Premature Evaluation, pt 2 (Grace and Power)

What to do when you haven’t finished a book but find yourself with something to say about it?

Convention dictates that one should finish a book before reviewing it (although I have my doubts about any number of published reviews), but on the other hand, I’m not trying to sell a review of Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, by Sally Bedell Smith. So out with the convention, in with the thoughts.

Isn’t it neat to read a book of history and biography that nearly dispenses with the politics and the policy? It really is all about the private world, and the political only occasionally intrudes to give a frame of reference, or to explain why Jackie and her sister Lee went off to India. (Because they had promised Nehru that they would. Only Jackie didn’t really want to, was pouty about it for a while, but eventually went and charmed both Nehru and Indira, had a grand time and totally helped out US-India relations.)

There’s quite a bit about who did what with whom, which is tasty, because the whos and the whoms were doing a lot with each other. On the other hand, it’s neither scandalmongering nor salacious. There’s a reason the Camelot legend has stuck: the Kennedys really were glamourous, they really were smart and rich and stylish, they really were quite a break from the Eisenhower years. And at the end of JFK’s first year in office, his approval ratings were still around 75 percent. But there I go, letting the political back in.

The book is about the people, their traits, their foibles and their experiences. What did JFK and Macmillan talk about in private? Who danced the twist when it was introduced to the White House? How did Jackie handle the press, and the pressure?

If there were only one book on JFK’s presidency, this one would be inadequate. But there are thousands, and this one fills a unique niche. I’m glad I’m reading it, even though I’m still only half-way through.

And boy does this portrait of smart, energetic people make me think GWB is the anti-JFK.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

3 thoughts on “Premature Evaluation, pt 2 (Grace and Power)

  1. It sounds like another piece of Kennedy hagiography. If you want to read a more realistic and honest account, I’d suggest Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot.” An amazing story of one of the most corrupt and incompetent presidents in US history. Quite a revelation. Lots of documented details about how he stole the 1960 election with his daddy’s money, repeatedly attempted to assassinate Castro, launched not one but two preemptive wars (Cuba and Vietnam) within his first six months in office, both based on deliberately falsified intelligence, repeatedly lied to his wife, staff and the nation, took drugs constantly, drank like a fish, invited prostitutes into the White House daily, and lots more. Not a good person in any way.

  2. Hitchens is worth reading too.
    Interesting that someone who thrilled at Bush’s second inaugural should find Kennedy’s Ask not speech “bombastic, menacing”. At this point in his travels Hitchens was apparently “a professor of Liberal Studies”, so perhaps that explains it. Kennedy – like Clinton – sold out the left, you understand.

    Camelot kitsch has dated badly – it’s one of the reasons I loathe The West Wing. But place Kennedy alongside Bush Jr (imagine for a moment Bush handling the Cuban missile crisis). While in due course you run out of things to dislike about Kennedy, Bush just keeps on giving. All of JFK’s failings and far more are present in Bush, to a far grosser degree.
    Apart of course from sex, which matters most of all to some people.

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