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I picked up The Kennedy Curse by Edward Klein with much skepticism. The title, as well as the subject matter, suggested a book taken from the gossip pages of the newsstand rags. The early and rare Kennedy family photos on the cover and in the illustrated section of the book sparked my interested and I decided to give The Kennedy Curse a chance. There is plenty of gossip and sexually lurid details in this book, of course, but I was more struck by how well-written and researched it is. Klein covered JFK's 1960 political campaign and had interviewed many Kennedys through the decades and was a friend of Jacqueline Onassis for over a dozen years. Klein demonstrates more credibility than I expected and his writing style presents a book that is a joy to read and difficult to put down.
Klein clearly states the premise of his book: "The Kennedy Curse is the result of the destructive collision between the Kennedys' fantasy of omnipotence-their need to get away with things that others cannot-and the cold, hard realities of life" (p. 23). According to Klein, this "curse" stemming from some narcissistic, thrill-seeking gene originated several generations up the Kennedy family tree. He begins his book with a chapter on Patrick Kennedy (JFK's great grandfather) who arrived in America from the famine-stricken Ireland in 1849. On the other side of the family, Klein next covers John Francis Fitzgerald "Honey Fitz" (JFK's grandfather) who was an ambitious politician and mayor of Boston. The other chapters cover Joseph P. Kennedy, Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, JFK, William Kennedy Smith, and JFK Jr. Klein focuses on the most controversial aspects of the lives he examines. Joseph P. Kennedy's harshness and Nazi leanings are described (one error I found was that Klein referred to Hermann Goering as Hitler's propaganda minister when, of course, it was actually Josef Goebbels, p. 111). Kathleen is painted in a little more positive light but is still shown as a conniving social climber out to get the Marquess of Hartington and, later, a married man. The sexual exploits of JFK and William Kennedy Smith are described in sordid detail (the 17-page chapter on JFK is almost completely on his sexual conquests while in office). Ted Kennedy appears as a dirty old man in the Smith chapter. The friction between JFK Jr. and Jackie O and, especially, the drug problems and emotional outbursts of wife Carolyn Bassette are the focus of the final chapter as well as the introduction. In fact, Bassette is painted in the worst light of all.
As well-written and interesting as this book is, the weaknesses are clear. There is no chapter on Chappaquiddick (only a few mentions) and hardly anything on RFK and his assassination. These two events probably sparked the idea of a "curse" more than anything else save, perhaps, for JFK Jr.'s plane crash. I also do not think Klein drove the "curse" premise home. Klein tries to demonstrate that it is the narcissism in the Kennedy family that brings about their misfortunes. If JFK was not so lackadaisical in security, he would have been better protected in Dallas or may not have made the trip at all. If JFK Jr. was not so bent on risky behavior to prove his worth, he would not have flown in poor weather July 16, 1999 and so on. A "curse," to me, seems to suggest that the Kennedys have no control in their downfall and that their fate is predestined. But, a lot of the family tragedies stem from their choices. Klein would state that it is the "curse" that determines their poor, sometimes fatal, choices, but I do not buy that. Kennedy apologists will jump on the idea that William Kennedy Smith, Ted Kennedy, etc. cannot help their deviant behavior because it is a family "curse." Most high profile families have tragedies on a higher scale than most (i.e. the Gettys). The Kennedys command much more media attention than most powerful families, so their trials and tribulations are always front page news. When one is rich and powerful and can have anything one wants, the successes are great and so are the potential pitfalls. Klein, to me, does not prove there is a "curse," and he certainly does not demonstrate that it began with Patrick Kennedy (who died young of tuberculosis) and Honey Fitz who had troubled times as all people do but nothing to suggest an evil affliction had been set. Caroline Schlossberg seems to be doing well and I don't think it is because she is breaking a "curse," she just conducts herself with dignity and does not become reckless with power. Although style-wise the book is well-written and a breeze to read, content-wise I found it to be lacking and not backing up the premise Klein so vehemently states.