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Extended Audio Sample An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963 Audiobook, by Robert Dallek Click for printable size audiobook cover
4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (2,228 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Robert Dallek Narrator: Richard McGonagle Publisher: Hachette Book Group Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: August 2005 ISBN: 9781594832840
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An Unfinished Life describes the birth of the Kennedy dynasty, the complexity of Jack’s early years, and the mixture of adulation and resentment that tangled his relationships with his mother, Rose, and his father, Joseph. Forced into the shadow of his older brother, Joe, Jack struggled to find a place for himself until World War II, when he became a national hero and launched his career. For the first time, Dallek reveals the full story of Kennedy’s wartime actions—and the true details of how Joe was killed, an event that opened the door to Jack’s ascendancy. Here is the gripping story of Jack’s transformation from an awkward speaker into a brilliant politician with irresistible charm. 

An Unfinished Life also reveals that Kennedy was far sicker than we ever knew. While laboring to present an image of robust good health, Kennedy was secretly in and out of hospitals throughout his life, so ill that he was administered last rites on several different occasions. Here is a vivid portrait of a man who, because he knew how close he was to death, lived as much as he could—sometimes hurting others in the process.

Never shying away from Kennedy’s weaknesses, Dallek also brilliantly explores his strengths. The result is a portrait of a bold, brave, human Kennedy, once again a hero.
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Quotes & Awards

  • “One of the most engrossing biographies I have ever read…An Unfinished Life is nothing less than a masterpiece.” 

    David Herbert Donald, New York Times bestselling author of Lincoln

  • “An impressively judicious and balanced account of Kennedy’s life and presidency…An excellent biography.” 

    New York Times

  • “Comprehensive, judicious, evenhanded, original. An Unfinished Life has the sober judgement and nuanced accuracy that make it ring true in all the controversial and tricky parts.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “It’s hard to believe that someone could find anything new to say about John F. Kennedy, but Dallek succeeds in this riveting and well-documented biography.”

    New Yorker

  • “Neither debunking nor further mythologizing, Dallek fashions a balanced but fast-paced tale.”

    People

  • “In this riveting tour de force, Dallek delivers what will most assuredly become the benchmark JFK biography for this generation…Dallek is to be thanked for providing the thoroughly researched, well-sourced, responsible, and readable biography that has for so long been wanting in Kennedy scholarship.” 

    Publishers Weekly

  • “This newest biography of JFK is indeed a profile in courage...Richard McGonagle brings the president to life, mimicking the famous accents so well that his renditions of Kennedy speeches compare favorably to Kennedy’s own renderings.”

    AudioFile

  • A Library Journal Best Book
  • A #1 New York Times Bestseller
  • A USA Today Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Phillip | 2/19/2014

    " This is not a book for the casual reader -- this is an in-depth book about the Kennedy life and presidency. There is no doubt that this is a well-written book; but it's only for the most serious Kennedy/presidential scholar/historian. I think the greatest revelation I had from reading this was about how serious Kennedy's health problems were throughout his life. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Colin | 2/17/2014

    " As lots of the reviewers have pointed out, the really remarkable thing about this book is the medical information Dallek had access to, which reveal the extent of his suffering for the majority of his life. Dallek does a pretty solid job of maintaining a readable biography that doesn't go too far into hero worship, disillusionment, or "what if he had lived?" any more than is necessary. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Melissa | 2/17/2014

    " Glad I read it. It has given me a greater view of history during that time. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Judith | 2/14/2014

    " One must wonder what there is that we don't already know about Kennedy. For me, this was an eye opener because I hadn't realized how ill the man was, not just during his presidency, but for his whole life. From early childhood until his death he was plagued like Job with constant pain and a host of diseases and injuries that it is mind-boggling that he was able to function, much less take the highest office in the country. He was in such bad shape that the Navy wouldn't take him until he had his father pull strings to get him in and once there, to get him into real action ( incredible when you consider other politicians pulling strings to stay out of active duty). During most of his life, despite all the family's wealth and connections, they were unable to cure, much less diagnose his illnesses, even though he was treated by the best of the best. They did eventually diagnose Addison's disease and specific back injuries, but he suffered terrible intestinal disorders as well. And yet everyone who met him was so impressed with his vitality, charm, and cheerfulness. He is said to have been a jokester with a great sense of humor and a very happy disposition. I think that the courage he had in dealing with his physical ailments and rising above his pain is truly inspirational. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Vivian Valvano | 2/11/2014

