Picks and Pans Review: Seeds of Destruction: Joe Kennedy and His Sons

updated 10/16/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Ralph G. Martin

Sex, political corruption, media manipulation, infidelity, money, the Mafia, drugs, family values (sort of), exotic locations, more sex and more money—why cuddle up with a novel when you can get all this by reading about the Kennedys?

Ralph Martin, who has written biographies of Lady Randolph Churchill, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, tries to focus here on self-made millionaire Joe Sr. and the effect his aggressive personality had on his children, specifically his sons, whom he taught, "What you want, you take." But this readable, if often contradictory, book doesn't bear out the harshness of its title. True, it covers incidents like JFK's bedding other women while Jackie was pregnant and Joe Sr. doling out $500,000 to the Boston Post to endorse JFK in his 1952 Senate race. But according to Martin, all the Kennedy men have had some good in them, even the tyrannical Joe Sr., who is presented as a loving, involved, demonstrative parent, in sharp contrast to selfish, often absent, always cold mother Rose.

Martin succeeds in putting individual Kennedys in the context of the larger clan, recapping their family history and offering up lots of juicy Kennedy trivia. (Did you know that JFK never even heard the song "Camelot"? That he once told a close friend that if he had his life to live over again, he would have "a different father, a different wife and a different religion"? That more people watched Ted give his 1969 TV speech after the Chappaquiddick accident than watched Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon?)

The author suggests that history will judge the Kennedys on their political failures and accomplishments, not on the sleaze. In a better world, maybe that would also be the part of the story we'd want to read. (Putnam, $37.50)

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