Mike Kueber's Blog

February 6, 2013

Sunday Book Review #97 – The Patriarch

Filed under: Biography,Book reviews — Mike Kueber @ 12:54 pm

Seven hundred and eighty-seven formidable pages on an über-impressive man.  Before reading The Patriarch by David Nasaw, my impression of Joseph P. Kennedy was that he was an egocentric, eccentric misanthrope who attempted to redeem his evil existence by pushing his kids into politics.  Since reading The Patriarch, my impression is that Kennedy, as much as any man, lived his life according to the principles and priorities that I admire.         

Although Kennedy was born into an Irish Catholic family in Boston that was able to give him some modest advantages, including an education at Boston Latin and Harvard, his early financial success in banking and the nascent motion-picture industry can be characterized as self-made.  And although much of that success was due to insider trading and stock manipulation, that sort of behavior was commonplace and not illegal until the establishment of the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1934, with Kennedy as its first chairman.

Kennedy had a gift for making money, but he saw money as only a means to an end.  As soon as he had enough money to provide financial security to his kids and grandkids via trusts, he turned to public service, first as SEC chairman and then as the ambassador to Great Britain prior to and during WWII.  Because of his isolationist beliefs, he was eventually squeezed out of the political mainstream.

The title of the book, The Patriarch, comes from the fact that Kennedy put so much emphasis on the development of his nine kids – four boys and five girls.  But my impression was that he was more focused on helping the kids to do “good” as opposed to doing “well.”  Yes, the grunt work of raising the kids was often done by non-family members, but both he and his wife Rose were heavily involved in each kid’s personal development.  Even when his financial and public-service activities were in full bloom, Kennedy gave his highest priority to his kids.   

In addition to his devotion to his family, his belief in public service, and his proclivity for using money instead of loving it, I was most impressed with Kennedy’s firm commitment to Catholicism.  Both Joe and Rose believed so strongly in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that the biggest threat to family unity occurred when one of their daughters fell in love with and married an Anglican nobleman. 

Author Nasaw has won all sorts of awards for The Patriarch, with his research described as Caro-esque.  I think he did a wonderful job of describing the good and the bad of this man, and from my perspective, the good is immense and the bad is minimal. 












  1. From your report, it sounds remarkably like a piece of propaganda, which the Kennedy’s were/are famous for.

    Comment by Bob Bevard — February 6, 2013 @ 4:09 pm | Reply

  2. […] to 1968 when Bobby is assassinated.  I’ve read a lot of books on the Kennedys, most recently The Patriarch by David Nasaw, and I believe this mini-series accurately reflects that history as well as can […]

    Pingback by Saturday Night at the Movies #71 – Monster, The Thorn Birds, and The Kennedys | Mike Kueber's Blog — May 10, 2013 @ 1:03 am | Reply

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