Reeve's Kennedy makes many mistakes early on in his Administration - the Bay of Pigs, his disastrous summit with the Soviet Union's Nikita Krushchev in Vienna, and his reckless womanizing in private, which as Reeves notes might well have become public knowledge if some enterprising reporter had ever followed JFK's movements very closely. Yet Kennedy does learn from at least some of his mistakes, and his handling of the Berlin Wall Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis was excellent. Whether Kennedy would ever have grown into a great President is a matter of debate among historians, and after reading this book I had my answer - JFK was a good President in many ways, but he probably would never have become a great one, due to his overly cautious nature on civil rights and the other great issues of the sixties. In short, this is a very well-written, impressively researched, and very fair-minded look at one of our most difficult Presidents to study and write about...this should be required reading for anyone who's interested in the 1960's, the Kennedys, or American politics.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Reeves has quite literally stripped away the varnish that has accumulated over the years on the 1000 Days of Jack Kennedy. He has assembled a journal of sorts, giving the reader a fast-moving account of one of America's most enigmatic presidents. It is an interesting mixture of policy decisions, candid observations and revealing episodes that give one of the most complete pictures of President Kennedy.
The narrative starts a few days before the administration took office with the cabinet decisions that were being made, then guides the reader through the tumultuous inauguration ceremonies both on stage and backstage. Reeves deals with the troubling first 100 days of the administration in a very candid way, showing the indecision of Kennedy when it came to Cuba and Berlin. Kennedy was being pulled in all directions, putting too much faith in the CIA and dismissing the criticisms of his newly assembled cabinet. Eventually, Kennedy found his feet and began to project the confidence that had won him the presidency.
Reeves provides so many telling anecdotes, especially concerning Kennedy's health, which was never very good. This was one of the first books to reveal Kennedy's drug dependency to stave off Addison's disease and his excrutiating back pains. There is also Hugh Sidey's memorable swimming pool interview.
The book feels as though it were written by an aide close to Kennedy during his administration. Reeves has assembled an impressive array of quotes and first person observations into a seamless narrative. He has demystified the myth of Camelot, without diminishing the stature of the man. Reeves evocatively illustrates how Kennedy was able to project power in spite of his numerous handicaps, both physical and political.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2003
The author took an interesting view of the subject matter, instead of a dry history lecture the author tries to put the reader in the shoes of JFK and really show you what it was like to be him or at least with him in his presidency. I learned a lot from this book, the unorganized and stumbling start to his presidency, his lack of attention and in depth understanding of what was going to happen with the bay of pigs and his relationship with Khrushshev were all very interesting and new for me. I was also struck by how conservative this Democratic President was and his almost forced work on the Civil Rights issues. The book gives you a real look at the three years he was in office, not an overly positive Camelot view and not a tabloid style gossip sheet only talking about women.
What was so great is that the author was able to obtain so many actual conversations that JFK had with staff. You could really get a sense of the man from the interactions that the author chose to detail. Based on the bibliography and source notes, you can tell that the author spent a great deal of time on research and it shows in the quality of the book. One last point is that I also gained a better understanding of LBJ and the differences in how much more liberal he was then JFK. My only issue, and it is minor, is the end of the book did tend to drag a bit with the Vietnam War info. I also would have liked a bit more detail on the Cuban missile crises, but the author did a good job given the overall time frame and space limitations the book offered. The details of some of the letters being passed back and forth could have been left out of the book for me. Overall the book was very good and interesting. I do not think you need to be a political junkie to enjoy the book.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 1998
Richard Reeves' book is a welcome addition to the "Camelot Years" genre. Written from the President's perspective, i.e. "a day in the life" type format, this excellent read neither fawns, nor muckrakes, but rather gives a balanced account of a Presidency that, until this point, has not been examined in an objective light. Reeves' first person perspective shows a president who had more profile than courage. Inspite of his many gifts, JFK was diffident, at best, as President. Reeves book reveals a JFK that was driven, almost maniacally, to get to the White House, but once he got there was pretty much out of his league. The portrait of a neophyte statesman is obvious when Kennedy makes his first trip to Europe, receives a lukewarm reception from DeGaulle, and is taken to the woodshed by Nikita Khrushev who, upon seeing the youthful president exclaimed "he's younger than my own son." Reeves account beautifully illustrates how the rich playboy-president miscalculates Khrushev; one gets the impression that Kennedy felt that his Soviet counterpart could be rolled like a Boston pol. Kennedy came away from his first overseas trip as president much chastened. Richard Reeves' book is excellent; well written, well researched, and balanced. I highly recommend it. (I've read it twice!!)
