Book review: The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Presidential historian Michael Hogan has written a truly remarkable book on a subject which you might imagine didn’t contain much new ground to cover. There have been so many works published about the life and times of John F. Kennedy that they literally fill their own library, but Hogan’s book is something decidedly different. As the title implies, this is not the story of JFK’s early life, his service in the war or his presidency. (Nor is it about zombie JFK, so don’t get your hopes up, horror genre fans,) Instead, the author takes a very, very deep dive into the legacy building project which went on following his assassination. To be sure, he includes plenty of factual data from that era to put the story in context, but this is primarily a story about how Jacqueline Kennedy took control of her husband’s legacy (in occasionally brutal fashion) and formed a team of people who would cement her husband’s image as a legend in the collective memory of America for generations to come.

Whether you happen to be a fan of JFK or one of his detractors there is plenty of eye-opening material here for you. The author digs up an incredible number of archived details showing how the less flattering and sometimes seedy portions of Kennedy’s life were suppressed as much as possible while collecting testimonials, interviews and commissioned works of film and writing intended to glorify the slain president and build him into the mythic figure many Americans recall. The number of libraries, exhibits and film projects which were dedicated to this effort is staggering and Hogan touches on many of them, not only for their content but the machinations which went on to bring them into being.

One comes away from this book with a different perspective, not so much on the president himself but his family and army of supporters. While there was much to admire about John Fitzgerald Kennedy he was also a deeply flawed man in many ways and his family history was, to put it mildly, “colorful.” In a parallel fashion, Jacqueline Kennedyalso came from roots which were not quite as genteel and lofty as were often portrayed, a fact she herself was unaware of until adulthood. This book is not always flattering to the Kennedy clan but it does provide plenty of fascinating insight into what was going on behind the scenes, particularly in the early years following JFK’s death.

The book is available in March and may be pre-ordered here right now. Whether you’re a Kennedy fan, a detractor or simply an American history buff, The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy should be a welcome addition to your bookshelf.