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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent conspiracy free account of JFK
Robert Dallek gets the formula right in an excellent biography of JFK. This book concentrates on JFK's life and deliberately avoids controversy about who shot him and all the conspiracy theories that have arisen since November 22nd 1963.
Like millions of others, I remember the day well that JFK was assassinated. I was only four years old at the time, but the memory...
Published on 9 Mar. 2004 by EFMOL

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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid, exhaustively researched, but selective.
Dallek's 'An Unfinished Life' has become the favoured biography of JFK since its publication in 2003. The biography (the second Dallek book I've read, the first being the helpful 'FDR and American Foreign Policy 1933-1945') casts itself above its predecessors through its sterling and objective account of JFK up to his assassination, focusing largely on the determination...
Published on 8 Dec. 2009 by Mick Yerman


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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent conspiracy free account of JFK, 9 Mar. 2004
Robert Dallek gets the formula right in an excellent biography of JFK. This book concentrates on JFK's life and deliberately avoids controversy about who shot him and all the conspiracy theories that have arisen since November 22nd 1963.
Like millions of others, I remember the day well that JFK was assassinated. I was only four years old at the time, but the memory of "a bad man" coming out of the clouds to get him still lingers to this day. I have had a fascination about JFK and what he could have achieved. I have visited the 6th Floor museum in Dallas, collect US coins with his portrait, and now I have read a brilliant biography of him.
The book largely concludes that JFK had a mostly uneventful life as a Senator and that his Presidency was all to short to really describe him as a great President. However, his role in the Cuban missile crisis where he played brinkmanship with Kruschev is brilliantly described - we can all be thankful that he was a powerful diplomat who saw military action as a last straw.
Vietnam, Berlin, Bay of Pigs, Civil Rights - they all described magnificently. Once criticism that I would have it that the author states that he was able to use new information in this biography not found in others from material released by Russian government in particular. It would have been useful to know which pieces of information are new.
JFK's early life gets a lot of detail - one wonders what he would have done if his brother Joe had survived the war. In fact, JFK's unfinished life asks a lot of "What ifs?"
What if he had been exposed in the press as a womanizer of libidinous proportions?
What if Kruschev called his bluff over Cuban missiles?
What if he lived to get elected to a second term?
Those looking for gory details about the assassination and answers to "Who shot JFK" will be disappointed - this is not the thrust of this book.
Read it and enjoy.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid, exhaustively researched, but selective., 8 Dec. 2009
Dallek's 'An Unfinished Life' has become the favoured biography of JFK since its publication in 2003. The biography (the second Dallek book I've read, the first being the helpful 'FDR and American Foreign Policy 1933-1945') casts itself above its predecessors through its sterling and objective account of JFK up to his assassination, focusing largely on the determination of JFK's environments (his parents, his WWII experience), his fire to become something extraordinary (rooted in his rivalry with older brother Joe Jr.) and his medical history.

Dallek's unprecedented access to JFK's medical records inevitably leads to his medical history being detailed in great length. It is illustrated very well not just how many frustrating problems JFK suffered from but how sick he became at times almost to the point of death in the mid 1950s. While it is always important to understand the health of any president, his chronic health problems were however not serious enough during his presidency to affect his performance therefore maybe there was too much emphasis given to this topic.

Focus on JFK's philandering maybe a little ill-fitting in the book too, often it is thrown into the mix almost as if the author felt he needed to mention it a certain number of times. If Dallek had left it out of the epilogue (or even reduced the focus on it) it would have been better.

Dallek's writing style, while it is always clear and informative, sometimes lacks passion or skill. This is something I believe he knows himself and alludes to in his acknowledgements. This does not affect a dedicated reader but it certainly does a more casual one (I would not be surprised if some people bought this book but never finished it). Also the referencing system maybe should have utilised numbered endnotes, not quotations.

