Book review: The Kennedy Wives - lives of the women behind four very public men

They were glamourous, intelligent, tough – and seemingly indifferent to the infidelities of their husbands. This single volume, replete with fascinating tidbits, will satisfy all but the deepest curiosity about the Kennedy wives

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 May, 2016, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 May, 2016, 9:00pm

The Kennedy Wives: Triumph and Tragedy in America’s Most Public Family

by Amber Hunt and David Batcher

Lyons Press

3.5/5 stars

As the 20th century fades into memory, so does the Kennedy family. The children of Jack, Bobby and Teddy are old enough now to be grandparents themselves, and although a number of them followed their fathers into public life, none have achieved anything like the prominence of that charismatic trio of brothers – and their ambitious family patriarch.

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Yet there was much more to the Kennedy mystique than the doomed brothers. In this taut, brisk volume, newly issued in paperback, Amber Hunt and David Batcher look at the Kennedy dynasty through the eyes of the women who were an essential part of its myth. Their glamour, intelligence, toughness – and ability to turn a blind eye to spousal misdeeds – were crucial factors in creating the image of a rollicking clan of happy political warriors.

Drawing exhaustively on published work and original research in the Kennedy archives, the authors crisply tell the tales of Rose, Jackie, Ethel, Joan and Vicki, Ted’s second wife. Wildly different in character, the five women nonetheless are bound by common threads of dutiful service, grace under pressure and devotion to family and faith.

Rose, Ethel and Vicki are forceful personalities who maintain their own identities and gleefully trade sharp elbows with the men. Jackie and Joan, publicly dutiful, privately mourn the slow dissolution of their marriages as their husbands immerse themselves in affairs of state and sex.

The authors’ approach is journalistic rather than literary; there’s a rather relentless accumulation of facts, and precious little attempt to tie them all together in a grand theme. But that’s fine, in this reader’s eyes. The authors consistently choose fascinating tidbits for their tale. For example, they chronicle Jackie’s early shock at her husband’s compulsive womanising: “After the first year together, Jackie was wandering around looking like the survivor of an airplane crash,” according to a family friend.

Perhaps you’re interested enough in the Kennedy women to read the many books about, or written by, each one of them. If not, this single volume should satisfy all but the deepest curiosity.

Tribune News Service