I read Kennedy biographies like I read the newspaper, often. As I analyze each biography I weigh them against each other based on two thing: 1) accuracy and 2) the twist. I say "the twist" for lack of a better term/phrase. What I mean is something new, something that every other biography doesn't have, something I want to read about. I love Kennedy, but come on, how many PT-109 or Marilyn Monroe stories can a person actually read?
When the library called to inform me they had the new JFK biography by Michael O'Brien, I was a bit hesitant. I've been trying for years now to read Dallek's An Unfinished Life without getting lost in research and clarifying sources, so why would a new biography be any different? And it's not like I don't have school, home, and personal matters to attend to. I simply didn't have the time to be reading another biography about Kennedy... but of course, I compromised. I'm getting really good at the compromise lately.
John F. Kennedy: A Biography by O'Brien is mediocre at best. We get the whole story of the Kennedy's and the Fitzgerald's, which other than helping me with the final jeopardy question today, is absolutely useless. The lengthy 900 page biography also hit on PT-109, the marriage, the infidelity, the nomination, the Nixon/Kennedy debates, and disappointingly, in a mere six pages it covered the assassination. Accuracy? I would say pretty dead on. There are always disputes about the infidelity issues and health issues, but all in all, I'd say 95% accurate. The twist? The Catholic aspect.
Chapter 21, The Catholic Dilemma. The only reason I gave this section half a thought was because the author, a professor in a non-important history department in the Midwest, is actually known for his work with the National Catholic Press Association. Credible or not, here's my issue: in an article I found online, not quoted in the book, the author is credited as saying "he would have been a 'used-to-be Catholic' if he wasn't a Kennedy." Used-to-be Catholic?? That's like saying I'm a used-to-be Mormon. Maybe it's just me, but I believe a religion, whether or not you believe in it or participate in it anymore, is a part of you forever. Those principles are in your mind and drawn upon in moral and ethical situations no matter your current faith. Kennedy wasn't near "used-to-be" status, a status I would contend does not exist, as he attended mass on a regular basis and was known to have close ties to the Catholic community. Had Mr. O'Brien not made this statement, I would have supported his analysis of the Catholic aspect of Kennedy, the man, the myth, and the president, but that comment sunk his argument for me.
Used-to-be? What is he thinking? Recovering, maybe, but not used-to-be. Even if you're like me and need subtle distractions from every-day life, discontent, and the mundanity of school, found only through insignificant and nonproductive uses of your time, don't read this book. It certainly will be a huge waste of your time and if you're like me will only leave you with more questions.