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Conversations with Kennedy - Ben Bradlee

As Time pushes us further and further away from the days of John F. Kennedy's presidency, it is hard for those with a living memory of his Presidency (and harder still for those of us who were not alive when JFK was in the White House) to have a full perspective of what John F. Kennedy was in life. That is why this book, "CONVERSATIONS WITH KENNEDY", by Ben Bradlee, a journalist who knew Kennedy on a personal level between 1958 and 1963, is so important. 

In the space of 244 pages, the reader is given access not only to the 1960 presidential campaign (from the Kennedy camp) and some of the White House parties and dinners to which the Bradleys were invited, but also the outings Bradley enjoyed with President Kennedy at Hyannisport and Newport (where Jackie Kennedy's stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, had a large estate). The book also has 2 sets of photos, which serve to further illustrate the nature of the relationship Bradley, then the Washington bureau chief for Newsweek magazine, had with Kennedy. Generally, it was an easy, relaxed relationship. But sometimes Bradley would be "frozen out" by President Kennedy for short spans of time if Newsweek printed stories that he didn't like. This was no vindictiveness on Kennedy's part, because he liked journalists (having once been one briefly himself in 1945, when he - as a special correspondent for Hearst Newspapers - covered the San Francisco Conference, which led to the establishment of the United Nations) and was known to read from 6 different newspapers daily. President Kennedy was very knowledgeable about the workings of the press, had a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, and loved to keep abreast of the latest developments among the leading media establishments. 

"CONVERSATIONS WITH KENNEDY" also shows a President who 'had few illusions about human nature but nursed dreams all the same.' There is one excerpt from September 12, 1963, that I found especially revealing, as well as very moving ~

"Dinner was on the dicey side. Jackie's stepfather is not exactly a swinger, and the toasts were pretty much in his image. We were high on the hog again, with much wine, caviar, and champagne, but we all went to bed soon after dinner. Just before we retired Jackie drew me aside, her eyes glistening near tears, to announce that 'you two really are our best friends.' It was a forlorn remark, almost like a lost and lonely child desperately in need of any kind of friend. She repeated the message a couple of times to Tony [Bradlee's wife] during the weekend, citing particularly our letters to them about the baby's death. ... --- it had been a bad summer for our friends, with Patrick's death [Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, the President's and Jackie's son, who died from a lung ailment 2 days after his birth in August 1963] and the sudden, jolting suicide of Phil Graham [publisher and Chairman of the Board for The Washington Post, who was a close friend of the Kennedys and Bradley], whose light finally burned too bright and destroyed him --- but Jackie said it was a description of a instant of love we had seen between a father and a small baby, parting in Naples. They [i.e., the Kennedys] are the most remote and independent people we know most of the time, and so when their emotions do surface it is especially moving."

It is passages like the one cited above that reinforce the enormity of the loss to humanity (even after 54 years) of a brilliant, charismatic and witty U.S. President who inspired people to seek out "the better angels of their nature" and better themselves and the world community at large through public service. Thank you, Ben Bradlee, for this book.