What to do when you haven’t finished a book but find yourself with something to say about it?
Convention dictates that one should finish a book before reviewing it (although I have my doubts about any number of published reviews), but on the other hand, I’m not trying to sell a review of Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House, by Sally Bedell Smith. So out with the convention, in with the thoughts.
Isn’t it neat to read a book of history and biography that nearly dispenses with the politics and the policy? It really is all about the private world, and the political only occasionally intrudes to give a frame of reference, or to explain why Jackie and her sister Lee went off to India. (Because they had promised Nehru that they would. Only Jackie didn’t really want to, was pouty about it for a while, but eventually went and charmed both Nehru and Indira, had a grand time and totally helped out US-India relations.)
There’s quite a bit about who did what with whom, which is tasty, because the whos and the whoms were doing a lot with each other. On the other hand, it’s neither scandalmongering nor salacious. There’s a reason the Camelot legend has stuck: the Kennedys really were glamourous, they really were smart and rich and stylish, they really were quite a break from the Eisenhower years. And at the end of JFK’s first year in office, his approval ratings were still around 75 percent. But there I go, letting the political back in.
The book is about the people, their traits, their foibles and their experiences. What did JFK and Macmillan talk about in private? Who danced the twist when it was introduced to the White House? How did Jackie handle the press, and the pressure?
If there were only one book on JFK’s presidency, this one would be inadequate. But there are thousands, and this one fills a unique niche. I’m glad I’m reading it, even though I’m still only half-way through.
And boy does this portrait of smart, energetic people make me think GWB is the anti-JFK.