When the Kennedy family approached author David Nasaw asking him to write a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy, father of the nine Kennedy children, he tried to say no.
“I said over and over and over again: you don’t want me to write this book. I’m a crazy-obsessive researcher - I’m going to find something the family doesn’t like,” Nasaw told “St. Louis on the Air” guest host Jim Kirchherr. “[But] they said, ‘Anything that you write is going to be better than the garbage that’s out there.’"
Nasaw, a history professor at The City University of New York finally agreed once he had negotiated unrestricted access to the family’s archives.
In his book, “The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy,” he takes the elder Kennedy’s reputation head on. He uses the book as an opportunity to fact-check the accusations surrounding a man, whom, as he writes: “has been vilified and dismissed as an appeaser, an isolationist, an anti-Semite, a Nazi sympathizer, an unprincipled womanizer, a treacherous and vengeful scoundrel who made millions as a bootlegger and Wall Street swindler, then used those millions to steal elections for his son.”
Though Nasaw found shades of truth in “the larger myth,” Kennedy’s letters and private documents reveal a more nuanced character. While he says Kennedy may deserve labels of “anti-Semite” or “womanizer,” his personal beliefs defied easy categorization - with one firm exception.
“As an author, I would have loved if Joseph Kennedy was a bootlegger. He was not a bootlegger,” Nasaw said.
St. Louis County Library Presents David Nasaw
Monday, December 3, 2012
St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd
With assistance from Ariana Tobin