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Forty Ways to Look at JFK Hardcover – October 25, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Rubin's latest (after Forty Ways to Look at Churchill) is at times fresh and imaginative, but too often superficial. Attempting to find a unique angle of entrée to the enigma of the Kennedy mystique, Rubin breaks the legend down into 40 brief chapters, each a uniquely angled lens through which she examines his life, his achievements and failures, his friendships and betrayals, his courage and cowardice, his influences and motivations, the source and nature of his appeal or notoriety and why he remains a figure of such intense, conflicted passions. We learn that Kennedy "became the focus of an idealism that he—with his pragmatic view of the world—didn't share." The problem is that the categories feel arbitrary, and the reader—rather than having the 40 separate encounters cohere into a nuanced portrait—is too often subjected to familiar banalities: "Kennedy was the first president to realize photography's power"; "Kennedy won the trust of reporters, in part, by showing trust in them." When Rubin attempts to sink deeper into the source, she comes up empty-handed: "Jack Kennedy had a single quality that lifted him into triumph... he captured the interest and admiration of the public." 29 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The author of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill asks one simple question: What made Kennedy Kennedy? Everybody writes about the Kennedy phenomenon, but what is it exactly? Rather than churn out yet another JFK biography, searching desperately for a new angle, Rubin approaches the Kennedy story from a variety of tangential perspectives. She begins, for example, with two chapters that relate the same essential facts but with slightly different spins. In "Kennedy as Ideal Leader: A Positive Account," Rubin notes that Kennedy wrote Profiles in Courage, the book that won him the Pulitzer. In "Kennedy as Showy Opportunist: A Critical Account," she includes the fact that Drew Pearson claimed Kennedy wrote the book with professional help. This technique, which she uses in various ways throughout the book, allows us to see JFK from myriad angles. He was a brilliant, idealistic man; no, he was a dull-witted scoundrel. What is the truth about JFK? Rubin leaves that up to the reader to decide but not before offering a clever and thought-provoking scan of the alternatives. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
What affected me most about this book was that for all of his privilege, Kennedy had a feeling for the poor, and they felt it. The Civil Rights Movement was already in full gear, but he legitimized it with the power of the presidency. Years ago, when I was in the Bronx visiting my little brother's apartment (little as in the Big Brother Program), his mom had President Kennedy's picture on top of her ancient TV. I asked her why. She said that "He and his brother Bobby wanted better lives for all of us, they were the first whites to really stick up for us." Whether or not that was true it always fascinated me that there was a feeling like that out there about a man who grew up with so much privilege. Gretchen Rubin nailed it in her book as to why. I would rather not give you the reason in this review. Go out and buy the book and enjoy it as much as I did.
Gretchen, why 40 ways? It seems the perfect number of angles in your objective prism to examine a life. I look forward to your next subject.
Ms. Rubin does not shrink from discussing the salacious details of JFK's life, and presents both adverse and favorable qualities in fair perspective. She allows the reader to form their own opinions, but gently presents her own at the end. (Frankly, her view surprised me.)
Ms. Rubin's book once again presents a complex, contradictory life with extraordinary clarity. In total, the book is a fast, clear, sophisticated read that goes very quickly and leaves you with much to think about.