Stephen F. Knott, "Coming to Terms with John F. Kennedy" (UP of Kansas, 2022)


Political Scientist and presidential scholar Stephen Knott has a new book specifically focusing on the 35th president, John F. Kennedy. This book is not exactly a biography, since it is an interesting analysis not just of Kennedy himself as president, but also the context in which Kennedy is considered, understood, and positioned. Coming to Terms with John F. Kennedy (UP of Kansas, 2022) is also a kind of intellectual autobiography of Knott himself, and his evolving consideration of Kennedy as president, but also Kennedy within our collective imaginaries. Knott started his career at the JFK Library in Massachusetts, and he traces how this initial encounter with Kennedy hagiography and the protection of the Kennedy idea contributed to his own skepticism about Kennedy as president. At the same time, Knott has spent much of his intellectual career researching and analyzing presidents from George Washington to Joe Biden, and he has come back to Kennedy to re-evaluate his own assessment of this famous and tragic president, and, importantly, the reality of President John F. Kennedy as opposed to the sanitized and mythologized version of the 35th president.

Coming to Terms with John F. Kennedy re-examines the historical touchstones of the Kennedy Administration, digging into what really happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the kinds of concessions that were made to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, instead of the cinematic heroics of the way this incident is usually portrayed. Knott also explores the critique of Kennedy in regard to civil rights and racial progress—re-assessing the more critical narrative about Kennedy and his disconnection from these issues—finding, instead, that Kennedy was moving forward with caution but with commitment. Kennedy’s words themselves are also a key focus of the book—from the best-known speeches to more obscure presentations of presidential rhetoric. And while JFK is often lauded for his oratory, Knott makes the case that the appeal in Kennedy’s speeches and rhetoric is to our better angels, as citizens and as a country, which is particularly important to understanding the role and place of the United States in this post-WWII period. This analysis positions Kennedy within a rather rarified pantheon as one of America’s top orators—with speeches that reflected a patriotic literacy, advocating for unity, and appealing to reason.

This is a fascinating book, graceful and accessible in the writing, and interesting in the many threads woven together to consider Kennedy’s presidency itself and the position it occupies in American history and our understanding of the United States.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), Email her comments at or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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