'The Patriarch': The Complicated Legacy of Joseph P. Kennedy

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Joseph P. Kennedy, the powerful patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty, died in 1969, but his legacy has continued to fascinate, and puzzle, historians as well as his own descendants. David Nasaw paints a nuanced and complex portrait of the businessman, investor, and ambassador in his new book, "The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy."

Nasaw exposes Kennedy the businessman, the father and the government official, challenging many of the misconceptions that surround the elder Kennedy who made an impact on Wall Street, Hollywood, and Washington.

"The story of Joseph P. Kennedy is the story of an outsider who becomes an insider, won't play by the rules, becomes an outsider, makes his way back in," Nasaw says. "It's twists and turns, rises and falls, and rises again."  

Upon graduating from college, Kennedy's sole ambition was to go into finance. "He wanted his children - and his said this very early, and often - to go into public service, but in order to do that, they had to have the money," Nasaw says. "It would give them the backing, the security, the income they needed so that they would not have to work, and they could go into public service in a way that he might have liked to do, but was unable to do."

Kennedy began trading stocks while still at Harvard, and made a fortune using all the tricks that were legal at the time. But his upward trajectory was not at all consistent. He gravely misjudged the situation with Hitler, and opposed the war almost until the last moment. "Kennedy was a businessman, and as a businessman, he believed you can sit across the table with anyone and negotiate a deal," Nasaw says. 

"I knew what was coming, and yet, I had to live his life as he lived it," Nasaw says of reliving Kennedy's personal tragedies. "When Kennedy died, five of his nine children had died before him. And for a man who took pride, took love, took comfort in his children, lived for his children, that was the greatest tragedy of all."