The Kennedys Amidst the Gathering Storm: A Thousand Days in London, 1938-1940 Hardcover – April 29, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
- Publisher : Smithsonian; First edition (April 29, 2008)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0061173568
- ISBN-13 : 978-0061173561
- Item Weight : 1.65 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.25 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,454,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Avoiding another worldwide conflagration was a noble cause, especially in light of the millions of lives lost and maimed in World War One, which achieved NONE of its supposed goals ("To make the world safe for democracy");
Read Pat Buchanan's "The Unnecessary War" for a different view on WWII.
Not so minor errors: The author refers to Kathleen as one of the third eldest of the Kennedy children. Rosemary was the third born and first daughter, not Kathleen. He also fails to mention Chappaquiddick when discussing Teddy's failed 1980 presidential run, a glaring omission to say the least.
So, I was getting bored...thinking, well, get on with it ! As the book went on it got a lot more interesting. Hence my wavering between 3 or 4 stars.
What was interesting was that as much as he was going to re paint the image of Joe Kennedy,sr. he actually simply reinforced the current image. So, there wasn't a lot of debunking, but it was an interesting book.
I learned a lot about the Kennedy family's time in England (1938-1940). Joe sr. WAS a difficult man, but FDR was his boss. And FDR was an equally difficult, demanding boss. FDR didn't always share his policy and thoughts with Joe sr. so it would be hard to represent your country in a knowledge vacuum.
So, I enjoyed it. I wouldn't spend a lot of money on it. I got it as a daily deal I think. So, for the amount I paid, it was worth a read.
Not to mention seeing Rosemary, the tragic one, attend elegant high society dances in London with her sisters, without any serious problems, and function well as an arts and crafts teacher in England, totally lose it when she returned to the US, causing Joe, Sr., to agree to a lobotomy, which turned her into a vegetable. And mother Rose, who probably spent as much money on fancy French couture as Joe did on his mistresses.
The book also contains lots of wonderful cameos, from King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, to their daughter, the current Queen, to the Lindberghs,
who, with their own rarified brand of politicial naivete, were about to move permanently to Nazi Germany when the war began (!), to Jack's wonderful gay best friend, Lem Billings, and the gay American Ambassador in Paris, Wlliam Bullitt, who lived openly with his partner.
One persistent theme of the book is to criticize FDR's failure to explain his foreign policy to Joe Kennedy. This criticism is, I believe, misplaced. Joe Kennedy knew next to nothing about foreign policy when he asked for the job as the first American Irish Ambassador to the King, and less when he was forced to quit. FDR rightly did not trust Kennedy, and wanted Kennedy out of the country during the 1940 Presidential election. Joe, Sr., lacked the political sophistication to understand his role, or to adjust to FDR's policies and changing public opinion in the US, which moved towards supporting intervention before Pearl Harbor left people with no other option than to fight. FDR could not have clarified his foreign policy to Kennedy because FDR was hiding his own interventionist views from a public and a Congress (and a London Ambassador) who were stuck on neutrality and isolationism. Kennedy made the additional mistake of befriending Neville Chamberlain, a very small-minded and naive politician like himself, who made the near-fatal mistake of thinking Hitler would keep his promises. Kennedy and Chamberlain were two peas in a pod.
In addition, Joe, Sr., a successful businessman, made the mistake of thinking economics controlled the bloodthirsty ideologues of the Nazi regime.
Joe Sr's reward was to see his political career destroyed; he never held any political office after he left London.
On the other hand, Jack, Bobby, Ted, all of them far better politicians and strategists than their father, never made the mistake of hanging on to extreme positions, or giving disastrously candid interviews to reporters, such as Louis Lyons, who actually and courageously reported the crazy things Joe said after his return to the US. The cosmopolitanism and friends the family developed in England just before the war, however, proved a great benefit, especially to Jack. Without the Kennedys' experiences in England, could Camelot have existed?
The book is also full of witty stories and interesting analogies, such as the fact that FDR, like Obama, had trouble with the Irish Catholic working class voters of his day.
FDR achieved his goal of keeping Joe, Sr. out of the 1940 presidential campaign; at Rose Kennedy's urging, aided by some blarney from FDR, Joe even gave a nationwide radio address before the election endorsing FDR. The important job in the government which FDR, in a staged meeting at the White House, promised Kennedy, of course never materialized.
Joe's reward, as we all know, was an amazingly talented and fascinating family. Whatever his other faults, Joe seems to have been a genuinely good father, treating his children with respect, discussing issues at the dinner table and providing support when needed. When he was not around he wrote personalized letters to each of the children. Even the tragedies, such as Rosemary's problems, often had wonderful trajectories, such as the Special Olympics which Eunice and others developed following Rosemary's tragedy.
Perhaps it's my preconception of Kennedy from prior reading, but this bio seems to be a bit defensive of Kennedy. Most interesting to me was reading about young Jack, Bobby and Ted. To be honest, I never cared for their brand of ultra-liberal politics, but this book did fill in some gaps for me.