Thursday, April 28, 2011

Five best books on the Kennedys

David Nasaw is Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at CUNY’s Graduate Center. His biography of William Randolph Hearst, The Chief, won the Bancroft Prize, and his acclaimed biography of Andrew Carnegie was shortlisted for the Pulitzer. He is currently working on a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy.

One book about the Kennedy family that Nasaw discussed with Emma Mustich at FiveBooks:
Conversations with Kennedy
by Benjamin C. Bradlee

...Let’s move on to Ben Bradlee’s book, Conversations with Kennedy.

I chose Bradlee for two reasons. One, you see Bradlee struggling to be a journalist and a friend at the same time; two, you see Jack Kennedy struggling to have a journalist as a friend. Given that, Bradlee – who only writes this book after Kennedy’s death – is privy to secrets and situations that no one else could have experienced, seen or heard. And you really get a sense of the Kennedy administration and of Kennedy’s personality that you don’t get anywhere else. You get a sense that this is the real Kennedy.

The book is warm, the book is personable; you see a Kennedy who has a temper, who uses language he shouldn’t, who is struggling with an impossible job, and who’s smart as can be in attempting to manage his job and his public image.

So the Bradlee-Kennedy friendship offers more advantages than disadvantages when it comes to the composition of the book?

I think it offers both. One of the reasons I like the book is that Bradlee is very clear, right from the beginning, that the two of them are great friends, and they’re both using each other. And each knows that the other is using him. There are times when you feel that you’re almost in a Pinter play, with web of suspicion built on web of suspicion. Nonetheless, given the fact that they both recognise that they’re using each other, Bradlee writes with a degree of intimacy and is granted a view of Kennedy that is not available anywhere else, and I think both men knew that this book would not be written until the Kennedy political career was over. And I don’t think it was written until ‘75.
Read about the other books Nasaw discussed at FiveBooks.

Also see: Thurston Clarke's five best books about John F. Kennedy.

The Page 69 Test: David Nasaw's Andrew Carnegie.

--Marshal Zeringue