    " Disclosure: I loved JFK and admired his presidency and still weep over his assassination. I am no fool about his errant womanizing. That said, I commend Dallek for his meticulous research into JFK's medical history. He was a far sicker man than anyone except very few people very close to him knew, and he hid it very deliberately. My conclusion is that he really did want to do public service, do something for his country. Most fabulously wealthy men who were as ill as he was would have done absolutely nothing, regardless of parental ambitions. The details about the womanizing during his marriage are most painful. Details about Joseph, Sr. and Rose lead me to conclude that despite whatever veneer was displayed, they were poor parents. He was morally bankrupt when it came to women, including young women acquaintances of his sons, and she was in a world of her own based in religious fanaticism and looking through rose-colored glasses. Serious flaw in the book: despite descriptions of JFK's spirit, style, and personality, nowhere does Dallek capture anything of the charisma (yes, that 1960s word) of the man. We who were young then heard, saw, and knew the charisma, and it was special. Dallek's style is strangely flat. He quotes from JFK's speeches only sparingly and paraphrases them poorly. Readers who were not alive during the Kennedy presidency will get scant awareness of what he was like from this biography. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shane Haggerty | 2/8/2014

    " I admit to an obsession with the Kennedy Family. I remember being a kid and looking through my mom's boxes of stuff from her childhood and finding an autographed picture from JFK and Jacqueline from like 1962 or something. I was fascinated. Then, I was enamored and fascinated with the idea that this young and against-type President was shot down in the prime of life. I remember seeing JFK, the Oliver Stone movie, and loving it, and I was convinced that there was a conspiracy. I remember just always being so completely fascinated and enthralled with JFK, Bobby, Rose, Teddy, and on and on. How could one family--the Kennedy's of Massachusetts--sustain so much tragedy? I love this book for being so honest about the imperfection of JFK and of the Kennedy Family. I love it for what it showed JFK to be: a human being with a serious illness, a man with imperfections and flaws and addictions, and a man who genuinely wanted to do right by the American people. It truly made me feel like I knew the real JFK and gave me insight into one of America's pinnacles in history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Dayla | 1/25/2014

    " Well written. Nothing new that I can remember. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Penny | 1/19/2014

    " Actually 4.5 stars. Very well written, very well balanced. Probably the most informative book on Kennedy I've ever read (it just got hard to get through the excruciating detail of Kennedy's 1000 days of presidency - at least 350 pages!). "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Anna~ | 1/3/2014

    " not being a history buff, i learned so much about JFk, his fam, the period of time in which he lived, how the politics game is played... all in all, very informative. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Trey | 1/3/2014

    " Goes all the way through his life, which is insanely interesting. Plus, it hits on his foreign and domestic policy pursuits. A great insight into a great man. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Brent | 12/25/2013

    " Good read about JFK... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bj Biringer | 12/22/2013

    " Best biography on JFK that has been written. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Jake Berry | 12/14/2013

    " Dear G-d that was a haul. (review forthcoming) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tyler Simko | 11/22/2013

    " Wonderful book. Dallek is a thorough and thoughtful historian who paints a new picture of Kennedy that others have seemed to miss; he goes straight to the real man behind the office. I can't recommend it enough. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tom George | 10/7/2013

    " Great book...one of the best on JFK. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Knox Bodenstein | 4/9/2013

    " So far I am amazed at how big a role money plays in politics. JFK actually had good policy stances, but without the backing of his father's millions he would probably never have made it to the White House! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bryan | 3/6/2013

    " Good book. I learned a lot and found it interesting for the most part. I really liked the part on the Cuban Missile Crisis and how Kennedy handled it. I wish Dallek would have spent more time on the PT-109 incident as it seems exciting. Recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about Kennedy. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Monica | 9/19/2012

    " A little dull, but well done. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Heather | 7/23/2012

    " A little too dense and dry for my personal taste; however, an interesting look at JFK. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sarah Riddle | 1/15/2012

    " I was really excited about reading this and it was sort of a letdown. I am not sure why, but I got soooooo bored and it felt tedious. Even the mundane during his time seems so compelling and I was hoping for more of that feeling. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Michael | 10/27/2011

    " very detailed and fair account of JFK. If you have decided you must read one JFK bio, I guess this would be it. Not exactly a ringing enorsement, but it's a solid read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Chelsi | 4/5/2011

    " The most engrossing JFK biography I've ever read. Finally something new to write about the Kennedys "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ian | 3/29/2011

    " Quite a tome, but well worth the read. Provides fascinating insights into the life of this iconic US president. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Bj | 3/27/2011

    " Best biography on JFK that has been written. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 laura | 10/19/2010

    " I finished this!!!! What a great biography. Excellent read for this new year. He makes me hopeful for a better year. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Knox | 3/29/2010

    " So far I am amazed at how big a role money plays in politics. JFK actually had good policy stances, but without the backing of his father's millions he would probably never have made it to the White House! "

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About the Author
Author Robert Dallek

Robert Dallek is the author of several works of nonfiction, including the #1 New York Times bestseller An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963; Nixon and Kissinger, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and New York Times bestseller; a two-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant, among other books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic, and Vanity Fair. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Society of American Historians, for which he served as president in 2004–2005. He has won the Bancroft Prize, among numerous other awards for scholarship and teaching.

About the Narrator

Richard McGonagle is an Earphones Award–winning narrator and an experienced film, television, and voice-over actor. He has appeared in such films as Rules of Engagement and such television shows as The Practice and JAG.