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

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  1,249 ratings  ·  239 reviews
2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist
New York Times Ten Best Books of 2012

“Riveting…The Patriarch is a book hard to put down.” – Christopher Buckley, The New York Times Book Review

In this magisterial new work The Patriarch, the celebrated historian David Nasaw tells the full story of Joseph P. Kennedy, the founder of the twentieth century's most famous political dynasty. Nasaw—the...more
Hardcover, 896 pages
Published November 13th 2012 by Penguin Press HC, The
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Steve Sewall
The Patriarch has received glowing reviews in the New York Times and elsewhere. It's been praised for humanizing Joe Kennedy as a driven, up-from-nowhere Irish American and as a devoted father, brilliant investor, and peerless political kingmaker.

This 868-page book is thoroughly documented and has a huge bibliography and index. But for all of its scholarly trappings, the book is more the work of a hagiographer than a biographer. Why? Because Nasaw’s deeper intent, I think, is not to humanize Ke...more
Review the book, not the subject. Review the book, not the subject. Just keep repeating that to yourself. David Nasaw has written a good book about a man who is hard to admire. The Kennedy family provided Nasaw with access to sources that previously were unavailable to biographers; if the expected him to write a hagiography, they must be disappointed.

Nasaw pretty much refrains from making judgments about Joseph Kennedy. When Nasaw edges toward the moral bar, and can't provide any but the dark...more
Mikey B.
This is a thorough biography of a truly remarkable man who, with his family, provides us with a grand view of the American century. Aside from the Roosevelt’s (Theodore, Franklin, and Eleanor) I can think of no other family that has become so iconic and significant to U.S. history. It is a story of both high triumph and devastating tragedy.

Joseph P. Kennedy came from an upper middle class background, which he attempted concealing, perpetuating a myth that his roots were more humble. He made his...more
Exhaustively footnoted and thoroughly researched, this is an excellent biography -- albeit way, WAY longer than I had wished. Nasaw got wonderful cooperation from the Kennedy family in compiling this book, which in turn gave him entree to friends/associates with whom he had extraordinary access. However, it certainly did not at all color his detached and independent portrayal of his subject. This biography busts many long-time myths about Kennedy (i.e. while he certainly invested in legal liquor...more
A giant doorstop Father's-Day-present biography like this one is hard to do well all the way through, because nobody's life is inherently compelling the whole way through. Nasaw finds the intricacies of JPK's early business deals a little too fascinating, for example, whereas it seems to me that they're only interesting to the degree that they display Kennedy's character. I was more interested in Kennedy's decision to leave the Protestant-dominated world of Boston finance for Hollywood, where he...more
Peter Boody
For a while, I found it a little hard to stick with this exhaustive account of Joe Kennedy's life because, as other reviewers have commented, a good sense of the flesh and blood man is not revealed by a mere list of steps in his life.
I think this quality of the narrative has to do with Nasaw's apparent decision (as the "authorized" biographer) to do no more than report the facts as revealed by letters, interviews, memoirs, oral histories, news reports and other records. So there is something qu...more
Steven Peterson
A fine biography. It depicts the Kennedy family's patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, in a realistic manner--warts and all. The author is David Nasaw, who also authored a massive biography of Andrew Carnegie (801 pages of biographical text). His pedigree as a biographer, then, is strong. This volume has 787 pages of text about the subject of the biography (more if you add acknowledgements, footnotes, and index).

Kennedy led a reasonably comfortable life in youth, getting a good college education. His ance...more
Bob Glass
A few years before the late great Ted Kennedy passed, Senator Kennedy approached David Nasaw and asked him to write a biography of his father Joseph P. Kennedy. Nasaw said he would on the condition that he be allowed full access to the Kennedy(s) libraries for research in addition to no editing from the family. Senator Kennedy agreed and what we have on our hands is quite the masterpiece.

