The Kennedy Men, 1901-1963

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

For those who cannot get enough information about twentieth century America's most famous family, this blockbuster will be a treat. Not as original as the author's The Kennedy Women (1996) nor as controversial as Nigel Hamilton's JFK: Reckless Youth (1992), it is less ambitious but more trustworthy than Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (1987)--an object of plagiarism charges. Concentrating on Joseph P. Kennedy and his four sons (Joe, Jr., John, Robert, and Edward), The Kennedy Men focuses on high political ambitions and unseemly compulsions for physical gratification. The patriarch's decision to have his mildly retarded daughter Rosemary lobotomized was a defining event in tearing the family apart emotionally. Papa Joe comes through as a scoundrel and rake, instilling in his sons an ethic of machismo that proved deadly for his first son and left his sickly second-born in lifelong pain from a gridiron injury.

President Kennedy comes off as sturdy at the helm while on-duty but sex obsessed after hours (his White House mistresses numbered in the hundreds, including some with mob connections) and dependent upon injections of speed and steroids to keep up appearances of virility. Most interesting is the portrait of zealous, pugnacious Attorney-General Bobby Kennedy, whose willingness to approve FBI surveillance of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., was an abuse of executive power. Furthermore, his wars of revenge against Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa and Cuban leader Fidel Castro set dangerous precedents.

Full of juicy and alarming gossip but at times scholarly and judicious, The Kennedy Men is recommended for the general public.