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Noted author, pundit, and journalist Richard Reeves has a well-deserved reputation as a journalist and author, as this classic book detailing the three-year term of slain president John F. Kennedy deftly illustrates. This tome, based on Reeve's own extensive research into the vast cornucopia of official correspondence, White House files, and literally hundreds of personal interviews, weighs the evidence of JFK's tenure in office, during the fabled thousand days of the Kennedy administration. Indeed, it is a quite detailed reconstruction of the day to day life within the orbit of the administration from its launching in early 1961 up to its denouement with his assassination in November 1963. As such, it provides an "up close and personal" view of the presidency in action, and gives one an incredible insight into what it means to be the President.
Moreover, given the times in which the Kennedy administration lived out its short lifespan, it is a brilliant look at some momentous events and phenomena, from the Berlin crisis of 1961 to the unfolding civil rights movement under the masterful ministrations of firebrand Martin Luther King. What is so unforgettable about Reeves' exposition is the fact that he manages to give us both memorable history as well as a very personal glimpse of the fascinating and charismatic man inhabiting the oval office in a singular book, one that has remained, in the ten years since its original publication, a standard on the JFK years. He shows how badly Kennedy wanted to succeed as president. Overcoming personal pain, religious prejudice, and his father's unseemly legacy to become one of the nation's most popular executives. And the times certainly gave him all the fuel to test himself, as any one man might need to prove himself.
Humiliated by the events of Khrushchev's bullying moves in the Berlin corridor, Kennedy became convinced the Soviets were determined to start a war, one Kennedy understood no one would really win. Yet, with steely resolve, Kennedy began preparing both himself and the nation at large for the war of wills that began to unfold. Thus, throughout the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, Kennedy feared we were on the very brink of Armageddon, yet managed to steer us through the maze by both brilliant backdoor diplomacy and a dollop of devious wheeling and dealing to placate the Soviets. In the meantime, he administered the single largest military build-up of the Cold War era, massively increasing our capability to better meet the perceived Soviet threat both in conventional and nuclear conflict.
On the domestic scene, he witnessed turbulence due to both the civil rights movement and the violence of white hate groups in the South against it. He employed federal troops, as Eisenhower had done before him, to stabilize potentially explosive situations, and moved to establish a more comprehensive voting rights bill and further civil rights legislation in Congress, though none of it came to fruition before his death. The book takes us back into these eventful and exciting times, when he was deciding most fatefully on issues as far flung as our involvement in Vietnam to the best way to reach a kind of detent with the Soviets, from strong-arming the steel industry back into compliance with the law and with the building of the Berlin Wall. This is a fascinating book, one that takes the reader on an unforgettable journey into the past, and one I highly recommend. Enjoy!
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I have read my share of books on Kennedy, both fawning works and works that like to portray the New Frontier as Babylon on the Potomac. However this book is a bit of a first, it presents us with the details of the administration's workings and gives us a sense of what really happened in the White House and elsewhere during 1961-1963.
What I came away from in reading this book was a time in which Kennedy frequently found himself in over his head. The best moment, and the one that illustrates this for me perfectly was an encounter with Charles de Gaule in Paris. Like a student that is too cleaver, JFK makes a cleaver remark regarding Indo-China. De Gaule counters by trying to warn Kennedy away and providing a basis for doing so. The French had been in Vietnam before and probably, at least in this instance, had some insight. Kennedy declined to take de Gaulle's advice, but fearful that the former general might make these remarks public demanded silence in return. De Gaulle indicated that he was not in the habit of behaving in this fashion and that was the end of that session.