However my main criticism of Dallek's biography is his handling of JFK's murder. It is a given that readers will already know about November 22nd so it requires a special skill and insight to cover what is undoubtedly a very important and serious topic. Dallek unforunately rushes into it and asserts that the "official" account of the assassination (according to the Warren Commission) is the correct account. I am not a fan of conspiracies and would be more inclined to debunk them rather than consider their possiblities but JFK's murder almost certainly involved more than just Oswald (almost in that there is no hard proof to determine it as certain, just a plethora of circumstantial evidence). Whatever about the assassination itself, the handling of the autopsy and other events to "cover up" in the days following JFK's death is not touched on at all. This is probably because Dallek did not have enough confidence and/or interest in detailing it, if this is the case he may have done the right thing as it is bad ground for a writer to talk about something he/she does not want to. Dallek talks about the effect of JFK's death as a tragedy of losing the future, which is very apt and a necessary point to make but his account of the assassination does not do JFK justice. (Another point to make is that Dallek mentions and approves only Gerald Posner's 'Case Closed' as an authoritive understanding of the assassination, Posner's book is far from such and Dallek should not have mentioned the book at all if he was not going to counter it with equally if not more acceptable accounts of the topic.)

I have focused on criticisms for this review as it is important for any reader to know of these points before buying it. To add something positive I must say Dallek must be commended for a thoroughly researched (albeit on the aspects he concentrated on) and well delivered book. He successfully paints JFK as a very humane figure who had to fight many battles (health and political) but didn't give up. Kennedy ultimately is distinguished among other American Presidents, not only for his youthful allure, but for maintaining an intellectual understanding and foresight whilst not being stagnated by "academic" inaction
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JFK: A Real Human Being, 17 Dec. 2004
By 
Mr. Nc Shackley "NatShack" (London, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Almost every time John F Kennedy is mentioned nowadays, it is because of his assassination, but many seem to have forgotten that JFK was still a real person who lived a fascinating and important life before he left the world in 1963. Robert Dallek does the Kennedy legacy proud in this one volume treatment of his `unfinished life', and by focusing a sizable portion of the book on Kennedy's childhood and run-up to his Presidency, (something most biographers of Kennedy have chosen not to do) he has given us an even better understanding of the man.
Much of the book discusses Kennedy's tasks in foreign policy, and the author defends and applauds the President's actions; more often than not with justification. He also defends Kennedy's position on civil rights, a subject on which Kennedy has been increasingly criticised, but here Dallek is convincing. He explains that Kennedy faced a congress that was hostile to his aims, and one that would have rejected any radical plan he put to them. He then creates a sympathetic portrait of Kennedy as a man who had to balance the needs of blacks in his own country with those of a world at the brink of a war that could destroy civilisation as he knew it. Although the domestic problems were important, one can understand why Kennedy chose to put them second behind effectively saving the world from possible destruction.
On the assassination, Dallek is staunchly dismissive of the conspiracy theories, and offers a good explanation on why - he claims that people find it hard to accept that someone as powerful and as important to the world as Kennedy could so easily be snatched from us by a loser like Lee Harvey Oswald. Conspiracy theories, therefore, make people feel better because of the belief that a group of powerful forces beyond our control are what killed Kennedy, rather than an assassin acting alone
One complaint that could be made of this biography is that Dallek comes across as solidly liberal, which is fine if you share those beliefs (like me), but perhaps not so for those who want a more balanced study, or even one that aims to debunk the Kennedy `myth'. I have to admit that even I found it surprisingly one sided at times. Even so, Dallek has written a fine and fitting tribute to a life that was tragically cut short.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Admirable, Balanced Examination of JFK, 18 Nov. 2003
The fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting availability of Soviet archives to researchers have brought about several new studies of the cold war and its leading figures. This book is an excellent example of the new insights to be gained by a more through understanding of what the Soviet leadership, in this case Khrushchev and company, were thinking. For a biography like this however, new Soviet material, while important, is not enough. Any author who chooses to write about JFK must not only deal with the cold war, but also civil rights, Lyndon Johnson, Boston politics, George Wallace, Joseph Kennedy, Sr., and even Richard Nixon. Robert Dallek has done a wonderful job of sorting through tons of material on the above subjects and much more to bring the Kennedy brothers and their era to life. I say the Kennedy brothers because no study of JFK could possibly be complete without a close look at his brothers.
