The Presidency of John F. Kennedy.

The Presidency of John F. Kennedy. – book reviews

David M. Wrobel

James N. Giglio’s book is an excellent addition to the publisher’s series on the American presidency. Since the publication of the work, a number of polemical and largely critical accounts of Jack Kennedy have appeared. Attention has centered more on JFK’s sexual appetite and substance abuse than on the workings of his presidency. Given these developments, a thorough, reasoned, and eminently balanced account of the Kennedy years should not be taken lightly. While not a grand, magisterial narrative (and not intended to be), this book is lucidly written, effectively arranged, well researched, and clearly and cogently argued. Throughout, Giglio is generally favorable to Kennedy, though certainly not uncritical.

The opening chapter briefly covers Kennedy’s wartime experience, then traces his early political career, examines the 1960 election, and closes with discussion of the new president’s key cabinet choices and the relative smoothness of the “transition period” (surely the envy of the current administration). The author’s judicious tone and concise discussion of key themes and event – the candidate’s Catholicism, his political ideology, the conundrum of civil rights, and southern congressional support, the TV debates, as well as electoral shenanigans – set the tone for the remainder of the work. Carefully alternating coverage of the domestic and foreign policy arenas, Giglio devotes early chapters to the Bay of Pigs debacle and the Berlin crisis, then shifts back to the homefront with chapters on the New Frontier, economic policy, and civil rights. Subsequent chapters on the Cuban missile Crisis and Third World initiatives precede closing chapters on “image and reality” and “aftermath and assessment.” A thorough bibliographic essay closes the volume.

Although readers will not find starting revelations in the pages of Giglio’s book, there is much insightful coverage. Particularly memorable is the author’s analysis of the Bay of Pigs episode, informed by a keen understanding of the complexities of the decision-making process and the burden of the Eisenhower legacy. If Kennedy exercised bad judgment, he also had the good sense to take responsibility for the debacle. Giglio also provides good analysis of the reactive nature of both the Kennedys’ thinking on civil rights. Although Giglio concedes that the administration was overly cautious, he demonstrates the inherent difficulty in trying “to nudge civil rights forward without severing ties with the white South,” Whose votes were needed for passage of liberal social programs that might help blacks (186). Kennedy should have done more to advance black freedom and equality, but Giglio effectively explains why he didn’t. Finally, Giglio adequately covers Kennedy’s attraction to women and amphetamines, and places these topics, most appropriately, at the end of the volume. He concludes that JFK was an “above average president” and a “remarkable person.”

Those readers interested in a thoughtful, substantive account of the Kennedy presidency would do well to read Giglio’s book; others looking for a titillating journey through Camelot should read Giglio’s book first.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Phi Alpha Theta, History Honor Society, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group