(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Should it be judged an exercise in sleaze for this latest Kennedy biography to dwell incessantly on salacious matters? Not so if the word sleaze is understood to mean flimsy or unsubstantial. Given the thirty-fifth president’s lifelong obsession with sexual conquest, it would have been negligent not to have examined JFK’s treatment of women in the context of his upbringing within what biographer Nigel Hamilton portrays as a dysfunctional family headed by an overbearing, philandering father and a cold, withdrawn mother.

Incorporating scatological letters from young Jack to Choate classmate Lem Billings, with whom he lost his virginity to the same Harlem prostitute, Hamilton makes extensive use of confidential FBI files, including excerpts from bugged hotel-room conversations between Kennedy and his wartime lover, Inga Marie Arvad, a suspected Nazi spy (in J. Edgar Hoover’s warped mind, at least). The book contains few revelations not covered more gracefully in Herbert S. Parmet’s JACK: THE STRUGGLES OF JOHN F. KENNEDY (1980) or Doris Kearns Goodwin’s THE FITZGERALDS AND THE KENNEDYS (1987). Nonetheless, it is an oddly flattering portrait of a terribly sickly, intellectually curious, legitimate war hero who had developed an ambition for high office even prior to what Hamilton tastelessly refers to as the suicidally competitive death mission of his oldest brother. As early as his maiden 1946 election to Congress, JFK’s charisma and shrewd political instincts were on display.

Sources for Further Study

American Heritage. XLIII, December, 1992, p. 12.

Boston Globe. October 7, 1992, p. 73.

Chicago Tribune. November 29, 1992, XIV, p. 6.

The Christian Science Monitor. December 15, 1992, p. 15.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 22, 1992, p. 1.

The Nation. CCLV, December 28, 1992, p. 813.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, November 22, 1992, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, October 5, 1992, p. 58.

Time. CXL, November 30, 1992, p. 74.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, November 15, 1992, p. 5.