At first Jack's life is dominated by competition with his elder brother Joe, Jr. At home, in school, and in the military Jack was expected to live up to his brother's example. A task the future President was not up to. The strong and healthy Joe, Jr. always seemed to be better than Jack at most everything and their father actually seems to have been angry with Jack when he got sick. Dallek points out over and over that Joe and Rose Kennedy were not ideal parents. After Joe, Jr. was killed in WWII Jack became the heir apparent to his father's political ambitions for his eldest son. It was during one of his early campaigns that Jack grew close to Bobby.
Bobby Kennedy does not come off well in this book. He appears to be a spoiled, ill tempered, bully who yells at anyone who doesn't agree with him. Given his later stands it is amazing to see RFK as far more belligerent toward the USSR than his brother. In fact, at one point during an international crisis the author states that the U.S. and the world were lucky that JFK was president instead of RFK. Still, it is obvious that President Kennedy put much faith in his brother and often used him as the bad guy. Jack himself did not take criticism or opposition well; often referring to any whom opposed his view as a SOB. But still, he was a much better sport than Bobby was.
Dallek has put together a highly readable and well-researched volume. He is clearly impressed by his subject but does not hesitate to point out Jack's failures, and there were several. JFK was in fact much more interested in foreign policy than domestic policy and seems to have been very much led in his decisions by polls. He really did not become much of a leader in either category until the Cuban missile crisis, which seems to have given him more confidence. He never really, for example, offered any leadership on civil rights until 1963 and even then the rich boy from New England never really could understand the dynamics in play. He had never really been around blacks and had problems relating to them, while at the same time never grasping the attitudes of white southerners. Worse, since Bobby couldn't stand LBJ, Kennedy never really used his Vice-President much, even though as a southerner Johnson was very familiar with the problems. Dallek has not pulled any punches and his criticism of Kennedy's civil rights record shows it as does his detailing of Jack's health problems and womanizing.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly and after seeing the changes in Kennedy after October 1962 I can't help wonder: what if? Unfortunately, the same question apparently occurred to Dallek who ends his book by trying to assess how successful JFK might have been in a second term. As I said before, Dallek deserves high praise for his objectivity through out the rest of this book, but at the end his objectivity falters. The book ends basically assuming that Congress would have passed all of Kennedy's second term proposals, Castro would have become the best friend America ever had, the Vietnam war would have just gone away, and the Soviets would have behaved admirably. While all of this is possible, it is not likely and the credibility of the whole book suffers as Dallek himself falls victim to the very Kennedy aura he has been trying to explain.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unfinished Life, 20 Oct. 2007
By 
Spider Monkey (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a rather dry and academic account of JFK's life. There are a few passages and parts of chapters that are genuinely exciting and fascinating to read (the Cuban missile crisis being one of them) but generally this book goes into too great a depth of information about things that you don't want to know that much about. This is a good read to learn about JFK's politics, but useless to learn about the man. It barely mentions his children and his relationship with his wife is only written about in relation to his womanising (which again isn't explored too much) or her dislike of white house life. I felt like I came away knowing a great deal about his political life and policy decisions, but sadly lacking any real insight into his character. Although this aspect was mentioned at times and especially in the first part of the book, it wasn't to any degree that you feel you know what motivated him and it was written in a very dry way. Worth a read if part of an overall study of the man, but look elsewhere for a more rounded biography.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best JFK biographies..., 2 Jan. 2010
By 
C. Ball (Derbyshire) - See all my reviews
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This is definitely one of the best JFK biographies out there. I've read this twice now, which is rare for me with a biography. It's incredibly comprehensive, very detailed, and quite balanced. A lot of books on JFK either verge on hagiography or they seem to take a salacious interest in recounting the womanizing, the medical problems, the anti-Castro actions - this book doesn't excuse or condone the less savoury aspects of JFK's character but it does try to explain and put them in context. He comes across in this book as a man who may well have become one of America's greatest presidents - a man perhaps too concerned with politicial implications in his first term but who might really have come into his own in the second. But alas, we shall never know.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A model political biography, 16 April 2008
By 
Jl Adcock "John Adcock" (Ashtead UK) - See all my reviews
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Robert Dallek's book on JFK is a masterpiece. Readable, objective and informative, it achieves everything a fine political biography should achieve. With so much already published on probably the most iconic US political figure of the 20th century, Dallek was in danger of treading over-familiar ground. But this book is fresh, and reveals new insights into just how ill a man Kennedy was throughout his life, and just how so much of this was hidden from the public.

