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The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys : An American Saga Paperback – November 15, 1991


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Four years ago ABC-TV bought this book for a 10-part miniseries. No wonder. This may be the ultimate family saga, the stuff of which producers' dreams are made. Beginning with the baptism of John Francis Fitzgerald (Rose's father) in 1863 and ending with a stirring account of JFK's inauguration in 1961, the story sweeps from the immigrant ghetto of Boston's North End to Camelot and takes in just about everything along the way: the rowdy heyday of "last hurrah" ward politics (in some ways, the best part of the book); Wall Street speculation in the 1920s; Hollywood and Joe's affair with Gloria Swanson; the New Deal; London society on the brink of war; the tragic loss of Joe Jr., the golden favored son; the exhausting political campaigns that finally catapulted an entire family to the pinnacle of international celebrity. With material like this, any writer would be tempted toward melodrama. Goodwin (Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream avoids this pitfall admirably, tones down the technicolor and serves up the wealth of incident with a pacing that doesn't let the reader's interest flag. She has made this more-than-twice-told tale fresh. Drawing on previously unavailable papersincluding Joe Kennedy's unpublished autobiographyshe makes the family, with all its contradictory interplay and immutable bonds, the focus of her story, and the result is personal and fascinating. No muckraking or scandalmongering here. This is an evenhanded, usually sympathetic treatment with very few skeletons poking out of the closet. Joe Sr., so often vilified, emerges as the most complex figure in the dynasty and the true driving force of the family. Rose, on the other hand, is aloof and rigid, displaying a piety that non-Catholic readers may see as fanaticism (even as her son was proclaiming his secularism to the electorate, Rose was consulting a priest about removing Hugo's Les Miserables from her personalthe local, or her personal? library). One shocker: Joe ordered a lobotomy performed on retarded daughter Rosemary without telling Rose. The operation failed, and Rosemary was sent to an institution. Rose only learned the truth 20 years later, when she finally went to visit her daughter. Given the tragic family events that were to follow, one almost wishes Goodwin hadn't stopped in 1961, but her story is really about the triumph of the immigrant experience in America; and the inauguration, with JFK tipping his top hat to his proud father, certainly makes a dramaticok? finish. Unless the reading public's interest in the Kennedy clan has waned, this should be an immensely popular book. Photos not seen by PW. Literary Guild main selection.
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Opening with the 1863 baptism of John F. Fitzgerald, and closing with his grandson's presidential inaugural a century later, this is the richest history yet of two much-chronicled families. Unprecedented access to papers and persons has allowed Goodwin ( Lyndon Johnson and the A mer i can Dream ) to present fresh material throughout, including an especially full treatment of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy. Essentially sympathetic, but above all balanced, her book measures the "moral lapse" dwelt upon by otherssuch as Peter Collier and David Horowitz in The Kennedys ( LJ 9/15/84)alongside epic tragedy and success. In becoming president John Kennedy forged himself from the ambition of his father and the piety of his mother, and drew upon the lives portrayed here across three generations in milieus ranging from the wards of Irish Boston to royal London, to Hollywood, to Washington. An essential purchase. Literary Guild main selection. Robert F. Nardini, M.L.S., Chichester, N.H.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 932 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 15, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312063547
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312063542
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #619,655 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Doris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize in history for No Ordinary Time, which was a bestseller in hardcover and trade paper. She is also the author of Wait Till Next Year, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys, and Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She lives in Concord, Massachusetts, with her husband, Richard Goodwin.

