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The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family

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"A Fresh And Unvarnished Portrait Of A Fascinating, Talented, And Deeply Flawed Family."—Boston Herald Laurence Leamer was granted unheralded access to private Kennedy papers, and he interviewed family and old friends, many of whom had never been interviewed before, for this incredible portrait of the women in America’s "royal family." From Bridget Murphy, the foremother "A Fresh And Unvarnished Portrait Of A Fascinating, Talented, And Deeply Flawed Family."—Boston Herald Laurence Leamer was granted unheralded access to private Kennedy papers, and he interviewed family and old friends, many of whom had never been interviewed before, for this incredible portrait of the women in America’s "royal family." From Bridget Murphy, the foremother who touched shore at East Boston in 1849, to the intelligent, independent Kennedy women of today, Laurence Leamer tells their unforgettable stories. Here are the private thoughts of Kathleen, the flirtatious debutante in prewar England . . . the truth behind Joe Kennedy’s insistence that his mildly retarded daughter, Rosemary, be lobotomized . . . the real story behind Joan and Ted’s whirlwind romance . . . Jackie’s desire for a divorce from JFK in the 1950s . . . Pat Lawford’s disastrous Hollywood marriage . . . how Caroline discovered her cousin David’s death by overdose, and more. Tough enough to withstand the unimaginable, these Kennedy women soldier on in the name of their extraordinary family and what they believe is right.


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"A Fresh And Unvarnished Portrait Of A Fascinating, Talented, And Deeply Flawed Family."—Boston Herald Laurence Leamer was granted unheralded access to private Kennedy papers, and he interviewed family and old friends, many of whom had never been interviewed before, for this incredible portrait of the women in America’s "royal family." From Bridget Murphy, the foremother "A Fresh And Unvarnished Portrait Of A Fascinating, Talented, And Deeply Flawed Family."—Boston Herald Laurence Leamer was granted unheralded access to private Kennedy papers, and he interviewed family and old friends, many of whom had never been interviewed before, for this incredible portrait of the women in America’s "royal family." From Bridget Murphy, the foremother who touched shore at East Boston in 1849, to the intelligent, independent Kennedy women of today, Laurence Leamer tells their unforgettable stories. Here are the private thoughts of Kathleen, the flirtatious debutante in prewar England . . . the truth behind Joe Kennedy’s insistence that his mildly retarded daughter, Rosemary, be lobotomized . . . the real story behind Joan and Ted’s whirlwind romance . . . Jackie’s desire for a divorce from JFK in the 1950s . . . Pat Lawford’s disastrous Hollywood marriage . . . how Caroline discovered her cousin David’s death by overdose, and more. Tough enough to withstand the unimaginable, these Kennedy women soldier on in the name of their extraordinary family and what they believe is right.

30 review for The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family

  1. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    There's an old saying "Behind every man, there's a good woman" and that was definitely true for the Kennedys. The Kennedy men would never have accomplished what they did without the Kennedy women. The Kennedy Women isn't just about the Kennedy women we all know like Rose, Jackie, Ethel, and Joan. This book introduced us to the women who escaped the Irish potato famine in order to come to America for a better life. The first Kennedy and Fitzgerald women had to deal with a lot of discrimination There's an old saying "Behind every man, there's a good woman" and that was definitely true for the Kennedys. The Kennedy men would never have accomplished what they did without the Kennedy women. The Kennedy Women isn't just about the Kennedy women we all know like Rose, Jackie, Ethel, and Joan. This book introduced us to the women who escaped the Irish potato famine in order to come to America for a better life. The first Kennedy and Fitzgerald women had to deal with a lot of discrimination because they were immigrants. They were treated like garbage but through hard work and hardheadedness they persevered. Because of the sacrifices these women made within less than 100 years the Kennedy's were one of the most powerful families in America. Reading this book made so happy that I was born when I was, because these women had to defer their hopes and dreams in order to help the men in their family. They couldn't have careers or even divorce their Horrible husband's. They just had to smile and take it. Despite often being treated as second class citizens these women still managed to leave an indelible mark on this country. They help shine a light on people with disabilities, they fought through chronic illness, and they exposed they often private shame of alcoholism. I thought this would be a more tawdry and scandalous read(which I love) but this book was actually well researched and unbiased.

