The Letters of John F. Kennedy

Image of The Letters of John F. Kennedy
Release Date: 
October 29, 2013
Bloomsbury Press
Reviewed by: 

“. . . fascinating . . .”

It is appropriate that The Letters of John F. Kennedy be published in time for the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination. There are three generations of Americans who did not live through the height of the Cold War, who were not terrorized by the thought of the tactic of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.), and who only know Kennedy from the Cuban Missile Crisis—even then just through film.

It is also fitting that the art form of letter writing be introduced to a younger generation whose communications are often summed up in 140 characters.

Martin Sanders does the president and the history of Kennedy proud as we read the letters written by the future president from his youth and throughout his presidency with concerns ranging from the 1960 presidential elections to a growing crisis in Vietnam.

This is a book of history and of historic clarification. Readable straight through from page one, Letters is really a catalog of points in history captured in the words and thoughts of the writers. From children to world leaders to such luminaries as Robert Frost, the compassion the president had for the spoken and written word becomes quite evident.

Yet the letters between the world leaders were the most encouraging and disturbing.

Most intriguing was the running discussion Kennedy had just months before his death with David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli prime minister, concerning Israel’s new nuclear program. Kennedy emphasized the need for restraint by the Israeli government, to slow or halt the proliferation of nuclear arms and “the effects on world stability which would accompany the development of a nuclear weapon capability by Israel.” This is not too unlike the discussions the United States and United Nations are currently in with Iran and its nuclear program.

There is also the exchange of letters from December 1958 and January 1959 between JFK and Eleanor Roosevelt concerning Joseph Kennedy, Sr. and allegations made by the former First Lady that Kennedy’s father was “attempting to ‘buy’ the presidency for his son.” The future president’s tact and political skill are exquisitely represented in the correspondence with Roosevelt asking her to “prove her accusations.”

Sandler especially demonstrates his knowledge and approach as an educator with his notes concerning each of the letters exchanged between the world leaders. His research into the essence of Kennedy’s thinking and reasoning assists the reader in understanding the full context surrounding the correspondences.

It is this detailed explanation of the history and politics that makes this historical anthology of letters so fascinating. We can read the pain and understand the context. We get a better feel for the man, his passions, and the totality of his short presidency.

Those who remember where we were when we heard the president was shot is tantamount to the moment we learned of the events of September 11, 2001. Yet memories can become clouded over time and circumstance. One-half century after his death, The Letters of John F. Kennedy provides a clear picture of the life and times of the 35th president of the United States.