[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.