Other authors...have ably chronicled this epic saga, but none has told the tale of the 35th president’s formative years better or more thoroughly than the Harvard history professor Fredrik Logevall in JFK, ... A fastidiously diligent researcher, Logevall pays scrupulous attention to Jack’s prep school and college essays, including a close reading of the Harvard senior paper that became Kennedy’s first book ... From all the carefully marshaled evidence a picture emerges of an uncommonly curious, sometimes frivolous but increasingly earnest young man on his way to shaping an informed, cleareyed, unsentimental sense of the world and his nation’s place in it ... [a] richly detailed and instructive book ... Though crafted as a kind of bildungsroman, JFK delivers something more than the traditional story of the callow wastrel’s maturation into the admirable adult. Here phylogeny closely replicates ontogeny. John F. Kennedy’s individual journey of separation from his father’s isolationism tracked the progression of the United States in midcentury from peripheral international player to hegemon.
... as Fredrik Logevall shows in his superb JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956, Kennedy was a far deeper, worthier, more interesting character than the familiar revisionist cliche ... Why should you read the umpteenth book about the most famous of Kennedys? Whole forests have been cut down to explain the Kennedy myth. The short answer is that Logevall’s book is smart and very readable ... Logevall has a gifted historian’s grasp of the times as well as the life of JFK. At more than 600 pages of text, his book is long and ends four years before Kennedy is elected president. But this reader had trouble putting it down.
...remarkable rivalries within the Kennedy family – propelled by valour, vanity and greed – form the backbone of volume one of Frederik Logevall’s riveting life of JFK, which takes the story up to 1956. They serve as a vignette of American history in the middle years of the 20th century, where valour, vanity and greed were also the driving forces ... Dominating it all is the frightful and formidable paterfamilias Joe Sr. Logevall paints a richly sympathetic portrait of the old monster, paying tribute to his many gifts as well as sparing us none of the grim details of the dark side of his personality ... Unlike his father, JFK was extraordinarily skilled at creating the right impression ... As a result, he emerges from this biography as a less clearly defined figure than many of those around him. Logevall has written a superb book but its central character remains elusive ... Jack had the charm and the grace but his little brother had the steel. JFK came to rely on Bobby to do his dirty work. How that helped him reach the White House is for volume two. But already from this book it is clear that the ultimate fulfilment of the Kennedy clan’s political ambitions required that the glamorous, nimble Jack distance himself from his father and move closer to his younger brother. Which means he never really distanced himself at all.
... this book is very good ... Fredrik Logevall breaks little new ground; there are, to be sure, fresh details about his youthful romance with Inga Arvad, a perceptive portrait of Kennedy’s complicated but in some ways disrespectful relationship with Jackie, an intriguing insight about the sinews of character of brother Bobby. But the virtue of this volume, which stretches all the way to the failed Kennedy campaign for the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1956, and presumably the value of the volume that follows, which will take readers to his Dallas assassination and American legacy, is that it plows much of the Kennedy ground with such dexterity and such wisdom. Misty-eyed Kennedy acolytes of a certain age will read it and weep. Modern, less romantic readers will read it and reap the benefit of Logevall’s acuity.
This is the first of two volumes by a Pulitzer-winning Harvard professor of the highest gifts, and the most compelling biography I have read in years ... There has been a host of JFK biographies, but this one excels for its narrative drive, fine judgments and meticulous research, especially about money, women and the subject’s early writings ... This big book, which breaks off in 1956, makes the story seem a cliffhanger even though we know what is coming.
... in the long run, Mr. Logevall labors a little too strenuously to persuade readers that Kennedy was more than the product of his family’s privilege and his own ambition and modest talents as intellect and interpreter of the world. The facts of his evident sexual appeal are repeated, and repeated again, with undue emphasis; his undergraduate insights and gathering worldview in office are recorded in admiring abundance. JFK is replete with testimonials to his ample qualities, yet nearly all of them are post-mortem assessments from the Kennedy circle ... The legend, in other words, has been as hard for Mr. Logevall to penetrate, much less overcome, as for any of his predecessors in biography. One comes away from JFK suspecting that, the more detail we have of this truncated life, the less majestic it will appear to posterity.
It is a testament to Logevall’s talents as a writer and historian that he’s able to demystify JFK the legend but keep John F. Kennedy the person interesting. He allows us to delve into the world of the Kennedy family and be swept along by the story without getting carried away by the myth. Logevall is an elegant stylist ... At its heart, Logevall’s JFK is a story about World War Two, which takes up roughly half the book. This is fitting, for the war made JFK who he was ... Such are Logevall’s storytelling powers that, even though we all know the outcome, it still feels like a cliffhanger.
The young John F. Kennedy was no callow playboy but a serious and self-directed man, according to this sweeping first installment in a planned two-volume biography ... Logevall writes vividly of the hothouse Kennedy family culture, but also widens his lens to take in the forces of war, politics, and television that shaped JFK’s worldview and career. This richly detailed portrait sometimes feels romanticized in its evocations of Kennedy’s charisma, but Logevall helpfully reminds readers of the considerable substance beneath the glamour. Political history buffs will be enthralled.
A comprehensive life of John F. Kennedy...the first of two volumes ... More critical than the reminiscences of early aide Theodore Sorenson but appreciative of Kennedy’s complex, thoughtful view of politics, this study casts the 'playboy president' in a largely positive light ... Highly revealing, particularly for post-Camelot readers who wonder at the esteem in which JFK is held.