“The Patriarch The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy” by David Nasaw provides an insider’s view into America’s economy and politics during the 1900s.
Joseph Kennedy’s grandfather left Ireland during the Great Potato Famine and moved to Boston. Joseph Kennedy graduated from Harvard, made a fortune in the 1920s, was the American ambassador to Great Britain while Chamberlain and Churchill were faced by Hitler, and used his wealth and connections to propel his sons into politics. He lost sons Jack and Bobby to assassin’s bullets.
The Kennedy family asked the biographer David Nasaw to write the biography. Nasaw requested and was granted full access and cooperation, without censorship. The biography is well written and very detailed. You feel like you were there, just as with Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.
As Irish Catholics, the Kennedys faced discrimination. Religion is a dominating factor throughout the family history, including John F. Kennedy (JFK)’s successful presidential campaign in 1960.
Kennedy went into movie making in the 1920s and used his position and insider knowledge to make his fortune. He had an affair with one of his stars, Gloria Swanson, and with many other women. In the 1930’s, Kennedy was the founding head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), when he outlawed insider trading.
As the American ambassador to Great Britain as they entered World War II, Kennedy talked to Chamberlain, Roosevelt, and Churchill. Kennedy agreed with Chamberlain and Charles Lindberg that Germany was too strong. Roosevelt lost confidence in Kennedy and lied to him in order to aid Roosevelt’s reelection for a third term in 1940. The book describes Roosevelt’s poor health leading to the 1944 election, when news of his health was suppressed.
Joseph Kennedy devoted his life and fortune to his sons’ education and political careers. Kennedy wrote many letters to his children, providing advice and admonishing them to do better. JFK suffered poor health his entire childhood. All four of sons followed the senior Kennedy’s footsteps to Harvard. Ted Kennedy was suspended after he was caught cheating when a friend took a test for him. Joseph Kennedy told Ted “There are people who can mess up in life and not get caught, but you’re not one of them, Teddy.”
One of my favorite anecdotes comes from JFK’s presidential campaign. At a Washington dinner, JFK spoke after an actor sang about Joseph Kennedy spending to help his son’s campaign.
“Jack had learned early that the best way to parry such attacks was with humor, which was never in short supply among the Kennedys. When he took the stage to deliver his own remarks, he prefaced them by reading from a telegram he ostentatiously pulled from his pocket. It was, he said, from his father: Dear Jack — Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary — I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.”
As the biographer later shows, Joseph Kennedy spent millions and twisted many arms to support his son’s campaign.
This story of driven success has a tragic end. Son Joe Jr. died in World War II after assuring his father he’d be safe and then volunteering for a near-suicide mission. Joseph had a stroke that crippled him and took away his speech. Sons JFK and Bobby were assassinated. Four of his nine children died during his lifetime.
I enjoyed this book because it is well written and provides a credible and frank view into American business and politics.