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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Amount of Detail
The title of the book says it all, A Question of Character. This is one author's attempt at looking at the political life of President John F. Kennedy's, before and during his time in the White House. It details the differences in what the spin is and the private life that is described as being close to Hugh Hefner's. We also get a very detailed and for me, somewhat...
Published on April 14, 2002 by John G. Hilliard

versus
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overall, a valuable character study:
I enjoyed this biography - which is more a character study than a strict biography - for several reasons. Although it is an examination of JFK's entire life, it focuses most intensely on the JFK presidency and the moral choices and decisions made (and not made, and why) during his time in office.

I admire A QUESTION OF CHARACTER because it is NOT a gossipy,...
Published on January 19, 2010 by SusieQ


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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Amount of Detail, April 14, 2002
By 
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
The title of the book says it all, A Question of Character. This is one author's attempt at looking at the political life of President John F. Kennedy's, before and during his time in the White House. It details the differences in what the spin is and the private life that is described as being close to Hugh Hefner's. We also get a very detailed and for me, somewhat troubling, view of the constant controls his father, Joe Kennedy's had of JFK throughout his career. Not that comforting given the somewhat dubious reputation of Joe.
The author came close to a Kitty Kelly sex scandal tell all, but did not completely let himself drop that low. I thought the author was almost sad to be telling me, the reader, some of the less then faltering truths here. Almost if he was a firm believer in Camelot and this book and research pained him. Overall this is a well-written book that has some interesting conclusions. The author could have spent more time on the domestic policies and international issues that faced JFK to make the account better rounded. I do not think it is the one-volume definitive story of JFK, but it is a very good start.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overall, a valuable character study:, January 19, 2010
By 
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
I enjoyed this biography - which is more a character study than a strict biography - for several reasons. Although it is an examination of JFK's entire life, it focuses most intensely on the JFK presidency and the moral choices and decisions made (and not made, and why) during his time in office.

I admire A QUESTION OF CHARACTER because it is NOT a gossipy, lowbrow, poorly researched, just-a-character-annihilation of John F. Kennedy. Rather, the author simply uncovers the inner flaws that were most definitely a part of this individual; how they affected his life and his presidency; who fostered them during JFK's youth (for one, his father, Joe Sr., has much to answer for), and how these flaws (a love of secrecy and intrigue, for two) became "set" and would damage his Presidency.

I didn't get a sense that Reeves despised JFK and was writing this to do a hatchet job on his character. In fact, Reeves's opening chapter admits that he was a part of the younger generation that admired and indeed, practically revered Kennedy and the "New Frontier" and welcomed JFK's youth, vibrancy and seemingly forward-looking politics, and the breath-of-fresh-air persona that JFK had at his inauguration. These emotions didn't just disappear, and JFK's assassination probably reinforced them. It was the steady drumbeat of revelations about JFK's personal AND political life, that came out after 1975, that wore down the author's emotional outlook on JFK and allowed him to undertake the examination of the man, warts and all, that this book discloses.

It is not a perfect book by any means. There are a few clumsy errors, such as the author being off by one year on the date of Kathleen Kennedy's death, and stating that Ted Kennedy was named for Edward Gallagher when in fact he was named for Joe Sr.'s friend, Edward Moore. Also, I think Reeves made a mistake by investing so much time in his discussion of Marilyn Monroe's connection with JFK/RFK, and in the use of specious sources (Robert Saltzer & Jeanne Carmen? Ugh.) he consulted about Monroe's life and death. Reeves doesn't engage in in-depth discussion of Kennedy's health issues (although he acknowledges the Addison's Disease and JFK's reliance on cortisone), which had significant bearing on his executive abilities. (I believe when the book was originally published, in 1991, not so much was known about Kennedy's well-concealed, fairly poor health.) But when the book reflects on Kennedy family relationships, and discusses JFK's foreign policy decisions and the circumstances surrounding his approval of paramilitary operations in Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, the author is on solid ground.

As Americans, and as readers of history, we would probably not have been so disillusioned by the moral lapses or "revelations" about JFK, such as those discussed by Mr. Reeves, if the Kennedy Family had not so stringently prevented reality from penetrating their fictions for so many years. (The family continues to do so with their strictly regulated release of papers kept at the Kennedy Library.) JFK was brutally, publicly assassinated, but that fact alone should not permit the Kennedy family to prevent the American public from examining his papers and learning everything, good AND bad, that there is to know about his character.