To say there are to many books about the Kennedy's is a slight understatement but their family is "American R...more
Sam Finn
Well done biography. Avoids the common pitfall of "taking sides" either with or against its subject. J P Kennedy was a complex man. Not much to admire in him or his behavior, on either a personal or a professional level. Clannish - tribal, really - and prejudiced in his way of viewing the world. Cold, mercenary and demanding in his personal, business and political dealings. Ultimately a narcissist: he was the center of his universe, followed next (and closely) by his children. These were, it see...more
David Bales
Often pigeonholed as a foul-mouthed, anti-Semitic crook, David Nasaw's thorough biography of Joseph P. Kennedy reveals him to be an amazingly intelligent and shrewd businessman who built an immense fortune largely by being a smart investor with tremendous insight on business. Vexed by politics and always opinionated, Kennedy came from East Boston to the apex of power in New York, Washington and Hollywood and helped elect Franklin Roosevelt president only to be rejected, accepted and rejected tim...more
Sarah Finch
Excellent. Nasaw doesn't deal in flowery language or hyperbole, he simply lays out the chronology of a fascinating life, smart enough to know that his subject is compelling enough to not need any stylistic bells or whistles. He dismisses some of the myths surrounding Kennedy (the rumors of bootlegging, for one) while confirming that he was also an unrepentant anti-Semite, philanderer, and borderline conspiracy theorist. Most intriguingly, he expounds on the dichotomies of Kennedy's family life -...more
Don Stanton
It was a better read than I had expected. Many revelations about Joe Kennedy and the rest of this family we're startling to say the least.
I should start with the positive.
Joe Kennedy was way a head of this time, just because of this political awareness and financial ability. He was a genius no doubt about it. He made fantastic sums of money on real estate deals, and short selling stocks & bonds which today is illegal but was not during his time.
He was an excellent father who tried to do the...more
Paul Pessolano
“The Patriarch” by David Nasaw, published by The Penguin Press.

Category – Biography

This has to be one of the best biographies written due to the incredible amount of work and research that was done to put it together. This, and the fact that Nasaw was asked by the Kennedy family to write it and that Nasaw agreed only to do it if he had full access to all the Kennedy files and would not be censored in any way.

There have been many stories about the life of Joseph P. Kennedy, some true some false,...more
What to say about this book? What to say about this man who sired perhaps (in my opinion) one of the greatest presidents in U. S. history? There is no doubt in my mind that Joseph P. Kennedy was nothing less than an unscrupulous human being...and to me, that's putting it lightly. The average reader upon going into reading this biography would be hard pressed upon completing it to find their head swimming. Not so for myself, a true Kennedy maven. I have read almost everything on the 35th presiden...more
Dan Petegorsky
Nasaw’s biography is being compared to Caro’s masterworks, but I think it’s an inapt comparison. “The Patriarch” certainly has the heft to match a Caro volume, but it lacks the interpretive brilliance and analytical depth Caro brings to his subjects. Where Caro might spend hundreds of pages on a single paradigmatic episode, Nasaw’s approach is more, well, encyclopedic.

As a result, we don’t really inhabit his characters the way we do with Caro. We see what happens, but not nearly so clearly why,...more
This is the second Nasaw bio I have read, the first being Andrew Carnegie, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Joe Kennedy is not a likable person but Nasaw is fair to him, noting both his incredible financial acumen and intuition as well as his complete lack of political skills. If I come away with one thing from this immensely detailed and well crafted biography, it is "open mouth, insert foot." It was only Joe's money that kept anyone except his family around him. Nasaw describes him aptly as the con...more
Uwe Hook
THE PATRIARCH is more than a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy. It is a fascinating review of history in the pre-World War Two era as well as the war years and beyond. Anyone who is interested in background on the Kennedy clan will be assured of an in depth analysis of the beginnings of their wealth and power. Joseph Kennedy himself is a figure to be admired, emulated, derided, envied and despised. Sometimes the politics of the reader will influence which of these descriptions is the most accurate,...more
I find it hard to get my thoughts together about this book.

I did not expect anything so unbiased.

It was actually to the point where I found it cruel.

The end descriptions of what Joe Kennedy was like after his stroke.
I found some of that unnecessary, almost like the author was aiming low blows and cheap shots.

I also had the thought that if Joe Kennedy was so lovingly cared for and revered even after he was severely disabled.
Why was Rosemary Kennedy not afforded that same treatment by the family?

