William Manchester’s biographical account of President John F. Kennedy (1967 edition) was illuminating and fascinating, in an anecdotal way. If you’re familiar with West Wing or any other series that feature the daily lives of presidents, officials, and staffers inside the White House, Portrait of a President is sort of like that. There are snippets of the administration as it was then occurring. It is eerily in a way as there are telling quotes that unknowingly and unwittingly foreshadowed the assassination of the president. A cold chill ran down my spine on one of Joe P. Kennedy’s comments late in the book. I had a similar reaction to JFK’s comment that essentially asked what else could happen. Tempting fate is what it seemed to me (Remember the Chiffon butter commercial — It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature?) Manchester was a family friend so the account is not unbiased and the author made no bones about this. He was a staunch defender of the Kennedy’s, JFK in particular. What I learned about JFK made me want to learn more, given that I was more than a year in the making when JFK was killed in Dallas, Texas. It was truly a loss to the nation; one of the last presidents to truly try to bridge the partisan gulf.
JFK was intelligent, always learning, and on the go. Manchester recounted typical scenes at the Kennedy dinner table when JFK’s father was in his prime–discussions on high levels, not of business but world affairs; thinking times that made JFK the adroit articulate leader with a command of facts at the ready to support him, astonish his audience, and humble the recalcitrant. Those dinner discussions reminded me of ones at the Whittaker dinner table in novel The Signature of All Things. He did not let his personal infirmities or those of others hold him back. And, a lesson that today’s society could takeaway: personal responsibility, the buck has to stop, somewhere. This is the essence of Manchester’s account and if he had ended it there, without adding the epilogue the book in my estimation would have been none the worse. It is a ranting set of pages that dds nothing of substance that is not already covered before. JFK according to Manchester did not want to be seen as a victim, either due to his infirmities which plagued him most of his adult life, or from the losses he sustained at the hands of an opposition Congress or others. JFK did not want pity. Unfortunately, the epilogue does just that.