I can only congratulate authors and historians who let daylight in on this political family and others, and who do this in an honest, disciplined, and (generally) well-sourced fashion as Mr. Reeves did.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Character Does Count, November 10, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
To those who want to get past the hype and drivel, Reeve's well written and researched book makes a convincing case that yes, character does matter. The argument that John Kennedy was a great, but flawed, leader is shown by Reeves to be erroneous. The seeds of the Bay of Pigs disaster was sown in Kennedy's youth. PT-109, interestingly, was the first and only PT boat ever rammed by an enemy destroyer. Not on a foggy night with the men topside, but in clear weather and daylight, with Kennedy and his men below decks sleeping and swapping war stories.
"My story about the collision is getting better all the time," Kennedy told a friend after launching his political career. "Now I've got a Jew and a Nigg-- in the story and with me being a Catholic, that's great."
Kennedy's bringing the U.S. to the brink of war was typical of the disasters he'd made in his personal and military life. The real reason the Soviets put missiles in Cuba was because of U.S. missiles in Turkey. School children are seldom taught that the U.S. had to withdraw its nukes from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets "backing down" in the Western Hemisphere.
From the Kennedys' dealings with the mob to the wiretaps of Martin Luther King, Jr., the fact that Kennedy could not remain faithful in a marital relationship is hardly a dichotomy in leadership.
So yes, Virginia, character does count. Now and in the latter part of the 1990s. Those who say it doesn't are probably also lacking in this area.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No hero worship, but not a chop-job either, April 19, 2003
By 
chefdevergue (Spokane, WA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
As he cuts through the myths of Camelot, Thomas Reeves could have been content with dragging the name of JFK through the mud. That certainly would have been easy enough to do; all the affairs, the dubious origin of the family fortune, the murky ties with organized crime...it all has the makings of a wonderful chop-job, a character assassination.
However, Reeves rises above this. He acknowledges that good morals do not necessarily make for a good president, and that an effective president does not always have a scandal-free private life. This book was written before the Clinton presidency, which would have made for an interesting comparison.
Reeves is not content to throw one prurient revelation after another at the reader; that is Kitty Kelly's job. He is interested in good history. How did these moral defects apply to the man's ability to be an effective president, and how did the president's effectiveness have an impact on the course of our nation's history?
Reeves believes that important theme here isn't the questionable behavior in and of itself, but the fact that Kennedy's lack of any real commitment to anything but the acquisition and wielding of power ultimately made him an overall weak president. Despite Democratic control of Congress, Kennedy could get barely 25% of his legislation passed in Congress in 1962-63. Members of Congress had little regard for the man as a leader, and his luke-warm commitment on various issues did little to induce the Congress to act on his legislation. Compare that with LBJ, whose legislative success rate and mastery of Congress between 1963 and 1966 stands in stark contrast.
Reeves does observe that JFK was beginning to grow into the office by the time of his death, but stops short of predicting a glorious Kennedy legacy had the man lived. It was far from a given that JFK could have won re-election in 1964, and Reeves knows this.
Overall, this is an excellent example of a measured, critical biography that contributes to the scholarly dialogue, rather than simply being a "tell-all" book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read, March 3, 2011
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
The author presents a more insightful view of Kennedy without digging to much on spicy and sensational revelations Kitty Kelly style. He describes Kennedy as a lackadaisical senator, more interested on womanizing than on doing his job and without denying his merit for his 1960 election, the author underlines Kennedy's tendency for lying and portraying a public image that - in many aspects - was the opposite of what he was,summing with his good looks and the powerful influence of his father as the main reasons for his victory.
He blames Kennedy for the Bay Of Pigs fiasco as result of his ineptitude to deal with military affairs .Also describes Kennedy more hawkish in handling the Cuban missile crises of 1962 than was supposed to be,initially supporting a military invasion of the island and also describes the result as a draw between the two superpowers, perhaps more in favor of the soviets who saw the Jupiter missiles withdrawn from Turkey.
Kennedy's great intellectual skills are also dismissed.His main interest was philandering (where he used to spend much time to the detriment of governance) and his conversations were vulgar, eager for salacious gossip, petty and full of profane language.The author also describes Kennedy's behavior with women(one of them connected with the mob)completely irresponsible that jeopardized the security of his country making him the perfect target for blackmail.He also adds that his behavior would probably come to be revealed on a second term making it a scandal with consequences like Watergate. Kennedy's support of CIA's covert operations in Sud est Asia , the increasing of military advisers in the region are also described as the main cause of the war in Vietnam . Well, it's a great and fascinating read, well written, by a good author.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I have to laugh..., August 28, 2012
By 
Doberman (Brown Deer, WI USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
..at the negative reviews for this book. I get the sense that many of them just don't wish to believe the type of man that JFK really was.

The author of this book was a professor of mine when I was in college. I remember him as a breath of fresh air as he wasn't afraid to challenge conventional historical thinking. That's what a historian is supposed to do--don't accept what the "official" view of what a historical person or event was but do the research and find out what the truth was no matter where it leads you. Most of the JFK biographies written at the time were by JFK cronies and insiders, hardly the type you'd expect to write a truthful and unbiased account. At the time I was in college, he was researching for this book so I was able to get more insite into stuff that didn't make it into the book. It might surprise many of you with negative reviews that Professor Reeves was once a Kennedy supporter. Like many Americans, he believed the "Camelot" myth. I suspect becoming a historian made him challenge the myth and accept what the facts were even if it tarnished one of his heros. No, I don't remember Professor Thomas Reeves as a "right wing nut" but a moderate who believed in letting true history speak for itself (Mr. Reeves has even written books on the true nature of McCarthyism--go check them out if you think he's biased).

