Picks and Pans Review: Sons of Camelot the Fate of An American Dynasty

updated 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/05/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Laurence Learner

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President John Kennedy's potent charisma and enduring popularity bestowed cachet onto his brothers Bobby and Ted, his son John Jr. and even his many nephews. This exhaustive family biography examines how well the "sons of Camelot" have dealt with a legacy of power and fame unprecedented in American history.

This being a Kennedy book, you expect—and will find—plenty of stories about violent death, sexual misconduct and substance abuse, but in his third Kennedy book Learner provides a fair account of the family's accomplishments in the past 40 years. He describes Ted Kennedy's success in the Senate and gives the Shrivers credit for making the Special Olympics a global movement. But he is unsparing of the late Michael Kennedy, who enriched himself as president of the supposedly nonprofit Citizens Energy while carrying on an extramarital affair with a teenage babysitter.

Learner draws on an impressive list of new interviews, which make his portrait of John Kennedy Jr. particularly credible and vivid. But since the book is structured chronologically, John's story is chopped up and interspersed among the stories of his many cousins, some of whom are less memorable than others. (It's hard to go from dirt about Daryl Hannah's relationship with Jackson Browne to a dutiful retelling of Tim Shriver's triumphs in an inner-city public school.) The chronological structure also underscores the fact that this is a story of decline. By the end of the book, you get the impression that the family's only remaining political hope is in-law Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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