  2. 4 out of 5

    BAM The Bibliomaniac

    Nothing is as touching as the paragraph detailing the acceptance of Rosemary by her brothers, who chaperoned her dances so she was able to waltz like her classmates. They made her laugh, they made her appear "not different at all." If to the outside world, the Kennedys are clannish, to themselves they are a brood full of love and understanding. Joe, Sr. is a selfish, egotistical monster. Poor Rosemary, poor, poor dear. Really the more I read the more I want to say that about all of the children. Nothing is as touching as the paragraph detailing the acceptance of Rosemary by her brothers, who chaperoned her dances so she was able to waltz like her classmates. They made her laugh, they made her appear "not different at all." If to the outside world, the Kennedys are clannish, to themselves they are a brood full of love and understanding. Joe, Sr. is a selfish, egotistical monster. Poor Rosemary, poor, poor dear. Really the more I read the more I want to say that about all of the children. Joe, Sr. was an extraordinary womanizer and I do not believe turning a blind eye makes Rose a saint. Not comforting your children, not showing affection should be unacceptable. The Kennedy children succeeded because they were forced to grow in a more than slightly dysfunctional environment. I find it slightly ironic that Eunice's first government assignment was the first executive secretary in juvenile delinquency, bringing troubled girls home for dinner and preaching, "we want you to be happy children. Happy children become happy men and women." But the crux is exactly how happy was Kathleen who wasn't allowed to mourn her soldier husband, or Bobby who was teased for being gawky, or Rosemary who was lobotomized. Eunice was a case study of GAD. Jack had multiple medical issues exacerbated by his living circumstances and an extreme sexual addiction, possibly searching for the love and comfort he never received as a child. Five generations of Kennedy women are shown in their full glory, growing, supporting, loving, living and dying. Babies are born; husbands are killed. The faith and loyalty of the Kennedy family is not seen today. However I think that loyalty often made the women blind to what was happening around them. Otherwise, they could have been considered emotional sacrificial lambs on the altar of political popularity.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anna Makinen

    This was my long summer vacation read. I felt intimidated by the length of the book at first. Unnecessarily. The book is fascinating, lengthy - yes,full of minutiae details - yes, but they all build up the story. To me the book is full of life, emotions, drama - highly entertaining and at the same time also informative. The book tells the story of the Kennedys through their women. As a mother I found fascinating to follow the gradual construction of Rose Kennedy’s persona as a mother. However, This was my long summer vacation read. I felt intimidated by the length of the book at first. Unnecessarily. The book is fascinating, lengthy - yes,full of minutiae details - yes, but they all build up the story. To me the book is full of life, emotions, drama - highly entertaining and at the same time also informative. The book tells the story of the Kennedys through their women. As a mother I found fascinating to follow the gradual construction of Rose Kennedy’s persona as a mother. However, do not be mistaken about it - the ethos of the patriarchal family has been the driving force behind both Rose's and Joe Kennedy's life. Their performance as parents can certainly be criticized, however, I am impressed by their purpose and dedication. One simply doesn't come across such families anymore. What is simply difficult to fathom in this day and age is the unequal and segregational rules for boys and girls in the family. One can’t help wondering what would become of the Kennedy women, had they been given equal opportunities as their brothers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jill Kemerer

    In depth, massive book about the Kennedy woman. I really enjoyed the background into Bridget Kennedy, the matriarch who came from Ireland during the mid-1800's and worked her way from nothing to a business owner. A large portion is devoted to Rose, but I found her daughters to be more interesting. Eunice, Pat and Jean in particular, is written about with depth and honesty. Out of the daughters'-in-law, only Joan got much script time. I would have really liked a more honest and detailed look at In depth, massive book about the Kennedy woman. I really enjoyed the background into Bridget Kennedy, the matriarch who came from Ireland during the mid-1800's and worked her way from nothing to a business owner. A large portion is devoted to Rose, but I found her daughters to be more interesting. Eunice, Pat and Jean in particular, is written about with depth and honesty. Out of the daughters'-in-law, only Joan got much script time. I would have really liked a more honest and detailed look at Jackie, but since so many other books focus exclusively on her, I didn't mind. However, very little was given about Ethel, especially her life after Bobby's death, and I was disappointed in this. All in all, I was very impressed with the level of research, and the incredible story of the Kennedy's as laid out with the women as the focus. As the author intended, I couldn't help but feel the Kennedy men in many ways weren't as worthy of the office as the Kennedy women would have been. An excellent book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    RNOCEAN

