An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

Robert Dallek's ambitious biography of John F. Kennedy's heroic life from 1917 to 1963 is a fascinating read. It portrays the life of the 35th president of the United States in candid detail. JFK lived a life of ease before and after his service in the US Navy during World War II. He came from a prominent Boston family, was extremely handsome, and had great orator skills plus a vision that took him to great heights. Joe Kennedy, JFK's father did all he could by implementing all of his financial influence to facilitate his son to get elected as a senator in Massachusetts and then later to the first ever Irish-Catholic Democratic president of the United States. During those years you learn of JFK”s mounting health problems and how the medical records were concealed from the public.
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JFK's major policy assessments predominantly dealing with the Soviet Union, Cuba and Southeast Asia are revealed with facts. His commitment to civil rights, the consoling of nuclear tensions, the Peace Corps and space program are also discussed. JFK's great speeches in Berlin and at American University are fascinating. His commencement speech at Yale ends with, “ The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, but the myth.”

This modern political biography keenly explores JFK's campaigning techniques and the suggestion that if he was not assassinated he might have pulled United States out of Vietnam. It contains vital information of JFK's 1000-day presidency with an emphasis on foreign policy.

The review of this Book prepared by Susan D. Minkalis

This book combines in one volume all the most pertinent facts about the life and political career of the 35th President of the United States, presented in a seamless and well-written, (although somewhat stylistically stuffy) narrative.

True to his reputation for fairness and objectivity, Robert Dallek scrupulously avoids attempting to create new controversies about JFK; at the same time, he doesn't shy away from making negative judgments about Kennedy's decisions and actions when he feels those judgments are warranted.

Dallek includes all the major high and low points of Kennedy's Presidency: his failed attempt to oust Fidel Castro from Cuba with the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation; his amateurish confrontation with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev at Vienna in 1961; his growing apprehension over the U.S. role in Vietnam; his overly cautious, halting support of civil rights legislation; his insistence on large tax cuts to stimulate a sluggish American economy (presaging a similar argument by another President 40 years later); his ultimately successful confrontation with the Soviet Union over missiles in Cuba, where he and Khrushchev brought the world within a hair's breadth of nuclear war in October 1962; and a host of other Presidential actions and decisions that showed Kennedy to be at once foolhardy and wise; rational and impetuous, idealistic and the master of realpolitik.

And, of course, Kennedy's assassination. Dallek doesn't get mired in controversy over whether or not there was a conspiracy to kill JFK, although he acknowledges that conspiracy theories abound. Instead, Dallek focuses on the immense tragedy of Kennedy's untimely death, both for his family and for the country as a whole.

Overall, "An Unfinished Life" presents a positive picture of JFK. Dallek's overall judgment is that Kennedy was a successful President – perhaps even a near-"great" Chief Executive – because he was able to faithfully discharge the duties of his office during an especially difficult period in American history, despite having to contend with chronic health problems that would have defeated a lesser man.

The review of this Book prepared by Mike Powers

Chapter Analysis of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963

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Plot & Themes

Plotlet:    -   fighting for social change job/profession:    -   politician Job/profession/poverty story    -   Yes Politician story?    -   Politician trying to reform Period of greatest activity?    -   1950+

Subject of Biography

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   politician/elected ruler Ethnicity    -   White Nationality    -   American    -   Irish


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   3 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast Century:    -   1960's-1970's    -   1930's-1950's

Writing Style

Book makes you feel?    -   challenged    -   concerned Pictures/Illustrations?    -   More 6-10 B&W    -   A ton 16-20 B&W How much dialogue in bio?    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog    -   little dialog How much of bio focuses on most famous period of life?    -   26-50% of book    -   51%-75% of book

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