Robert Dallek is one of the foremost American writers of our time, having written more than one historical work. The writer’s favorite genre is biography, in which he takes a certain historical figure and carefully studies it, trying to convey to the reader both the image of the hero and all the details of his life and modernity. Dallek decided to specialize in U.S. presidents and their histories, having written a huge number of works on Roosevelt and Nexon, but in 2003 Dallek published the first major biography of John F. Kennedy in nearly 40 years. Drawing on archival material and unprecedented access to his medical records, he reveals his secret struggle with serious health problems, as well as his love affair, the behind-the-scenes role of his father, the appointment of his brother Robert F. Kennedy as U.S. attorney general and his thoughts on how the president would have handled the Vietnam War had he been alive.
Robert Dallek is not only engaged in creative work, but also in the study of American history through the example of presidents, compiling their biographies and exploring their contemporaneity. He is not only a writer, but also a professor and historian, which affects the quality and credibility of the books he publishes (Bruin Life 148). As a historical period, Dallek is most attracted to the 20th century, which is evident in the narrow thematic focus of the works he chooses. Also, the historian likes to look at certain processes from all angles, so it is often the case that the same issue is fully revealed in more than one book (Williamson 85). It is important to note that the writer’s works are a source for studying history and introducing the personality of Kennedy to average students and schoolchildren, which only reinforces the authority of this work (Strang 136). Dallek’ writings about Presidents are basis of historical schoolbooks (American Studies 46).
Again, this work is written in the style of a biography and tells us both about President Kennedy himself, his childhood, his family, his difficult life choices, and his death. The writer himself says that he tries to make biographies as objective as possible (Veltman 106). Therefore, the writer rarely divides the actions and words of a historical figure into good and bad. Rather, on the contrary, the picture comes out so complete that reader can see the dialogues between the characters in the biography. Nevertheless, Dallek has his own opinion of Kennedy, considering him a brilliant and courageous man, for example, because Kennedy was the first Irish-Catholic Democratic president of the United States. However, the author does not try to impose or promote this opinion, leaving it up to the reader to evaluate the person.
Dallek describes Kennedy’s life from 1917 to 1963 to the reader, noting more than once that John’s father was a famous man and went to great lengths to make his son a powerful man. At first glance, it might seem that John Kennedy had, in principle, a fairly easy path to power, but no. The author’s main idea is to show how complex and inscrutable this historical figure is. Dallek several times throughout the narrative focuses on the president’s health problems, which were carefully hidden from the public, but made the hero’s life difficult (Beinart 421). “Kennedy took antispasmodics to control colitis, antibiotics for chronic urinary infections, testosterone to build his strength” (Page). Another difficult phase of his life was love, which had many pitfalls, setbacks, and ambiguities, and it was shown threw dialogues (Dallek, 544). Kennedy’s personality is shown as very complex and mystical, the president hid much from society and those close to him, he was quite distrustful and rational person. In the biography it is important to consider Kennedy not as a politically significant figure, but primarily as a person, so it is safe to conclude that the president’s personal life was depressing, and this affected his emotional and psychological state.
To complete the picture, it is necessary to consider John F. Kennedy from the perspective of a political figure. The first thing the author draws attention to is the President’s oratorical abilities (Dallek 11). For the hero as a whole it was a much loved and effective way of communicating with the people, which helped both to win the public and to build a dialogue with representatives of other countries. But there was one issue that was very acute at the time: the issue of black people and their problems and grievances. Kennedy noticed that this problem was urgent, and he tried to bring it to the attention of the world community.
Nevertheless, Kennedy’s oratory and diplomacy were not all that smooth. The writer was unhappy with how awkward the conflict with the USSR was, which brought the possibility of nuclear war closer. Thus, in addition to the achievements and positive aspects of John F. Kennedy, reader also see his failures and unflattering facts about him. The writer thus just maintains his principle of objectivity in the process of studying and describing the life of John F. Kennedy, without hiding the flaws and mistakes of the president. Dallek also tries to find out and establish all the cause-and-effect relations that explain the actions and decisions of a person in different situations, shows the logic that guided Kennedy in different periods of his activity. Incidentally, Dallek backs up absolutely all of his reflections on historical events, whether wars or negotiations, with historical facts, which he examines with the help of archives. From this, the conclusion is that Dallek is guided by the research method when describing historical personalities and the study of the 20th century as a whole.
As to the situation in Vietnam, the writer allows himself to use the subjunctive mood, as if trying to guess what would have happened if not for the death of the president. Although this kind of analysis is uncharacteristic of historical works, in Dallek’s case it looks harmonious and interesting, without distracting or devaluing his entire work (Boose et al 402). The assassination of the president is, of course, treated by the author as a grief and a terrible event, for which there is no justification. In spite of the fact that this event has a mystic character, as there are many theories and suspicions about it, the writer does not speculate on it much, he just states the fact of Kennedy’s death.
In conclusion, this book is not only biographical, but also historic in nature, so it is a source for studying the life of President John F. Kennedy. The detail of the work down to the dialogues allows reader to understand the hero as a person, not just a significant figure. The writer gives the impression of Kennedy as a brave, courageous, and very cunning man who is a city of America and a positive period in the history of 20th century America.
Associated Students of UCLA, University of California, et al. Bruin Life. ASUCLA Communications Board. vol.73. 2017, p. 148.
Beinart, Peter. The Icarus Syndrome. A History of American Hubris. Melbourne University Publishing. 2010.
Boose, Donald W., Boose Jr, Donald W., et al. The Ashgate Research Companion to the Korean War. Ashgate Publishing Limited. 2014.
Council for International Exchange of Scholars. American Studies. Council for International Exchange of Scholars, Conference Board of Associated Research Council. vol.11, 2010, p. 46.
Dallek, R. Franklin D. Roosevelt. A Political Life. Penguin Publishing Group. 2017.
Dallek, R.. John F. Kennedy. Oxford University Press. 2011.
Strang, Bruce G. Italy’s Invasion of Ethiopia and Its International Impact. Collision of Empires. Taylor & Francis. 2016.
Page. Susan. “‘Unfinished Life’ revisits Kennedy’s appeal”. USA Today. Gannett Co. Inc. 2003.
Veltman, David. Renders, Hans. Different Lives. Global Perspectives on Biography in Public Cultures and Societies. Brill. 2020.
Williamson, Richard D. First Steps Toward Détente American Diplomacy in the Berlin Crisis, Lexington Books. 2012.