    Based on five years of research, and with unprecedented cooperation from Kennedy family and associates, Laurence Leamer paints startling, in-depth portraits of the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters who struggled to build and maintain the Kennedy dynasty—from steerage on an immigrant vessel to the slums of Boston, from the court of St. James to the White House. *****Rate this 5/5. The years of research paid off because this book was so well-written and thorough. One always hears of the Based on five years of research, and with unprecedented cooperation from Kennedy family and associates, Laurence Leamer paints startling, in-depth portraits of the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters who struggled to build and maintain the Kennedy dynasty—from steerage on an immigrant vessel to the slums of Boston, from the court of St. James to the White House. *****Rate this 5/5. The years of research paid off because this book was so well-written and thorough. One always hears of the Kennedy men, but little of their wives, sisters and mother. This book introduces all of them in depth and the lives they lived. This book was over 800 pages and took some time to read, but it was worth the effort. I had just finished Bobby and Jackie, A Love Story, so this book expanded on that one.

  6. 5 out of 5

    P.S. Winn

    This is a great book. Readers hear so much about the famous Kennedy men but is refreshing to read about the women. their lives, struggles and experiences.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    This book reminds me of why I became a non-practicing Catholic. Laurence Leamer uses previously written source material and personal interviews to trace the lives of all of the women who, either by blood or through marriage, became part of the Kennedy legacy. He starts by chronicling the lives of the great-grandparents of the generation that attained the White House in the 1960s and continues on through the descendants of the 1990s. Since Kennedy women were usually raised to consider the This book reminds me of why I became a non-practicing Catholic. Laurence Leamer uses previously written source material and personal interviews to trace the lives of all of the women who, either by blood or through marriage, became part of the Kennedy legacy. He starts by chronicling the lives of the great-grandparents of the generation that attained the White House in the 1960s and continues on through the descendants of the 1990s. Since Kennedy women were usually raised to consider the ambitions of their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons before their own, their story is also the story of the Kennedy men. The book therefore also gives us portraits of and insights into the extremely gifted yet deeply flawed men of the family. As for the Kennedy women, some of them have certainly been talented and charismatic in their own right, but the earlier generations were also emotionally stunted and damaged by the repressive upbringing of the patriarchal society in which they were raised and especially by the attitudes of the Catholic Church. This was especially true of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the mother of John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy. She inherited all of her father’s vitality, intelligence and political instincts. She might have made an excellent politician herself if she hadn’t been held back by social mores, the men in her life, and the teachings of her religion. In fact, I was amazed at how much direct influence the Church had on her private life, such as when the Bishop of Boston talked Rose’s father out of letting her attend the college of her choice. She was sent instead to a Catholic convent boarding school that pretty much finished the job that society had started and turned her into a repressed martinet. She insisted on sending her daughters to the same kind of school and therefore passed on the same damaging effects to them. Eunice Kennedy Shriver is another example of a Kennedy woman who probably would have made a better politician than many of the men in her family, if she hadn’t been raised to use her talents to help her brothers achieve their own ambitions. Yet she found a way to re-direct her drive by starting the Special Olympics. Coming from a wealthy background helps, of course, but it also takes organizational skill, determination, and a social conscience to accomplish something like that. The present generation of Kennedy women is much more enlightened about the role of women and still believes in devoting themselves to public service. However, the family legacy has led some of them to think this means running for public office when perhaps they are not suited for it. Their wealth and connections have also given some of them opportunities over better-qualified people. On the other hand, their famous name has also subjected them to public scrutiny and criticism that no ordinary person would ever face, and they still battle against a double standard about women in politics. Overall, this book impressed me with how strong the Kennedy women were and how much they were able to accomplish in spite of all the drawbacks they faced.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    This is one of the best books I've read on any Kennedy. I have always been fascinated with the family and how especially the women have endured the politics, the affairs, etc. This is a true insight into the foundation that was laid with the first Kennedy woman who opened her own business to support her family. It really depicts Rose's spiritual faith and how it pushed her to do what she believed was best for her family as a whole and those generations that would follow.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Terri Miles

    I love biographies.. most biographies. I am interested in this family so I really wanted to read this. I learned alot about the faith people have in their religion. I learned how women were treated in certain era's and families. It was very interesting. There wasn't a part that I wanted to skip or that I thought would drag on. I think back on things I read in this book every now and then.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vivian LeMay

