Thursday, April 28, 2011

Five best books about the Kennedys

David Nasaw is Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at CUNY’s Graduate Center. His biography of William Randolph Hearst, The Chief, won the Bancroft Prize, and his acclaimed biography of Andrew Carnegie was shortlisted for the Pulitzer. He is currently working on a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy.

One book about the Kennedy family that Nasaw discussed with Emma Mustich at FiveBooks:
Robert Kennedy and His Times
by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Does Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who worked closely with JFK for a significant period, and was an outspoken RFK supporter, manage to navigate the obstacles associated with writing about friends/colleagues with similar deftness in Robert Kennedy and His Times?

I think he does. You know, this is a very different book from A Thousand Days. A Thousand Days is Schlesinger’s big, fat book about the Kennedy administration and his life in it; in that book, he writes from the inside. In Robert Kennedy and His Times, Schlesinger writes from the outside, and he does a remarkable job. You see the brilliance of Schlesinger as a historian that is evident in his books about the New Deal and Roosevelt. You know that Schlesinger worked for Kennedy, and admires him; nonetheless, the advantages of being an insider and trying to write from the outside I think outweigh the disadvantages of reading a book by an insider. With this book. This is rarely the case – but then, rarely do historians come along as talented as Schlesinger was.

Is this the best work on Robert Kennedy that there is?

Yes, I think so. You know, Schlesinger himself always said that history is written to be re-written. If you ask me to do this ten years from now, and I’m still around, I doubt very much that I will choose this book as the best one. But right now, it’s a rather remarkable book.
Read about another book Nasaw discussed at FiveBooks.

Also see: Thurston Clarke's five best books about John F. Kennedy.

The Page 69 Test: David Nasaw's Andrew Carnegie.

--Marshal Zeringue