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

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  4,884 ratings  ·  199 reviews
Everywhere acclaimed for its compelling narrative, its fresh insights, and its dispassionate appraisal of John F. Kennedy's presidency, this #1 national bestseller is the first full-scale single-volume biography of JFK to be written by a historian in nearly four decades. Drawing on previously unavailable material and never-before-opened archives, An Unfinished Life is pack ...more
Kindle Edition, 822 pages
Published (first published May 1st 2003)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mara
Jack Kennedy was the mythological front man for a particularly juicy slice of our history. He called a slick line and wore a world-class haircut. He was Bill Clinton minus pervasive media scrutiny and a few rolls of flab. - James Ellroy, American Tabloid

Mitigating circumstances: This is the ninth among my presidential bio(ish) reads over the past month and change. I’ve been concurrently reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which is an amazing book about an amazing pre
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Andrew Smith
I’m too young (though not by much) to remember, real time, JFK’s assassination, but I’ve been all too aware of the whodunit debate that’s raged ever since his tragic and untimely death. That said, I really didn’t know very much about the man until I read this book. It’s a thoughtful and thoroughly researched piece of work that draws on the input of many people who served with Kennedy and tapes of White House conversations, by virtue of a recording system instigated by JFK himself.

The son of a pu
...more
Diane
Oct 29, 2013 Diane marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: review-nytbr
In a New York Times Book Review article on the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, Dallek's book was described as the best biography about the president. "Dallek, who spent five years researching and writing, has a deep appreciation of Kennedy's operatic story. The book has rich detail about the president's persistent and serious health problems, which serve to make the life seem genuinely heroic as well as swaddled in troubling cover-ups."
James Thane
This is a very good biography of JFK, focusing principally on his presidency. Dallek obviously admires Kennedy, but that does not prevent him from being critical of his subject when he believes that the criticism is warranted.

Dallek's principal contribution is to document more thoroughly than any previous biographer Kennedy's many medical problems, the treatment he received and the extent to which the President, his family, his doctors and others conspired to conceal those problems from public v
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Dana
I understand that one can debate whether JFK was an effective President, but can't most of us agree that he led one of the most fascinating lives of any 20th century American? Robert Dallek's biography also believes he was an effective President and I have to agree on many issues. Dallek outlines the decisions Kennedy made during his 1000 days along with reasons why.... His first challenge - the Bay of Pigs- was set up during Eisenhower, but Kennedy accepted blame for his incorrect decision to e ...more
Judith
One must wonder what there is that we don't already know about Kennedy. For me, this was an eye opener because I hadn't realized how ill the man was, not just during his presidency, but for his whole life. From early childhood until his death he was plagued like Job with constant pain and a host of diseases and injuries that it is mind-boggling that he was able to function, much less take the highest office in the country. He was in such bad shape that the Navy wouldn't take him until he had his ...more
Shane Haggerty
I admit to an obsession with the Kennedy Family. I remember being a kid and looking through my mom's boxes of stuff from her childhood and finding an autographed picture from JFK and Jacqueline from like 1962 or something. I was fascinated. Then, I was enamored and fascinated with the idea that this young and against-type President was shot down in the prime of life. I remember seeing JFK, the Oliver Stone movie, and loving it, and I was convinced that there was a conspiracy. I remember just alw ...more
Judy
I really had to think before I started this book because the nearly 1,000 pages were a tad daunting. But it's a really good read. This is one of the third generation books about John F. Kennedy. Following his assassination, there were countless books that romanticized him and his presidency. Then years later, the highly critical books began to be published. This look at Kennedy by Robert Dallek, a professor of history at Boston University, looks at Kennedy from childhood through his assassinatio ...more
Jason Russell
(Posted on my blog)

As I watch Jimmer and BYU take on Gonzaga in the "third round" of the NCAA tournament, I'm using an iPad from my company's IT department to write this post. It's pretty cool, I guess.

I recently finished a very compelling biography of JFK (An Unfinished Life). Being too young to have any experience with his presidency (or life, for that matter), I learned a lot from this book. I know a number of my "conservative" friends would automatically say JFK was a liberal. I suppose he d
...more
Riley
The health problems that John F. Kennedy had were quite incredible, and it is hard to read them without having sympathy and awe for Kennedy's perseverance. Historian Robert Dallek was the first to have access to Kennedy's health records, though Seymour Hersh detailed many of Kennedy's ailments through anonymous sourcing in a book he wrote.