    Read this book over ten years ago and remember it well. From the day in 1821 when Bridget Murphy, the true Kennedy matriarch, is born in Ireland, to Rose Kennedy's 100th birthday in 1990, this book covers plenty of history. Whenever there is a news story about the Kennedy family, I think of this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    I really enjoyed this book--I feel like I just got started reading more historical non-fiction and this one really was a great first one to get me started. What an amazing/interesting family--it really makes me want to read more about them...so any other good Kennedy books out there

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    I found this book to be pretty great. It was chock full of information of both historical significance and also such tawdriness that, at times, it read like an issue of US Weekly. While the title focuses on the women, I think that one could learn a lot about the men in the Kennedy family as well. After finishing this, I am not sure that I would necessarily need to read The Kennedy Men given the attention that is devoted to them as well; however, the information about the men is generally I found this book to be pretty great. It was chock full of information of both historical significance and also such tawdriness that, at times, it read like an issue of US Weekly. While the title focuses on the women, I think that one could learn a lot about the men in the Kennedy family as well. After finishing this, I am not sure that I would necessarily need to read The Kennedy Men given the attention that is devoted to them as well; however, the information about the men is generally presented from the standpoint of how the events affected (or were shaped) by the family's women. Some highlights (some spoilers in here if you are not knowledgeable about the Kennedys): -I found the description of Eunice Kennedy to be really fascinating. I truly believe, after reading this, that she is the brains of the family. -The discussion of Rosemary Kennedy's mental retardation and subsequent lobotomy was heartbreaking. Joe Kennedy's motivation for the surgery is just mind-boggling to me. -I couldn't believe the Kennedy women's widespread naivety about sex. Especially Ethel, who the author describes as having believed that men wore condoms to work every day until a staffer told her otherwise in her mid-life. Overall, I think this is well worth reading.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joan Colby

    An exhaustive study of the Kennedy family with focus on the women, starting with Bridget Murphy, an immigrant who married P.J. Kennedy through the grandchildren of the matriarch Rose. Rose is the most interesting subject of this book which was written in 1996, prior to her death. Her rigid compulsive nature is frightening in a mother of nine children, all of whom responded in various ways to their upbringing. The father, Joe, was more beloved, though he too was both a martinet and a libertine. An exhaustive study of the Kennedy family with focus on the women, starting with Bridget Murphy, an immigrant who married P.J. Kennedy through the grandchildren of the matriarch Rose. Rose is the most interesting subject of this book which was written in 1996, prior to her death. Her rigid compulsive nature is frightening in a mother of nine children, all of whom responded in various ways to their upbringing. The father, Joe, was more beloved, though he too was both a martinet and a libertine. The Kennedy family has had more than its share of tragedies, but the way they responded to them can be startling. A lot of denial going on, and in the women much unquestioning devotion to the rules of the Catholic church. The later generations embraced more liberal views, while frequently having problems with alcohol and drugs, issues that also afflicted some of Rose’s children: Pat, Jean and Teddy. As a psychological study, the book has value.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I read "The Kennedy Men" so just had to get this one. An extremely interesting read. I especially enjoyed the early history. The book does become hard to get through in certain different places but I guess that's difficult to avoid in something this long-800 pages. I got tired of Kathleen Kennedy's debutante days pretty quickly and the ending sort of dragged,but no other real complaints.I would like to know ,however,why there was no mention of Josie Hannan Fitzgerald's death? Seeing as she was I read "The Kennedy Men" so just had to get this one. An extremely interesting read. I especially enjoyed the early history. The book does become hard to get through in certain different places but I guess that's difficult to avoid in something this long-800 pages. I got tired of Kathleen Kennedy's debutante days pretty quickly and the ending sort of dragged,but no other real complaints.I would like to know ,however,why there was no mention of Josie Hannan Fitzgerald's death? Seeing as she was Rose Kennedy's mother and discussed at length in the first few chapters,shouldn't it have merited a mention? The death of Rose's father is enclosed,yet the last we hear of Josie is she has gotten old and that's it. Strikes me as odd since this is called "The Kennedy WOMEN".

