By ANDREW DeMILLO
“Incomparable Grace: JFK in the Presidency” by Mark K. Updegrove (Dutton)
Nearly six decades after his assassination in Dallas, President John F. Kennedy and his legacy remain an obsession for historians and the public alike. Mark K. Updegrove’s “Incomparable Grace: JFK in the Presidency” demonstrates why that obsession is well-deserved.
Updegrove’s book provides a succinct but absorbing look at key moments in Kennedy’s time in office and provides a counterweight to some of the doorstopper biographies that have been published over the years. Unlike some of those, like Robert Dallek’s excellent Kennedy biography, Updegrove doesn’t aim for a sweeping history of every moment in Kennedy’s life.
Updegrove focuses on the key moments of Kennedy’s presidency, from the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Civil Rights Movement. The years leading up Kennedy’s time in the White House take up less than a third of the book, but hardly feel brushed over.
Few people are in a better position to write about Kennedy’s life and legacy than Updegrove, the former head of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and ABC News’ presidential historian.
The book’s most dramatic sections, as expected of any book on Kennedy’s presidency, are the ones focusing on Kennedy grappling with the Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union as well as the struggles over Civil Rights. Kennedy’s complicated relationship with Johnson, his unfaithful yet mythologized marriage to Jackie and his brother’s role in the presidency all are covered concisely, but none are given short shrift.
Updegrove provides a balanced look at Kennedy’s personal and political failings while offering a look at why a man who served just 1,036 days in office continues to rank so high by historians among the nation’s presidents.
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