An Unfinished Life, John F. Kennedy (Robert Dallek)

[JFK]Thanks to my negligence in catching my flight back to the Bay Area, I was able to finish JFK’s biography. I’m certainly not going to make a habit of 700 page books, but I think this one was worth the effort. The writing and subject matter were excellent. I guess I’ve always been one of the people who thought that JFK got too much credit for just being a Kennedy. After reading this book, I was partly justified. His pre-presidential political career was nothing noteworthy. As president, he was somewhere between mediocre and poor on domestic issues, i.e. civil rights. In terms of foreign affairs, it seems like he essentially maintained the status quo, except for some progress on nuclear non-proliferation. So if the question is, “How much did the country improve over the period of his presidency?” the answer is going to be mildly positive. However, that’s really not the best way to evaluate. It’s unlikely that anyone could have much in terms of civil rights with half of his own party against him So while he could have been more bold on the divisive issue, he opted for smaller steps, and focused on foreign policy, a uniting issue. There were missteps, but his balance of pragmatism and idealism was a true masterpiece in a very dangerous environment. I say that he maintained the status quo, but it was a tough status quo. We could very easily have blown up the planet, so on that score, Kennedy deserves substantial credit.

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