Dallek is a good writer and presents Kennedy well. That said, this biography didn't change my own view that JFK is perhaps the most overrated president in U.S.
...more
Judy
I have now completed the third biography on my list of US Presidents who have been in office during my lifetime: Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. It appears that to be taken seriously a presidential biography must be a door-stopper no matter how long their lives or how many terms they served. John F Kennedy only lived for 46 years and only held the Presidency for 1000 days but he still got 711 pages of text from Robert Dallek.

This reading about presidents' lives is probably the most difficult o
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Rhona Arthur


I really enjoyed this single volume biography of JFK. Over the years myths have grown up around the man, family and legacy and it was great to have an overview of his contribution to global politics. I was a little surprised that there was light touch in some areas, like the Bay of Pigs, which I expected a filler analysis of and there was a great emphasis on his physical debilities. There is no evidence that any of the physical weaknesses or sexual predilections affected his judgement or events
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Kate
These are just a few of the aspects of this book that I valued. If you were not a teenager (a not-very-aware teenager) during Kennedy's career, "your results may differ."

"An Unfinished Life" informed me in clear detail about everything that was happening in American and international politics during my own lifetime! (I do remember being very frightened about Cuba in 7th grade-- and this book showed me that there were good reasons that adults and children were frightened during the missile crisis
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Larry
Dallek's book is a satisfying biography (though its treatment of JFK's assassination is rather uncritical of the explanation arrived at by the US government). He deals forthrightly with Kennedy's strengths (his first-rate mind, his charm, his grit), his failings (his serial philandering and his father's machinations), and with the undecided areas (his rating as a president).
Jennifer
This is the most balanced treatment of Kennedy's presidency I have read to date. Dallek does an excellent job telling the story of a very complex man whom most either idolize or demonize. Yes, JFK had health problems. Yes, he was a philanderer. Yes, he was a politician. But, he also was incredibly smart, compassionate, and dedicated to service. Or, as the author puts it: "Kennedy's presidency is better understood as a patchwork of stumbles and significant achievements." JFK was a strong man. He ...more
Marc Pugh
Honestly, I only made it through 300 pages or so...lost interest with all the minutia that clogged the pages. How in the "h" did this author find out so much detail? More importantly, what made him think we cared? Perhaps I'll return to finish when I have read EVERYTHING else on my shelf. That'll be about 5 to 6 years.
Scott
The first generation of JFK bios, coming out shortly after his death, were appreciative that this young demigod had chosen to grace this world with his presence for the brief time that he did. Then there was a second generation which revealed how this steaming cauldron of lust degraded his position, his long suffering wife, and every female he could get his hands on in his insatiable quest for recreational sex. Dallek's book, while still sharing some elements with both of the previous generation ...more
Mduduzi Maphanga
The book was well written. Robert gives readers a rather balanced view of JFK. He indicates why the president is such an iconic American figure, while also showing his less saintly side specifically philandering behavior.One appreciates the toughness of the man and his crises decision making skills, but also disappointed with the way he put his own l(and potentially America's) political security risk by struggling to control his sexual behavior. Perhaps the take away from this book is the unsung ...more
Vivian Valvano
Disclosure: I loved JFK and admired his presidency and still weep over his assassination. I am no fool about his errant womanizing. That said, I commend Dallek for his meticulous research into JFK's medical history. He was a far sicker man than anyone except very few people very close to him knew, and he hid it very deliberately. My conclusion is that he really did want to do public service, do something for his country. Most fabulously wealthy men who were as ill as he was would have done absol ...more
Aaron Million
Dallek presents a balanced and solid biography of JFK. He is especially good at fleshing out the myths purporting to JFK's WWII command of PT-109 in the Pacific, his lifelong penchant for womanizing, and his myriad and never-ending medical difficulties. He presents JFK as both a foreign policy realist and an idealist - and how he straddled the line between both views.

Dallek does not delve deeply into the close relationship between JFK and RFK, which began in the 1950s. While certainly alluding
...more
Steve
I picked up the book at a Borders book sale and started this read a few weeks ago. As some of the other reviewers have commented, it goes back to a lot of material I already knew regarding the hige influence that Joe Sr. had in this country and how that Kennedy family influence propelled the Kennedy kids to a path of glory...and tragedy.