Mary Ronan Drew
Biographies tend to be either deadly boring or deeply engrossing. David Nasaw's biography of Joseph P Kennedy, the father of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, is one of the engrossing sort. Enough time has gone by and enough actors in the Kennedy family tragedy have died that most of the papers of most of the Kennedys and of the people they wrote to and received letters from, as well as everybody's journals, are now available, primarily at the Kennedy Library in Boston. Nasaw has taken advantag...more
Steve Booth
Remarkable history lesson of the first half of the 20th century thru the eyes of an 'American Royalty' figure.

This book is unambiguously the story of JPK, not President Kennedy. It captures the dynamics of the Great Depression, WWII, the Cold War, and the 'passing of the baton' to the next generation Kennedy.

It provides an interesting narrative to the events of WWII, and the diverse opinions of what course of action the US should follow. Kennedy is seen thru the lens of a hard-nosed business m...more
I really enjoyed reading this 900 page (maybe 80% text) biography of old Joe Kennedy. The author is not afraid to discuss Joe’s faults and shortcomings. Are having an affair with a famous actress, making a lot of money, taking care of your children, or opposing war (e.g., his appeasement efforts as US Ambassador to Britain before and beginning of WW II) faults?

Joe had 9 children. He outlived 4 of them. Shortly after Jack’s inauguration (1961) Joe had a massive stroke. He lived another 8 years as...more
Wow, that was probably a lot more than I needed to know about Joseph P. Kennedy. The book is huge! But Nasaw teaches us a lot of history while he's telling us the details of Kennedy's life. The early 1900s stay interesting as it is framed around this dynamic personality and his remarkable family. Putting this book together is a major accomplishment for Nasaw. He must have read a whole library's worth of material to figure it all out. I feel enriched from the experience. I was touched by how clos...more
Love him or loathe him, no-one can deny that Joseph P. Kennedy presided over a truly remarkable family, a family that owed almost all of its wealth, position and success to him. He was ambitious, driven, possessed of an incredible strength of will and devoted to his last breath to his children - and say what you will, without Kennedy Snr behind them it is unlikely that any of his children would have risen to the heights they did.

He has always been a controversial figure, rarely hesitating to spe...more
Liana Giorgi
Theirs is a strange story, definitely of a bygone era, and David Nasaw has succeeded in bringing Joseph P. Kennedy in The Patriarch to life in chilling, in-depth color. Read full review
Joseph Kennedy was a self-made millionaire using his native intelligence and charm. I hadn't realized how rich he was until I read the book. He was involved in many different areas: film, finance, real estate, importing. He was not, as often reported, involved in bootlegging. Much of his accumulation of cash was marginally legal. The money that he made in the 1920s in the stock market was made in good part by insider trading and manipulating the stock--both legal at the time. When he was made th...more
Barbara Mader
Good job giving historical context and information on the Boston/NY/D.C. pecking order as Joe Kennedy grows up, works in a bank, works the stock market, goes to Hollywood, makes his fortune, and goes into government service. I read this mainly to see another slant on his time as Ambassador in England, but I found the entire book pretty interesting. Carefully footnoted using primary sources, very readable, a decent read aimed at the mass market. Not sure, despite all those footnotes, how precisel...more
Wonderfully interesting book. Although a horribly flauwed human being, with ethics that were more than often questionable, it is impossible not to admire his love for his children and his genuine ability as a father.
Great read. Don't be intimidated by the length of the book - it reads more like a novel than a history book. As the author states, Joseph Kennedy would be a fascinating character study even without his children.
Joseph Trigoboff
This book certainly details much information that was previously either unknown or not available. The Patriarch made me feel the immense tragedies that befell the Kennedy family.
John Kennedy was assassinated when I was in fourth grade. Until the death of Ted Kennedy, I had never known an era without a Kennedy as a major political force. What I didn't experience was the force that was Joseph Kennedy Sr.

And this book took me there in great detail and with clarity. Joseph P. Kennedy was beloved by his family bu disliked by many, many others. He was ambitious, overconfident, brave, pessimistic, fearful, forceful, domineering, generous, a bully, focused, chauvinistic, fun, v...more
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