I’ve read more than 75 books on the Kennedys over the course of my adulthood. So when NetGalley and Dutton books offered me an ARC of Incomparable Grace: JFK in the Presidency (Amazon) in exchange for an honest review, I couldn’t resist. All opinions expressed are my own. The book goes on sale to the public April 12, 2022.
“Nearly sixty years after his death, JFK still holds an outsize place in the American imagination. While Baby Boomers remember his dazzling presence as president, millennials more likely know him from advertisements for Omega watches or Ray Ban sunglasses. Yet his years in office were marked by more than his style and elegance. His presidency is a story of a fledgling leader forced to meet unprecedented challenges, and to rise above missteps to lead his nation into a new and hopeful era.
Kennedy entered office inexperienced but alluring, his reputation more given by an enamored public than earned through achievement. In this gripping new assessment of his time in the Oval Office, Updegrove reveals how JFK’s first months were marred by setbacks: the botched Bay of Pigs invasions, a disastrous summit with the Soviet premier, and a mismanaged approach to the Civil Rights movement. But the young president soon proved that behind the glamour was a leader of uncommon fortitude and vision.
A humbled Kennedy conceded his mistakes, and, importantly for our times, drew important lessons from his failures that he used to right wrongs and move forward undaunted. Indeed, Kennedy grew as president, radiating greater possibility as he coolly faced a steady stream of crises before his tragic end.
Incomparable Grace compellingly reexamines the dramatic, consequential White House years of a flawed but gifted leader too often defined by the Camelot myth that came after his untimely death.”
Normally, I don’t like books that micro-analyze a few years of a famous person’s life. And let’s face it: I know so much about JFK and his presidency, would there be any new information provided in Incomparable Grace? The short answer is no, there’s no new information here, but it is presented in a way that reflects upon the time we live in now. So that makes it new in a way.
There’s a brief biography of John F. Kennedy leading up to his role as President of the United States. Growing up in a large Irish Catholic family, serving in the south Pacific during World War II where his boat was sunk, serving in Congress and the Senate without any major distinctions to his name, before being catapulted to the big stage: leader of the Free World.
The early part of his presidency was a disaster with the Bay of Pigs invasion and his first summit with Soviet Premier Krushchev. But the thing that’s important to know, and what’s telegraphed in this book, is that Kennedy learned something from each mistake so it wouldn’t happen again. Through that growth became a man more confident in his abilities, able to handle whatever was thrown his way, more calculated and level-headed than he had been before.
It’s interesting that now we see that Kennedy wasn’t so big on the Civil Rights Movement until his brother, Bobby, moved him there. He wanted nothing to do with it because he might lose the southern Democrats in the 1964 election. But events pushed him out of his comfort zone to urge for a Civil Rights Amendment and an end to the violence on blacks in the south.
I’m always fascinated reading of Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I’m even more fascinated by the way he handled the Soviets given the current circumstances with Russia. Our house was built right after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we have a 12 x 12, 12-inch thick concrete bomb shelter in our house. It’s proved useful whenever there’s severe weather and we’re forced to the basement, and the extra storage room is great, but I can’t help but think back to a time when the threat of bombing America was an abstract thing and not reality.
Like I said, there’s nothing new here, but the book shows how Kennedy grew as a leader and as a husband and father during his time in the White House. And of course, it makes one wonder what the future could have been like had Dallas 1963 had never happened.
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