I was extremely surprised of the medical issues JFK went through in his life. I knew he had health issues while in the White House, but this is the first book I'
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Jeremy Perron
Robert Dallek's biography on John F. Kennedy is very well titled. It is a work that leaves you a little unsatisfied. Not because Dallek did a bad job, quite the contrary it is a very good book, but in the end you just feel like you watched a really good movie that ends suddenly and very incomplete. There is a lot of huff made in comparing Kennedy to President Lincoln, in the years they were elected, names of their vice presidents/successors, etc, etc. However, it is important to note the major d ...more
Richel
A great book indeed. The author wrote well and very exhaustively. It presents an answer to every question one has in mind. For anyone who is a stranger to the events obtaining at that time (like me who is a Filipino, and born just as Kennedy was elected President of the US), the book is informative.

To record what I thought are worth remembering about the subject, I wrote a summary. Thus:

Pres. Kennedy's ancestors, both from the father side and the mother side, were Irish Catholics who were drive
...more
Lara
Well, I've been reading this one on and off for a few months here and I just can't make myself finish it. I love JFK; I think he's easily one of our most interesting politicians, both the good and "dark" sides of him, but Robert Dallek somehow manages to make him dull as dirt--something I did not think possible. This book is due back at the library tomorrow, and I've decided to just return it. I'll try to read the Cuban Missile Crisis chapters before then, but I honestly am considering just read ...more
Kathy
Very interesting to read a new biography of JFK. Frankly, I abandoned Chris Matthews' fawning little book and picked this up....this had more meat. I thought he went overboard on the things that don't matter -- putting in the titillating stuff that sells books to the masses -- but overall, an interesting study of a complex man.

What struck me most was how difficult it is to be President of the US, and how extremely difficult it was in the early 1960s. There were a couple of junctures where his i
...more
Arjun Ravichandran
Slightly boring one-volume account of the late American President's life and career. Boring because instead of information about JFK's personality and mindset, the author assumes the reader is as interested in the intricacies of local American politics as he is. You are treated to dry accounts of state politics, and when JFK ascends to the Presidency, you are treated to an equally dry account of the day-to-day minutiae of his work life.
Besides that, the book had some good information regarding
...more
Jeff Kelleher
The esteemed author of a two-volume biography of LBJ takes a hand at a "comprehensive" bio of JFK, drawing on all that went before, and adding some new research.

A lot went before. More books have been written about JFK than any other presidents except Lincoln and FDR. If you don't want to wade through them all, this is a good one-stop choice.

The main new information comes from Dallek's first-ever access to cartons of unsorted medical records from Dr. Janet Travell, JFK's official in-house physic
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Kevin
I am glad I finally picked this book up. This is perhaps the most balanced recent biography of JFK.

There is a wealth of detail about Kennedy's early life that I had not fully understood or appreciated before. Where some recent biographies have focused on the sizzle of his romantic conquests and his nearly annual brushes with death and disability, even as a student, this one perhaps puts those elements into a reasonable perspective with the rest of his remarkable life. Where some biographers have
...more
Ray Foy
An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 is Robert Dallek's best-selling biography of the United States' 35th president. The book has garnered much critical acclaim and rightly so. Dallek does an admirable job of showing the character of JFK behind his public image and the historical record. I expect most readers will finish this book with an understanding of John F Kennedy as a genuinely good, though flawed, person who honestly sought to do his duty for the good of the country as Presiden ...more
Preston Kutney
Seeing as I live a few hundred yards from Dealey Plaza and this past month was the 50th anniversary of his death, I decided to learn a little about JFK. In addition to watching the controversial (but entertaining) 1991 JFK movie (which I highly recommend), I read this biography. Unfortunately, this book clocked in at over 700 pages and I probably only had 200-300 pages of interest in JFK. There was just way too much superfluous info for me.

But of interest was JFK's pampered childhood, mediocre
...more
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Dallek on Kennedy 2 35 Feb 08, 2013 02:35PM  
  • Robert Kennedy: His Life
  • Robert Kennedy and His Times
  • President Kennedy: Profile of Power
  • Kennedy and Nixon: The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America
  • FDR
  • Kennedy
  • Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years
  • JFK: Reckless Youth
  • The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America
  • Benjamin Harrison (The American Presidents, #23)
  • Grace and Power: The Private World of the Kennedy White House
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom
  • Nixon Volume #1: The Education of a Politician, 1913-62
  • Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
  • President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime
  • Herbert Hoover (The American Presidents, #31)
  • Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis
  • The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963
Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-73 Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President Lone Star Rising: Vol. 1: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960

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