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Brilliant writing and a fascinating family. This is a story of corrupt, hypocritical and sexist men, religion and society as well as self-denying and delusional women about those men and their religion. The facade of the loving, healthy and happy Catholic family didn't take long to come tumbling down to show the truth of unhappiness and loneliness. They may have achieved a lot politically but paid a heavy price. None of them appealed to me at all. Surely a lesson from this family story is that Brilliant writing and a fascinating family. This is a story of corrupt, hypocritical and sexist men, religion and society as well as self-denying and delusional women about those men and their religion. The facade of the loving, healthy and happy Catholic family didn't take long to come tumbling down to show the truth of unhappiness and loneliness. They may have achieved a lot politically but paid a heavy price. None of them appealed to me at all. Surely a lesson from this family story is that power isn't everything.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    Everyone knows about JFK, RFK, Teddy, and even Joe Kennedy. But few stories are told about the women, especially Kathleen and Rosemary. This book was a breath of fresh air and gave a lot of insight and analysis about the Kennedy women. It goes into great detail, especially about Rosemary's lobotomy, Kathleen's life. It discusses the triumphs, the trials, and how every member of the family helped or hurt their cause as they attempted to become America's foremost political dynasty. It is the first Everyone knows about JFK, RFK, Teddy, and even Joe Kennedy. But few stories are told about the women, especially Kathleen and Rosemary. This book was a breath of fresh air and gave a lot of insight and analysis about the Kennedy women. It goes into great detail, especially about Rosemary's lobotomy, Kathleen's life. It discusses the triumphs, the trials, and how every member of the family helped or hurt their cause as they attempted to become America's foremost political dynasty. It is the first in a trilogy of Kennedy books, and is by far the best.

  17. 4 out of 5

    ShareStories

    Absolutely fascinating book about what it is like to be female and Kennedy. I was especially captivated by the story of Rosemary, whose mental disability was seen as such a liability to the family, that her father had her lobotomized and institutionalized without once consulting her mother. The power that is is illustrated in these woman's lives (and it isn't their own power, for the most part) is truly frightening.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    I found this most fascinating because it begins with Bridget Murphy born in 1821, became an immigrant in the bowels of a ship, married Patrick Kennedy and history was born. This book follows the WOMEN of the Kennedy clan, all the way through Rose to Jacquie. You might not believe in the same politics, but the tenacity of all these women will captivate you.

  19. 4 out of 5

    meeschka

    One of the best books I have ever read. Wonderfully written & I could not put it down! I thought it would take me ages because it's about as thick as the Bible, but I tore through it. It's seemingly politically neutral, which I was hoping for since I just wanted to read more about the family from an unbiased source. I highly recommend this!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    There is something intriguing about the Kennedy family, and reading about their ups and downs from the perspective of the women is fascinating. I have no particular interest in the Kennedys, in U.S. history, or anything specific about this book other than the simple fact that it is a book -- and it is extremely well-written.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Graceann

    A multiple biography of the ladies who made and make the Kennedy clan as successful as it has become. The mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of the men who led the country (or tried to). Special attention is paid to Rose and of course to Jackie, Ethel and Joan, but other important Kennedy women are discussed at length, as well. This is a meaty book and meticulously researched.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Trudy

    I just found it fascinating to look more closely at the lives of these iconic women. Turns out they are just regular people with the same insecurities, sensitivities, and failings that we all have.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cyndie Todd

    There are so many lessons and elements and anecdotes of this story that have stayed with me over the years, it has truly influenced me as a person. It can be maddening, but it is worth it for the understanding of the dynamics and culture of this highly influential family.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bobbie Rathjens

    This is one of the first books I read on the Kennedy's an I often go back to its worn pages and torn cover. The reason why I go back is because it's excellently written and chock full of information that you can't find elsewhere. Great read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    This is ONE OF THE MOST ADDICTIVE books I've ever read!!!!! This not only reads like a novel, but you will laugh, cry, and scream at the women in this book just like you would in a regular novel. It's over 800 pages, but I immediately wanted to reread it once I was done.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Thrasher

    A big, juicy "history" of everything Kennedy. The Kennedy saga, epic, soap opera, melodrama - told through the eyes of the Kennedy women. I'm glad my mother wasn't Rose Kennedy (although maybe if she had been Rose Kennedy, I would be president right now).

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    Fantastic book that goes right back the the mid nineteenth century to the early 1990's. Unlike a lot of books on the Kennedy's it neither glosses over bad thing or forgets the good. A fasinating read about the women who's lives were overshadowed by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Well written, engaging story of the Kennedy women, beginning with the first Irish immigrant, through Rose Kennedy's death in 1995.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Patty Abrams

    Learned about these women you don't hear much about. Enjoyable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    I'm always hesitant about books that claim to give an in-depth look at famous people the author doesn't actually know, but I thought Leamer did a pretty good job.

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