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Customer Reviews

Is there really a better historical writer than Doris Kearns Goodwin.
J. Porter
She researches her subject fully and conveys her studies in the clearest language while giving the reader a feeling of immediacy in the events.
Thomas C.
What I will say is there are 2 reasons I found this book to be a stellar read.
Rapid Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
Given that the Kennedy family history has been chronicled by hundreds of writers over the years, I was somewhat surprised to find this text remarkably unbiased. Although it was evident that the author had a tremendous respect and admiration for Rose (Fitzgerald) Kennedy, and an equally strong distaste for Joseph Kennedy, the book provided an excellent biographical history of the two families that combined to shape America's most enduring dynasty. The text was well researched, and comprehensive without being tedious to read. Ms. Goodwin's book should be required reading for every high school or college course in twentieth century American history.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book is a MUST HAVE for anyone fascinated by the Kennedy family saga. This was the most illuminating account of the family that I had ever read. Doris Kearns Goodwin, in telling the Kennedy and Fitzgerald story, gives a voice to the Boston Irish and immigrants struggling to survive and make their names. Ms. Goodwin is my favorite author; I recommend all of her work.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
American popular history at its best in this history of both sides of the Kennedy family (Rose Kennedy was the daughter of Mayor John Fitzgerald of Boston) beginning in late 19th century tenement poverty in Boston and ending, 800+ pages later, at the inauguration of JFK as President. Countless things here I did not fully know. The book is quite capable of being critical of certain aspects of both families, but its overall impact is to leave one even more amazed by the accomplishments and tragedies of the Kennedy family.
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41 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Crawford on April 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
OK, so much negative stuff has been written about the Kennedys that this somehwat romanticized perspective could be viewed as a welcome balance. Though it smacks of Horatio Alger at times, it is indeed interesting and fun and stimulates interest to dig deeper. THe best parts of this book are the history of the US.
Unfortunately, when you do dig deeper than she did, what you find is not very pretty: a genius in business, Joe Kennedy was a tough SOB who would fleece anyone to get richer. Even Kearns has to mention, for example, that he ripped off investors when he got out of Hollywood - ruining many poor people who believed in him - and that his father, a local banker and businessman, burned his account books when he died so that his son would not pursue small debtors he wanted to help out. The Kennedy kids were thrust into power as instruments of his ambition, and it cost many of them their lives, as we know. There was a lot of good in them, but they were bred to become powerful, and what they represented in politics had less to do with conviction than as a means of ascent.
I learned a great deal from this book, so recommend it. But it is also sentimental and ignores too much evidence that contradicts her fawning vision of this elite family of voracious appetites. I suspect the Kennedys recognized Kearns' predilection for nice people and charmed her into willing submission. Afterall, they are true pols, so they used her.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By cb on March 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
As one would expect with Doris Kearns Goodwin, this is a well researched, well written book that is a wonderful read. I would normally give such a book five stars. However, the pace of the book prevents me from giving it all five stars. Certain sections of the book, especially the beginning sections on the Fitzgeralds and Joe Kennedy's Hollywood ventures, are covered in excruciating detail, and this additional attention adds little to the overall experience of the book. Such an examination would be tolerable if the sections on the Kennedy's family life were not short changed. This book does a wonderful job of covering Jack's campaigns, but the rest of the family is hardly mentioned during this period. A few paragraphs on the younger children are thrown in once in a while, but the reader is not provided with the same detail that accompanied previous sections. This is likely the unfortunate result of ending the book on the inauguration of JFK.

Overall, the book gives a relatively fair treatment to the family. Joe Kennedy might be given the benefit of the doubt in a few instances where he does not deserve it, but this does not detract from the book considering the rest of the family's relatively sound morality. Considering the scope of the book, I would highly recommend this work as an introduction to another book focusing more on the Kennedy administration or other family members. One would hope that with the death of Ted Kennedy, Ms. Goodwin might revisit this work and update it to include the totality of the accomplishments of the Kennedy family through that generation.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jill Clardy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
I was thoroughly enthralled, gripped and engaged in this story of three generations of the Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. The story begins in 1863 with the baptism of John Francis Fitzgerald in Boston and concludes almost 100 years later with the inauguration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The families' roots are traced back to the great immigration following the Irish potato famine in the 1840's. From immigration to becoming the American royal family in just three generations is a remarkable achievement that is chronicled in fascinating detail in this comprehensive, definitive narrative.

Even though it is more than 800 pages, the book is not a dry history text, but rather an intriguing glimpse into the lives of the charmed and sometimes tragic lives of this huge Irish Catholic clan. Nothing is omitted, from the affairs of Joseph Kennedy, to the flirtations of Kathleen, the appalling lobotomy of Rosemary, and the sexual antics of John F. Kennedy. The political shenanigans of the elder Fitzgerald provide an interesting examination of Boston politics in the early 1900's...rife with graft and insider manipulation.

The author's writing style is rich, powerful and mesmerizing. For instance, to describe the ascent of JFK into the limelight of American politics, she writes: "For his capacity to arouse the questing imagination of his fellow citizens, and of much of the world beyond America's borders, was to elevate the family saga past the borders of mythology. By the beginning of the fifties he already contained all the elements which his leadership was to be compounded, forged in tumultuous experience, anchored and given direction by his often resented but always unbreakable links to his extraordinary family."

The level of detail and insightful analysis into the complex characters and relationships in the family is well worth your investment of time in reading this tome. A book you won't soon forget.
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