In This Review

Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman
Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman
By Barbara Leaming
Norton, 2006, 448 pp

Leaming tries to turn some interesting insights into an intellectual biography of John F. Kennedy. The results are mixed. She does show that the close ties the young JFK forged in the United Kingdom during his father's ambassadorship continued to nourish him throughout his life, and that Winston Churchill's writings and ideas powerfully influenced him as he gradually moved beyond his father's narrower views. Yet her book ultimately disappoints. Leaming never quite grasps the generational and political dynamics at work. Kennedy's father, for example, was not only in favor of appeasing Adolf Hitler on the usual grounds; like many conservatives and especially Catholics of the day, he strongly sympathized with Francisco Franco and Benito Mussolini in the belief that they were preferable to the Bolshevik alternative. Virtually every time Kennedy faces a choice between political expediency and what he believes is his public duty, Leaming arbitrarily casts the dilemma as an argument in his mind between Churchill and Stanley Baldwin, Churchill's pro-appeasement, anti-rearmament nemesis before the war. The reader wearies of this much faster than Leaming does and frequently wishes that she would let poor Mr. Baldwin rest in peace. To do that, however, would be to concede that she is overplaying her hand, and that the author of Profiles in Courage did not for the rest of his life see American political and policy questions through the lens of 1930s British life.