Picks and Pans Review: One Brief Shining Moment
(Little, Brown, $25)
Publishers are felling forests to print books about JFK. Leading the pack in girth if not depth is Martin, who describes Kennedy as a virtual Charles II, the Merry Monarch of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In his 596-page opus, Martin recounts in great detail Kennedy's nude swimming parties, unclothed White House soirees and generally rabbit-paced womanizing. Old Senate pal George Smathers of Florida speculates, "No woman was off-limits to Jack—not your wife, your mother, your sister. If he wanted a woman, he'd take her." Though he doesn't name his sources, Martin assures us Kennedy was dreadful in bed. Martin revels in dirt for its own sake, yet he insists that Kennedy was a prince among men. By contrast, Gadney's book, the accompanying volume to the recent NBC-TV miniseries he wrote, presents Kennedy with an element of dignity. A novelist-screenwriter, Gadney concentrates neatly (if somewhat simplistically) on Kennedy's Administration, with chapters devoted to, for example, the Bay of Pigs and the civil rights movement. While not a scholarly tome, Kennedy encapsulates JFK's life tidily enough, aided by 30 full-color photographs. Without the photographs, but with similar restraint, Parmet's JFK picks up where his earlier book, Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy left off. Neither a court historian's Camelot rapture, nor a revisionist's sour whine, the book is a sober account of Kennedy's accomplishments and failures. Parmet, however, embarrassingly imagines conversations Mary Pinchot Meyer and Kennedy might have had, during one of which JFK wonders what "stiff, proper Ted" would think "if he could see the President now." (Meyer, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee's sister-in-law, had a long-term relationship with Kennedy. She was murdered shortly after Kennedy's assassination.) Manchester, a close friend of Kennedy's from 1946 on, has written two previous books on JFK. This one is full of pictures, with a text that lionizes the man. No mention of Kennedy peccadilloes here; pictures of Jack and Jackie are captioned "The perfect couple," and Manchester writes that they "were deeply wed in their love." Despite a lot of casual anecdotes, there is not much to be learned from this book. As Kennedy pictures go, Lowe's volume is the definitive one. He was Kennedy's personal photographer, and the 407 well-reproduced shots in this volume include such previously unpublished scenes as Jackie, looking uncommonly relaxed, and JFK wading in the ocean at Hyannis Port in 1958.