Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy by Ilene Cooper

Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy by Ilene Cooper

Cooper, Ilene. Jack: The Early Years of John F. Kennedy. Dutton, 2003. ISBN 978-0525469230 160 pp. $

It is amazing that a man who was only president for two years and ten months had such a profound effect on a nation, and that his life is still so widely read about and researched. Cooper’s biography, with its’ extensive collection of well-chosen and captioned black and white images on nearly every page, is excellent in it’s singular focus on the youth of JFK.

Chronological from birth to college, with a final chapter on the presidency and the assassination, Cooper zeros in on the competition between first and second son’s Joe Jr. and Jack, a father’s determination for having only winners in the family, and the family’s history in politics as keys to Jack’s success. She also gives us an overview of the family dynasty and the entire Kennedy clan.

Primary sources are heavily used, and the many quotes from a variety of people who knew the family, as well as from Kennedys themselves, tell most of the story. But the narrative goes beyond the factual; Cooper writes in an anecdotal style about her subject and goes a step further to analyze the pivotal moments that made the man who overcame sickliness, sibling rivalry, and the stigma of Irish Catholicism to become a leader of the free world.

Although all of the facts about JFK ring true and Cooper documents her meticulous research with source annotations from each chapter, she is incorrect in her description of the Irish Potato Famine that brought the ancestors of Jack to the United States. Whitish-green spots formed on the leaves of the plants, not on the tubers themselves, which turned dark brown, black or purplish on the inside. Since she cites Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Black Potatoes (Houghton, 2001) as her source, I am surprised at this error.

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