The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

Jackson Lears writes:

The story begins with a rollicking Irish Catholic clan, athletic, photogenic and as rambunctious as any crowd of kids in a Frank Capra film. They are presided over by Joseph Kennedy, a fabulously successful self-made father with connections in Hollywood, Wall Street, Washington and London, and by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, a devout but fashionable Catholic mum, as at home on the golf links or the ski slopes as in Windsor Castle. After making millions in banking, real estate and film distribution, the father wants to devote his life to public service, and to train his sons to do the same. But they will be a new kind of public servant, designed for an emerging media age: they will be stars. It is in part a tale of rich people awakening to their responsibility for promoting the public good. But the façade of disinterested public service conceals a clannish sense of entitlement and a preoccupation with power for its own sake. The Kennedy myth, on even cursory inspection, turns out to depend on many misleading surface effects. The puzzle is how it became a compelling part of America’s collective memory.

(LRB 7 November 2013)