Infoplease's Recommended Reading List on the Kennedys

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Here's a list of some of the best books about the Kennedy family.

By Jennie Wood


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America's royal family, the Kennedys, are one of the most written about subjects in U.S. history. This list doesn't attempt to cover every book written about them, but it does contain a lot of the major works from various points of view.

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963

by Robert Dallek (2004)

This major bestseller has been republished in 2013 with a new epilogue for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination. When it was originally published, the book received attention for its new insight into John F. Kennedy's love affairs and health. It also looked at the political choices and paths he might have taken had Kennedy not been killed. Dallek, who also wrote Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973, was the first biographer since Doris Kearns Goodwin to have an all access pass to the Kennedy family papers. Because of his access as well as Dallek's objectivity and talent for writing narrative history, this book broke new ground about a man who many have read and heard much about.

The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family

by Laurence Leamer (1996)

Like Dallek, Leamer had rare access to private Kennedy papers. Leamer also interviewed several family members and friends, some of whom had not been interviewed before. Those two factors helped Leamer give readers a fresh and thorough portrait of the women in this famous family. Leamer began the book in 1849 with Bridget Murphy who came to East Boston. The book explored Ted Kennedy's relationship with Joan, Pat Lawford's life in Hollywood, and Jackie Kennedy's questioning of her marriage to John F. Kennedy in the 1950s.

The Fitzgeralds and The Kennedys: An American Saga

by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2001)

The story of two immigrant families and the marriage that forever tied them together, putting them on the road to become America's royal family, was in very capable hands with writer Doris Kearns Goodwin. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Goodwin used her access to the Kennedy family as well as her vast skill and experience as a historian to weave a masterful web, covering a story that began with the 1863 baptism of John Francis Fitzgerald through the 1963 tragedy that eclipsed the family's legacy. A must read for all Kennedy and U.S. history lovers.

What Remains

by Carole Radziwill (2005)

Although the publisher chose to market this New York Times bestseller as a memoir about fate, friendship and love instead of a book about the Kennedys, it still is very much about the life, times and senseless loss of John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister who died in an airplane crash. Carolyn Bessette Kennedy was the author's best friend. John F. Kennedy Jr., was the cousin of the author's husband, Prince Anthony Radziwill. The summer of the plane crash, Radziwill and her husband were staying with John and Carolyn at a house on Martha's Vineyard. Three weeks after the plane crash, Anthony died of cancer. The book opened with the plane crash and then retraced the author's life up to it. It's an interesting life, following her working-class roots through her career as an award-winning journalist, her marriage to a prince and her close friendship with the Kennedy couple. With her background in journalism shining through on every page, Radizwill gave us an unflinching, moving account of friendship, love and loss.

Robert Kennedy and His Times

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1979)

This biography, winner of the National Book Award in 1979, covered not just the life of Robert Kennedy, but the turbulent times that surrounded his political rise and assassination. Covering the events going on around Kennedy allowed the reader to understand the climate, politically and socially, that Kennedy had to navigate through. Schlesinger and Robert Kennedy were friends. That friendship gave the author access to private letters and journals so that the book could take a behind the scenes look at both public events and intimate relationships. Already a Pulitzer Prize-winning author at the time he wrote this biography, Schlesinger handled both the life and times elements to this book with authority.

True Compass: A Memoir

Edward M. Kennedy (2009)

Edward M. Kennedy spent five years writing this memoir about his life as a patriarch in America's most celebrated family. He wrote frankly about his role in the U.S. Senate, where Kennedy was regarded by both democrats and republicans as one of the greatest senators in history. He wrote about his role in major events from the Civil Rights Movement to Barack Obama's presidential election to his push for better health care in American. He also wrote about the death of his brothers and his own illness with clarity and courage.

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