[Gillon] succeeds to a degree no other biographer has done or is likely to do ... The real accomplishment of America’s Reluctant Prince is the extent to which it rises above the usual froth of wealth and scandal. Gillon does this in large part by focusing on substance instead of scandal ... Gillon gives his readers a more serious JFK Jr than any version of the man they’ve encountered before. It’s a seriousness that at best appears in shards and glimpses ... The color and flash of John Kennedy Jr’s life is here in these pages, of course - the flash was there, and publishing is a business, after all - but there’s also the strongest sketch yet assembled of what might have been.
Yes, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was a strict parent ... And sure, Aristotle Onassis was probably not the best choice for a fun stepdad, but nothing thus far tells us anything the casual Kennedy watcher didn’t already know. In fact, it had this reviewer scratching her head, wondering why the big embargoed fuss over the book ... it’s not until two-thirds of the way through this book that we get to the what-I-hate-to-call-the-juicy-parts, complete with a villainess or two ... Page after page of never-before-revealed details about [the magazine George's] advertising plans are something to look forward to here, as well as the conflict that was a constant in Kennedy’s life—people just wanting to look at him (is that so wrong?) vs. taking him seriously ... In this portrait, [Carolyn Bessette] comes across as unhappy, unhinged and self-absorbed ... America’s Reluctant Prince underscores a problem in the genre of friends becoming biographers of their subjects. On the one hand, the writer has access to his own memories and mutual friends. On the other, he is perhaps too close to his subject to dig deep. He functions more as protector than as provocateur.
... compassionate, comprehensive—and confounding. Compassionate because Gillon has affectionate memories of his one-time student. Comprehensive because the 464-page volume has an air of TMI. Confounding because this book is the literary equivalent of a monorail—the answer to a question nobody asked ... Gillon has a historian’s instinct (gather every known piece of evidence, examine every primary source, interview every possible witness, get prized access to Secret Service files) and he marries it with a memoirist’s sentiment (add personal reminiscences, slice in a few personal reflections) and the result is a brisk and engaging read. But, like the tragic disappearance of Kennedy’s plane, small questions remain, and a bigger question is unavoidable. The small questions involve lapses in clarity (Ben Bradlee was not the editor of The Washington Post when President Kennedy was in office) and overreaching assertions (it’s an overstatement to say that JFK Jr.’s enrollment at Brown changed the profile of the Providence university). The bigger question is why a historian of Gillon’s profile and provenance would undertake a project like this, sure to have a popular audience, and also sure to prompt sneers from the faculty lounge. But Gillon is right about many things ... in many ways America’s Reluctant Prince is a fond and admiring adieu to a friend.
In his new book The Reluctant Prince, Gillon...give[s] us a picture of a flawed man whose vanity insulated him from the course corrections of humbler people. Gillon offers an alternately fawning and sober appraisal of a promising young dilettante, addicted to his celebrity while impatient with its superficiality. Kennedy comes across as generous, but inconsiderate; as cognizant of the Kennedy recklessness, yet foolhardy himself ... Jackie does not come off well in this biography ... Gillon’s research presents her as an irrational helicopter parent ... Gillon’s writing, like its subject, has trouble choosing between gossip and history, prattle or politics. At moments, he seems to enable John, Jr.’s self-absorption, accepting it as understandable under the difficult circumstances of his life: a young man so cursed with wealth, notoriety, good looks, and high expectations that abject modesty was not an option. At other times, Gillon bluntly blames Kennedy for his reckless behavior, in particular for flying his Piper Saratoga into Long Island Sound when the weather and poor visibility grounded more prudent pilots.
Gillon offers an alternately fawning and sober appraisal of a promising but conflicted dilettante, one addicted to his celebrity while impatient with its superficiality. Kennedy comes across as generous but inconsiderate; as cognizant of the signature Kennedy recklessness yet foolhardy himself ... Gillon’s writing, like its subject, has trouble choosing between gossip and history. At moments, he enables Kennedy’s self-absorption, accepting it as the understandable circumstances of a difficult life: a young man so cursed with wealth, notoriety, good looks and high expectations he couldn’t muster consistent success. At other times, Gillon bluntly blames John Jr. for his reckless behavior, in particular for flying his Piper Saratoga into Long Island Sound when the weather and poor visibility grounded more prudent pilots.
An unvarnished portrait of the Kennedy scion ... Gillon writes with a practitioner’s appreciation for historical narrative, but he doesn’t hesitate to pitch a little dirt here and there, as when he writes of family feuds, marital discord, and other things publicists like to keep out of view. Poignant reading on the 20th anniversary of Kennedy’s death and of broad interest to students of American political dynasties.