This biography is entitled "A Question of Character" for good reason. Mr. Reeves questions how could a man so revered as the perfect President really be that "saintly?" When you learn about JFKs background, especially his dad and his upbringing, you understand that the answer to that question is no. I would say the Kennedy Presidenacy was the beginning of the modern political spin that we, sadly, still have with us today.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, August 26, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
This book is riveting, and very well written. It is not a sensationalistic book per se. Rather, I would counter that anything about Kennedy's life is, at this point, sensational by definition; there will always be hordes of JFK defenders and critics. This book is intelligent and, to this reader, balanced. As a Canadian, perhaps I have a more objective, less emotional reaction to the book than readers south of the border, but we loved JFK too, and still do...to a point. After reading this tome, my general feelings of respect for the man remain largely unchanged, although one chapter in particular was very sad, quite sordid and totally believable.
I disagree with the reader who claims the author failed to mention any positive achievements of the 35th President. I distinctly remember credit given in many instances, and that is precisely what gives this fine book its balanced view. This is not slanderous typing, it's intelligent investigative journalism. (It's not Seymour Hersch.) This book will outlast them all; I highly recommend it.
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15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Demystifying Camelot, September 18, 2001
By 
Don (Cincinnati, OH USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
Reeves provides a probing analysis of the Kennedy presidency that challenges the warm and fuzzy imagery often associated with "Camelot." Reeves, an academic historian, has written a serious book that may turn off some casual readers. Yet this is the best analysis of John F. Kennedy's character and leadership style.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a tarnished JFK, October 9, 2011
By 
Latewood (Portland, Oregon) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (Paperback)
It was a relief to read a thoroughly-researched book about JFK that wasn't about deifying him. I was an adolescent when JFK was assassinated. In the years following that tragedy I was often uncomfortable with the adulation that attended his memory, especially when it seemed that he didn't accomplish all that much. It was annoyingly clear to me that the press was in love with the guy, as they were with his wife. He was indeed "telegenic" and his wife was glamorous. People just loved that image; however, what they voted for was largely that image. It was sickening to find out that the Pulitzer Prize-winning book he "wrote" was not entirely his work. It seems that his obsession with extra-marital sex was just out of control; he was reckless. I don't expect the president to be a choir boy but a highly-placed politician should also have high-level skill in maintaining discretion and in maintaining self-control. The account of the Kennedy history was helpful. I didn't know about Joe Kennedy's domineering, manipulative, win-at-any-cost approach to life and his training his children to act the same way. The author also reveals just how ill JFK was, and his on-going battle with Addison's disease. JFK suffered a great deal of chronic physical pain, which I was not aware of. I had to shake my head in wonder and disbelief at how JFK's wartime exploits were distorted and spun to turn him into a hero, when the truth is more likely he screwed up as a PT boat commander and just about got everyone killed. The corrupting influence of wealth is clearly detailed in this book. JFK's father Joe would stop at nothing to promote his children's political futures. It's worthwhile reading and I wish it were required reading at the high school level. Hopefully it would prompt some serious thinking and healthy debate at how politicians are "sold". Skepticism can't start too early.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Still Relavant After All These Years, March 4, 2014
By page 89 this reviewer was ready to write the book off as a “hit piece”, more sordid and lacking objectivity than Lasky’s “Man and the Myth” which was read years ago. Lasky’s work was logical, well argued and supported by evidence. This seemed to be gossip, rumor and innuendo.

However, this book is a valuable work, not only for its insight into JFK’s life and times but a warning for the future against a “love affair largely with images” as represented by politicians.

It is a history of the Kennedy Clan and father Joseph P. Kennedy’s desire for a Kennedy political dynasty, focusing first on eldest son, JPK, Jr. and then on JFK. JFK was largely, if not totally, under his domineering father’s personality and control of his political fortunes until the elder patriarch suffered a debilitating stroke in December 1961.

This work revises the “Camelot” image portrayed by the lap dog media since the Thousand Days, laying bare many of the Kennedy myths of perfect families, political values and courageous championing of civil rights.

For those of us who lived through these times, our memories will be refreshed by behind-the-scenes testimony of the Bay of Pigs, Berlin Crisis, Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam struggles. For those who didn’t, it should be required reading.

The Kennedy libido, is well documented over the past 30 years by other sources. However, as the author points out, “A Saint Francis is highly unlikely to reach the White House”.

The thesis of the book, Kennedy’s character shows he was more pragmatic than principled; and while showing courage and prudence during his tenure, sorely lacked integrity, compassion and temperance. These are all vital ingredients which make up personal character.

What makes this book relevant, JFK interest or not, is that character and conduct are fatally linked and Americans need presidents with great character, with true values. In the words of Harry Truman, the president must be a moral leader and responsible to the American public in all areas.

The current political coin being minted, on both sides, seems to be guided by the expediency of the moment, unlike HST; and this reviewer believes JFK as well. We stood on the literal precipice of nuclear war during JFK’s presidency and it never happened.

This reviewer remembers the time, “duck and cover” of the Cold War, and has come to regard Kennedy as a great president, irregardless of his moral fragilities.

As Kissenger said, so many years ago, “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” and, if I remember , Kennedy was president, not Pope.

###
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A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy
A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy by Thomas C. Reeves (Paperback - December 10, 1997)
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