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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Camelot" re-revealed magnificently..., July 4, 2004
This review is from: Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House (Hardcover)
The essence of "Camelot" wasn't necessarily the inspiring leadership of John Kennedy (although this certainly doesn't hurt the Camelot mystique) or the seemingly serene picture of the youngest elected President and his equally youthful wife, rather it was a culture, indeed an attitude or mystique that many historians have tried to capture with heretofore moderate to little success. In this light, Sally Bedell Smith has presented her attempt at synthesizing the mystique with the well documented history of JFK's administration and has succeeded fabulously with "Grace and Power".
The perspective that Smith presents is one that many historians have missed...in a day when JFK administration books abound, Smith gives us a whole new view into the Kennedy family. Right from the beginning of this work, we delve into the personal and behavorial side of both the new President and his First Lady and see how they are in turn affected by the avalanche of the media and policy machine. JFK's full medical history (recently made public in Robert Dallek's magnificent work "An Unfinished Life") is further explained by Smith with many new nuances and she describes how these many maladies not only affected his work as President, but his family life as well. Indeed, we see JFK's covert doctor (Max Jacobson..."Dr. Feelgod") administering to Jackie as well (during periods of stress or depression) and it's this level of new information, presented not in a tawdry gossipy style, but in fair and elegant prose, that really made this work hard for me to put down. JFK's dalliances with many other women comes to be a main theme at the beginning of the story and we see how Jackie's attitude of benign acceptance at this behavior is formed over time in the White House. At the same time, Smith suceeds in presenting JFK as a loving Father and husband...further enhancing this mysterious component of JFK's behavior.
The social scene at the JFK White House is comprehensively descibed...at times offering a counter-balance with what is happening in the world and I thought this added a fullness to the Kennedy story that is usually missing from many otherwise excellent JFK works. For example we see the dinners and the guests who attended them given equal importance in the book while the emotion and stress of the Cuban Missile Crisis is distracting the President. How JFK reacts at these events (i.e. away from "work") is a fascinating new look at the Crisis and Administration as a whole and is this new information that I mentioned that should be the selling point for this work. Closing out the book, Smith eloquently descibes the before and after affects of the assasination on all the participants (old girlfriends as well as close family friends) and tries to philosophize on what the tragedy meant to each.
Historians may argue that the level of scholarship pertaining to Presidential history is lacking (although, I thought Smith did an admirable job describing the events that she did cover), but clearly the focus of this work was not a historical narrative but a genuine social/historical synthesis.
Supported by many new interviews and research, Sally Bedell Smith has added immensly to the monumental amount of literature surrounding the JFK administration and given us a unique perspective that should be used by all as an emotional target for that magnificent and tragic time. A fairly quick read (about 470 pages of readable text) and lively written, I would recommend this book very highly.
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