When Michael O'Brien's book, "John F. Kennedy," arrived my first inclination was not to review it for several reasons.
Fortunately, I read the introduction, was impressed with O'Brien's simple writing style and what appeared to be his willingness to tackle the pros and the cons of the Kennedy administration. Although O'Brien is not a presidential scholar, his 10 years of research and writing this Kennedy book has resulted in a fairly well balanced book that outlines Kennedy's strengths and weaknesses while he was President.
O'Brien taught American history for 30 years at the University of Wisconsin-Fos Valley and had written a book about Senator Joe McCarthy and one about Coach Vince Lombardi.
What makes it particularly attractive is its balanced approach to President Kennedy's time in office. Too many Kennedy books either glorify or condemn him. O'Brien does neither, outlining his pluses and then adds what he terms the "revisionist" view.
O'Brien and those who assisted him in his research provide us with them ost extensive detail on Jack Kennedy's exploits as commander of PT Boat 109. It's a fascinating tale and provides enough detail to counter what many negativists have written.
The author details in considerable length the sexual exploits of Kennedy, giving names of the women involved with the President and the outcome of each affair. He makes no attempt to clarify the impression that Kennedy had numerous extramarital affairs and that his sexual philandering was in the author's words "nearly pathological."
O'Brien also dedicates considerable space to a review of Kennedy's health problems and the attempts of the President and his aides to disguise them to the American public. Also on the negative side, O'Brien discusses Kennedy's alleged links to the Mafia and his covert operations in Cuba and Vietnam.
On the positive side, the author of this biography says that because of Kennedy "Americans reexamined religious bigotry, poverty, racial discrimination and corporate power."
A fascinating section of the book reviews the controversy over the authorship of "Profiles in Courage." Many critics have questioned the President's involvement in the writing of this Pulitzer Prize winning effort and O'Brien, to his credit, looks at the matter at length.
Although O'Brien presents the views of the revisionists about Kennedy, his overall conclusion is that Kennedy was a thoughtful politician whose virtues outweighed his flaws. It's a job well done.
John F. Kennedy
By Michael O'Brien
Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press
1,000 pages, $35
Murray B. Light is the former editor of The News.