Saturday, November 30, 2013

Guest review: Sabato's 'Kennedy' is 5 star

Here's the first of hopefully many book reviews by friend/coworker Wes. He's rumored to live in Sturgis, but spends most of his time at Books-A-Million in Rapid City, and is an avid reader of all things politic.

By Wesley Roth

Months ago, I learned Larry Sabato, who is a University of Virginia professor and director of their Center for Politics, completed his book on John F. Kennedy. He shared in his weekly newsletter that he had just finished five years of research and penned his magnum opus, entitled The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy. Immediately, I placed the book on my Amazon Wish List, and it was set for a fall release, timed with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

This is a very-well written book, which weaves Kennedy's personal life into his political rise in politics from Congressman to Senator. It reads like a novel, with the author's personal recollections sprinkled throughout the chapters.  The author provides lots of details about the Kennedy clan and how everything revolved around politics. The book is not a hagiography, as Sabato does provide details on Kennedy's "extra curricular activities" that the press turned a blind eye to. It is pretty incredible how fast Kennedy's stock rose in the Democrat Party, to almost winning the nomination at the 1956 convention! The book then turns to Kennedy's pursuit of the 1960 nomination, which he of course locked up handily, and later defeated Richard Nixon.

The book then carries the reader through the 1960 presidential general election and victory by Kennedy and his days in the White House. Critical analysis is given to Kennedy's priorities as the 35th president. Readers will learn that civil rights was not an issue he wanted to spend his political capital on, and he and brother Robert Kennedy were later forced to address the issue. Equal time is given to Kennedy's domestic agenda at home and his difficulties abroad with the Soviets and Cubans.

Midway through, you are confronted with The Assassination along with "Questions, Answers, Mysteries" and "Rounding up the Usual Suspects". This section of the book will be of most interest to those dedicated to learning what exactly happened on November 22, 1963.  But as Jerry Dealey, a lifelong assassination researcher and descendant of Dealey Plaza's namesake, warns: "I know everything about the assassination, except what really happened."

Sabato then takes the reader through the last half century of presidential administrations (see related infographic).  He starts with LBJ, who Sabato claims was a "pretender to the throne" and never got out of Kennedy's immense shadow. You learn how the Kennedy family and the Carter families were today's "Hatfields and McCoys".  You also learn that it was Republican Ronald Reagan, who invoked Kennedy's ideals and aspirations consistently in his speeches and addresses to Congress to advance his agenda. But it was Bill Clinton who "grabbed Kennedy's torch" and ran with it. Fans of presidential history will find Sabato's research and storytelling on presidents Johnson through Obama valuable scholarship and interesting. The book concludes with an essay on "The Flame Eternal" and Kennedy's enduring legacy on our country (and the world) along with the presidents that followed.

I can’t recommend this book enough. The "Kennedy Half Century" will appeal to anyone who loves presidential history and politics. Having never read a full history book on Kennedy, this was a great first addition in my Kennedy section in my library. For me, the chapters on the assassination were too much "in the weeds", and I found myself skipping sections of the chapters. But Sabato's in-depth research (150 pages of Notes) and masterful writing about Kennedy and his continuing impact on our county, earns a 5 star rating in my opinion.

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