Book review: The House of Kennedy by James Patterson and Cynthia Fagen


The House of Kennedy – Like I have written before when I have reviewed any of his previous books, author James Patterson is a human writing machine.

Whether it be his Alex Cross crime thrillers, mysteries, westerns, police novels, kids’ books, YA novels or true crime accounts, James Patterson manages to churn them out in great quantities every year, and have them easily end up on the best seller list.

The House of Kennedy – (Little, Brown, $37)

But what about when Patterson decides to branch out to another literary genre, and publishes a political nonfiction book, especially one about America’s royal family of politics, the Kennedys?

CNN anchor Jake Tapper had something to say about this. When he published his first novel last year called The Hellfire Club, Patterson gently chided him for stepping on his toes as a best selling thriller writer. But when he read an advance copy of The House of Kennedy and enjoyed it, Tapper had this to say: “He’s too good — it isn’t fair!”.

And when I finished reading the above mentioned book, I had to agree with Mr. Tapper’s reaction.

As well, a certain question popped into my head before I started reading it: Is there anything new James Patterson has to say about the Kennedy dynasty that other authors like Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Doris Kearns Goodwin, Theodore Sorensen and Seymour Hersh have already said in their respective best selling tomes?

Leave it to Patterson to find an angle to make his book a good addition to the Kennedy canon. He focuses on how being a Kennedy has both been a blessing and a burden, and certain members of the family (namely, Joe, Sr., Joe, Jr., Rose, Rosemary, John, Kathleen, Bobby, Ted, John, Jr. and the Kennedy cousins) became part of the Kennedy Curse, whether it accidentally or intentionally.

Patterson has thoroughly researched his subject to give readers the familiar and not-so-familiar stories that give you a complete picture of the Kennedy lore. And somehow, through his trademark tendency towards writing brief chapters, has not lost the necessary depth to tell the triumphant and tragic story of the Kennedy family.

From the rise of Joe Kennedy in the business world, to Joe Jr. and Jack’s service in World War II, to the 1960 campaign, to the assassinations of both Jack and Bobby, to Chappaquiddick, to the tragic, untimely death of John, Jr. in a private plane crash in 1999, it’s all covered in this book. However, Patterson offers plenty of interesting factual nuggets that keeps this book from being a quickie rehash.

For example, there’s the tragic story of eldest daughter Rosemary, in which her father’s insistence of having her undergo a lobotomy as a cure for her “neurological disturbance” in 1941 ends up as a botched procedure, which leaves her disabled and institutionalized for the rest of her life; David Kennedy, Bobby’s young son, is rescued by his father from drowning when he was caught in a dangerous undertow on a California beach on June 4, 1968 … only to witness on TV his father’s assassination the following night after celebrating his victory in the Democratic California primary; and when Ted Kennedy first ran for the Massachusetts senate seat vacated by Jack in 1960, his opponent, Eddie McCormack, says during a televised debate in August of 1962 “If his name was Edward Moore, with his qualifications, with your qualifications, Teddy, your candidacy would be a joke. But nobody’s laughing because his name is not Edward Moore. It’s Edward Moore Kennedy.”

The House of Kennedy is an enjoyable book that offers a fascinating summing up of the air of tragedy that has plagued the Kennedy family of Massachusetts for nearly a century. It also makes a highly readable introduction to the world of the Kennedys for those who choose this book to read as an introduction to the vast collection of written works about this American royal family. 

And Patterson’s next biographical book deals with the final days of John Lennon, which will be released later this year. And it kind of makes me wonder if such Lennon/Beatles biographers as Hunter Davies, Ray Coleman and Philip Norman would think that Patterson would be infringing on their territory as rock music journalists?

By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

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