Laurence Leamer’s 1,000 page biography, The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family traces the lineage of each female member of the Kennedy line from original matriarch Bridget Murphy who settled in Boston in 1849 to the Kennedy women of modern day. Since November 22, 2014 marks the 51st anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, this biography offers enlightening views on the life events of the entire Kennedy family.
The enlightening truth contained within this biography is that the book explores the Kennedy line through the eyes of each distinct female family member of the Kennedy clan. Most Kennedy biographies focus on the prominent male members of the Kennedy line such as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Joseph Kennedy. Other biographies simply focus on one notorious female member of this famed family. However, this biography does not single out one female member of the line but every female Kennedy family member.
Since the Kennedy lineage is so extensive, I recommend before undertaking this massive text the reader familiarize himself/herself with the roughly ten pages of family trees located at the beginning of the book. These genealogical trees and information need to be referenced often to avoid confusion as Leamer moves through each generation of Kennedy women.
Once a reader studies the genealogical information, a world of misfortune and secrets awaits. In constructing his biography, Leamer was granted unparalleled access to Kennedy heirs, family friends as well as personal and professional documents. Although members of the Kennedy family are one of the most biographized, this access makes this text one of the most authentic and authoritative works centered on the mysterious Kennedy clan. This authenticity leads Leamer to shatter the Kennedy persona as American royalty.
While Leamer portrays, the idea that America’s perfect family from Camelot may only be perfect on the outside while holding deep, dark secrets on the inside, he does so with reverence. Leamer places his personal feeling aside; keeping his work devoid of any of his own commentary. What remains is respect, barren of judgment or bias. Leamer simply presents the facts he has painstakingly collected and allows the reader to draw their own judgment. In allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions without author partiality, Leamer produces a work, which provides a unique view of the Kennedy women.
The Kennedy Women, often forgotten as the Kennedy men climb their way to the top, are not portrayed by Leamer as the subservient, loyal and often blinded by love individuals as the media frequently portrays them. Leamer presents these women in a more realistic light; as women who have strengths, faults and their own outspoken ideals. Personally, I was surprised to learn that Jackie Kennedy Onassis attempted to file for divorce from John F. Kennedy in the early 1950s as well as Joseph and Rose Kennedy’s questionable medical treatment of daughter Rosemary.
What makes this text stand out above the countless other Kennedy biographies is that The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family allows the family to be portrayed just as any other American family. A family that must deal with and overcome societal pressure and dysfunction. The reader is able to determine for themselves the positive or negative connotations of the family’s actions, while somehow still feeling empathy towards their tragedies and major plights.
If a reader comes away with one pervasive idea after reading The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family, it should be without hesitation that the women of this family line built, cultivated and maintained the Kennedy dynasty. Without these strong-willed, female ancestors it seems quite possible that the Kennedy name would be no more than just a small footnote in a history textbook, which would simply not do these uncompromising women justice.