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Bridge Across the Atlantic

by Robert Dean Lurie

Union Jack: John F. Kennedy’s Special Relationship with Great Britain, by Christopher Sandford (ForeEdge, 272 pp., $29.95)

One could be forgiven for thinking there is nothing new to be said about the 35th president of the United States. Whether you’re looking for a minute-by-minute account of the Cuban missile crisis or a comprehensive tally of John F. Kennedy’s sexual conquests, you will not come away from empty-handed. But in this centennial year of JFK’s birth, veteran biographer Christopher Sandford’s new book, Union Jack, manages to find a fresh angle by focusing on just one aspect of Kennedy’s personality: the late president’s fascination (or “love affair,” as Sandford characterizes it) with Great Britain. This ostensibly narrow scope actually provides much insight into Kennedy’s career, as we learn that an early affinity with British culture in general and the British Conservative party in particular did much to shape his personal lifestyle and political philosophy.

The first stirrings of this “affair” began at age 16, when the perpetually ill Kennedy devoured Churchill’s The World Crisis (1923–31) and several other volumes of British history during an extended hospital stay. Some years later, he came across David Cecil’s The Young Melbourne (1939), which he often cited as his favorite book. Cecil’s examination of the early life of 19th-century British prime minister William Lamb (Lord Melbourne) provided a working template for Kennedy’s own life — particularly after Jack crossed over from journalism into public service. Lamb’s combination of canny leadership and, as Sandford puts it, “a generous degree of personal license” held an immediate appeal for the young man. Sandford reports that Kennedy reread this book “on roughly an annual basis” for the rest of his life.

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