Thurston Clarke

JFK's Last Hundred Days

The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President

Penguin 2013

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in BiographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network November 22, 2013 Oline Eaton

John F. Kennedy remains one of the most remembered and most enigmatic presidents in American history, perhaps precisely because, as Thurston Clarke writes in the...

John F. Kennedy remains one of the most remembered and most enigmatic presidents in American history, perhaps precisely because, as Thurston Clarke writes in the preface of his new biography JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President, he was “more than most presidents– more than most middle aged men… a work in progress.” This is perhaps also why he’s a perennial favorite of biographers: because he proves such a challenge to pin down and because it is so very tempting to try to imagine who he might have become had he lived.

Alas, he didn’t. And so we’re left to wonder, a temptation Clarke resists in JFK’s Last Hundred Days. Instead, he mines that period to see who JFK was then and leaves us to the imagining. For, undoubtedly, he was a changed man in many respects: grieving the death of his infant son, somewhat renewed in his commitment to his wife, moving towards a policy of détente with Russia, re-examining American involvement in Vietnam.

Clarke borrows from the journalist Laura Bergquist the idea of JFK as our most “prismatic” president, and systematically examines the various facets that were presented in his final hundred days. The end result is a portrayal that, while doing nothing to quell the unanswerable question of who JFK might have become had he not died, does go a long way towards answering the question of who he was while he lived.

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