Book Review of “Unfinished Life, John F. Kennedy 1917-1963” by Robert Dallek


John F. Kennedy as the 35th president of the United States is an important figure in the history of the country. Plenty of resources are devoted to not only political career but also personal life of John F. Kennedy (JFK) which is surrounded with myths and legends.

Robert Dallek spent several years researching the National Security Archives and medical records for collecting the verified data and telling a true story about the president. The main message of the book An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek is that JFK’s achievements in the sphere of foreign policy had a significant impact on the course of the world’s history disregarding the fact that they were underestimated by the historians.

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The book An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 mostly talks about the political career of John F. Kennedy as the 35th president of the United States.

Dallek avoids idealizing his main character and provides a critical analysis of JFK’s political decisions, including the critical remarks concerning particular actions. “This is not to suggest that Kennedy was superhuman or to exaggerate his invulnerability to physical and emotional ills” (Dallek 576). He quotes that Kennedy portrayed bad picture to people just because he knew very well that he was close to death due to his health.

Dallek reveals that Kennedy lived sometimes hurting other people while in his presidency. I like how Dallek used to reveal Kennedy’s success which include his insistence on large tax cuts to stimulate a sluggish American economy and his attempt to stop the nuclear missiles in Cuba. In general, Dallek’s book sheds light upon new aspects of the president’s life, influencing the public opinion of his contribution to the welfare of the American nation.

The author uses a retrospective approach for describing the birth of Kennedy dynasty, JFK’s early years and his relationship with his family. The book tries to tell us how Jack struggled to become a hero and how he launched his career and the full story of his wartime actions. Dallek makes his work realistic, touching upon the president’s ups and downs and showing his path from a bad orator to a brilliant politician.

The book takes us to the White House where Bobby was chosen to serve as Attorney General and how he selected Lyndon Johnson to be the vice president. Dallek does not shy away revealing Kennedy’s sickness where he was secretly in and out of hospitals throughout his life. His health kept on worsening and he always had medication throughout his presidency life, where he needed assistance for actions like climbing stairs. Together with all this, Dallek also explores Kennedy’s strengths like being brave and a hero.

John F. Kennedy can be recognized as a great president whose political views were not limited to the interests of his party or even the interests of the American nation only. Realizing the responsibility for his decisions and policies before the world’s community, JFK was aimed at solving the problems of Soviet-American opposition and concentrated on achieving the long-term goals.

The handling of the cold war was one of the main challenges for the 35-th president. The transformation of the Soviet-American relations is recognized as one of the main Kennedy’s achievements. His peace speech was aimed at building bridges to the Soviet Union instead of intensifying the struggle which could result in a nuclear conflict with disastrous consequences for the whole world.

As Americans, we find communism profoundly repugnant as a negation of personal freedom and dignity. But we can still hail the Russian people for their many achievements — in science and space, in economic and industrial growth, in culture and in acts of courage (Dallek 620).

The reexamination of the attitude towards the Soviet Union was a significant step forward in handling the conflict. Offering commitments to arm control and a test ban, the president tried to discourage the spread of the nuclear weapon, enhance understanding between Moscow and Washington and preventing the tragedy of a nuclear war.

Kennedy’s position concerning the missile crisis and Vietnam War, on the one hand, and the civil rights for the African-American citizens and the taxes cuts, on the other hand, has shown that the universal values are his main priority in both foreign and domestic affairs. It was JFK who appointed Clifford Wharton as an ambassador to Norway, making him the first African American who filled a vacancy of a top diplomat in the country.

The title of the book is self explanatory, showing the author’s position as to the president’s achievements and his role in the history of the country. Acknowledging the fact that Kennedy was a great president, Dallek assures his readers that JFK’s course could prevent America from a lot of losses and defeats but at the same time it could be a motif for his assassination. This idea

The main message of the book An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek is that Kennedy was a great president whose untimely death became a tragedy for the whole country and could even change the course of history.

Works Cited

Dallek, Robert. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2004. Print.


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