Mixing political and personal history is never easy, but Dallek achieves the balance well. He reports Kennedy's strengths and weaknesses, both as a man and a political figure - with rare objectivity, the text never passes anything less than fair, rational analysis on things.

For me, the book achieved the rarest of feats - I finished it feeling a good deal more respect and understanding of a major political figure, when usually the "warts and all" approach has the opposite affect. I would recommend Dallek's book to anyone wishing to know more about this troubled, idealistic and ultimately tragic figure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A superb, but slightly robotic, account of President Kennedy's life, 8 Aug. 2012
Robert Dallek, a distinguished historian and biographer, has written what many consider the definitive biography of President John F. Kennedy. Although it may not be the greatest account of JFK's life, it is certainly close.

Dallek's epic chronicles the life of JFK from birth to death, before remaining true to the title and delving slightly into what a 2nd term Kennedy presidency might have achieved and how Kennedy would have been perceived by historians today - forever in the mists of Camelot, the great social reformer or a disastrous president scared by failed legislation and sex scandals?

The information Dallek provides is solid, concise and extremely interesting. However, Dallek references so many sources and abbreviates too many quotes from Kennedy and his associates that it distorts the reading and at times appears blotchy. At times it felt more like a fact-file than a smooth-running biography.

But all-in-all a fantastic account of one of the greatest American presidents. One that encourages debate, conversation and a further hunger for knowledge of the era.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Journey, 2 Feb. 2004
Unfinished life is an incredible depiction of the 1000 day presidency of JFK. It tells in great detail his climb to the top of American politics, and the help he got from his family all the way. How he overcame illness and personal tragedy to take America into the New Frontier and pave the way for Civil Rights Reforms, tax cuts, medicare etc.
The book also gives a great insight into the many foreign policy issues that arose - Cuba, Vietnam, Berlin and Vietnam during his presidency. His resistance to the military advice he was presented with during the Cuab Missile Crisis, and instead seek a diplomatic solution surely is the crowning moment of his time in power.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating....., 19 Mar. 2006
By 
O. Doyle "celticshedevil" (Ireland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This book is an in-depth portrayal of John F Kennedy and I think you would be hard-pressed to find a more detailed account of his life.
The book explains JFK’s beginnings and leads us through his privileged childhood and early adult-hood before embarking on his political career. As a youth and into his early adulthood JFK was over-shadowed by his older brother who his father had decided was destined for politics from day 1. When his brother was killed in battle the shadow moved and JFK moved to the forefront.
I was aware of JFK’s back problems but I didn’t realize the extent of his ailments until I read this book. JFK’s determination to be the best propelled him to overcome the prejudices he faced as a Catholic Irish American and become the first Catholic President of the USA. The pain he suffered throughout his life is testament to his steel will.
While this book focuses on his political life there is little or no mention of his private life which disappointed me slightly. His relationship with Jackie is given a fleeting mention while his relationship with John Jr and Caroline is not mentioned at all. I found this lacking somewhat disappointing. But don’t let this steer you away from buying this book.
This is a fascinating read which shows JFK as a President who always felt that there was a way to talk problems through even when his closest advisors were trying to steer him into all out war. His determination at being his own man and making his own decisions is what took the USA away from the brink of war on so many occasions. A weaker leader would have succumbed to the pressures put on him and marched the country into a conventional or, God forbid, nuclear war.
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