No, moments like this do not make it into the movies in which people with good hair and teeth mouth homilies, but they are genuine and are probably more indicative of how things really worked than the sorts of things that have pretended to be historical works over the years.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2004
President Kennedy did not have the easiest presidency imaginable: big issues abroad including Cuba, Vietnam, Berlin, the nuclear arms race and test ban treaties with Russia and the highly contradictory issue of integration at home were all begging for his attention and often at the same time. This biography gives a good insight into the way decisions were taken and that there is a lot of on-the-job learning involved. It is in a sense shocking to read that the way a superpower is run is not that much different from the way an average manager runs his group of a few people.
I found it slightly disappointing that this biography deals exclusively with the presidency of Kennedy, not his formative years as a student, a soldier and a senator. But all in all a revealing insight into the presidency of a man who, after his assassination, become a posthumous hero.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2002
Richard Reeves has produced a remarkable tour de force in this extensive day by day chronicle of the Kennedy administration. Somehow, through a combination of archival work and interviewing of key surviving players, Reeves has managed to completely capture Kennedy the president from his inauspicious beginning to the day of his tragic death. What a pleasure to read a book about JFK that is not focused on his sordid personal life or is not a revisionist effort to malign him. Indeed, the subtitle of this book really describes it because the story of the Kennedy presidency is the story of how an ambitious, bright and fundamentally serious playboy learns to wield presidential power. Of course the most remarkable part of the book is the Cuban Missle Crisis and here we see, from an unbiased historian, not the President's brother (RFK) or house historian (Arthur Schlesinger Jr.) just how Kennedy's essential caution and coolness may have saved the world from disaster. This book effectively refutes the current revisionist spin that Kennedy was an essentially frivilous and corrupt person. To the contrary, the Kennedy of Reeve's book comes across as serious, thoughtful and comfortable with the reigns of power. It leads one to wonder what a second term would have been like. Most important though, this book brings Kennedy to life and this is no small talent for a biographer, especially one focused primarily on Kennedy's life as president and not his personal life. This is not "Life Goes To Camelot" and it is a pleasure!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2001
I just finished Richard Reeves' excellent book about President Kennedy and I enjoyed it very much. I am only 13 years old, so this book took me over month to to read, but I was interested for almost every page. The only part I got bored and uninterested at was the talk about economics. However, I do understand the importance of those sections.
Anyone, no matter how old they are should read this book if they have an interest in history or in Kennedy himself. The book also gives a good picture of how things are done in the White House. My only problem with the book was that it ended so abruptly. I recognize that the book was about kennedy's presidency, but Reeves could have written something at all about the assassination. Overall, this was an excellent book. I am looking forward to reading the Nixon book (Alone in the White House by Richard Reeves) as well.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 1996
Richard Reeves has crafted an exceedingly insightful, well-written, you-are-there look at the Presidency of John F. Kennedy. As someone born the year Kennedy was assasinated, and having been inculcated over the years with the Kennedy Myth, Reeves took me almost day-by-day, minute-by-minute through the events starting from Kennedy's election through the day 33 years ago when he was killed in Dallas.
Reeves' looks at the Berlin Wall and Cuban Missile Crises take advantage of recent disclosures from US, Soviet and other sources to show how close we came to World War III in both of those situations.
The book's description of the start of the US commitment in Vietnam under JFK allowed me to gain a better understanding of how Kennedy's prior failure to stand up to the Soviet Union and Krushchev in Laos and Cuba "forced" JFK to stand firmly behind the unsupportable South Vietnamese government.
Other topics addressed by the book include JFK's tepid support of civil rights and his rampant promiscuity.
I had to rate this book a 9 (I've yet to read a 10), but this book has to be one of the best out of the almost unlimited supply of JFK biographies