American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy by C. David Heymann, hardcover, 593 pages
C. David Heymann has made a career, in part, of writing about the Kennedys. His biographies of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Robert Kennedy have been bestsellers. Now he is plumbing the psyches of the Kennedy children, especially John Jr. since, as Heymann notes, his premature death allowed the author to write a complete biography. Some of this material will be familiar to Kennedyologists, but a significant amount of it won't.
This is a highly readable biography that gives us the Kennedy children as people, not national symbols, through the words of their friends, colleagues, classmates and neighbors. (Read an excerpt.)Above all, it shows that despite the incredible pressures each child had to face from the public, the Kennedy family and the press, these kids emerged not only as sane, functioning adults, but as their own people. Whatever else she was (and she was lots of things, not all of them flattering), Jackie Kennedy made sure she got mothering right. Her children, she liked to say, "are the best thing I've ever done. If you botch that up, nothing else matters."
Editor's note on Sept. 22, 2014: As we wrote last week, serious questions have been raised about author C. David Heymann's work. In 2007, when his book "American Legacy" was put on a list of "late-summer reads," NPR was not aware of those questions.
The problems include material in the excerpt referred to on this page, which is largely based on a purported conversation between Sen. Edward Kennedy and his neice, Caroline Kennedy.
Heymann wrote that the Kennedys spoke during a flight from Paris to New York City on Nov. 20, 2002. But, it appears Sen. Kennedy could not have been on such a flight. He was on the Senate floor to vote the evening of Nov. 19, 2002. On Nov. 20, 2002, Sen. Kennedy was still in Washington, D.C., where he participated in the presentation of the 2002 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
It also isn't certain that the person who supposedly overheard the Kennedys' conversation — Thurston Gauleiter — existed. Research by attorney Donna Morel and by NPR turn up no evidence of him.
Editor's note on Sept. 19, 2014: C. David Heymann died in May 2012. On Aug. 27, 2014, Newsweek took a long look at his career. It concluded that his books were "riddled with errors and fabrications." Spokesmen for Heymann's publisher, Simon and Schuster, declined to discuss the matter with Newsweek. According to Newsweek, it was prompted to look at the questions regarding Heymann's books by San Diego lawyer Donna Morel, who had long been skeptical about the author's work and had conducted her own investigation of his reporting.