These Few Precious Days
Christopher Andersen examines the last year in John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy's marriage.
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Andersen also details the regular use of drugs by both Kennedys. Designed to reduce the president’s chronic back pain and to increase energy, the injections were administered by Dr. Max Jacobson, a New York physician who was informally known as “Dr. Feelgood.” The shots were a combination of amphetamines, steroids, and bone marrow, among other things, and were clearly dangerous. But Jack was not troubled. “I don’t care if it’s horse piss. It works,” he said. The Kennedys became so dependent upon Jacobson’s treatments that the president unsuccessfully tried to get him to join the White House medical staff.Skip to next paragraph
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The central theme of the book is that, as with any long-term relationship, the Kennedy’s marriage was continually evolving. Andersen maintains that the death of their infant son Patrick in August 1963 had taken the First Couple to a new place – the president became much more aware of and sensitive to Jackie’s feelings and ceased his philandering. Jackie responded warmly to this change and they were closer emotionally than they had ever been.
In this sense, Andersen’s central theme is similar to “JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President,” Thurston Clarke’s new book which argues that President Kennedy during the last 100 days of his presidency – again beginning with Patrick’s death – stood at the cusp of becoming a truly great leader. Certainly Andersen’s view is a reasonable hypothesis because relationships do change. But it seems equally likely that the basic pattern of the Kennedys' marriage was well-established and the sudden change Andersen finds might well have been a temporary response prompted by the devastating loss of an infant.
Andersen has an extensive knowledge of the Kennedy era. He has written 15 previous books and three of them have dealt with some aspect of President Kennedy’s family. He includes a long bibliography as well as extensive notes about those he interviewed – either for this or the previous volumes. What makes this book particularly noteworthy is that he was able to draw on sources like the transcripts of newly released Oval Office conversations and the 2011 release of interviews that took place in 1964 between Jackie and historian Arthur Schlesinger, which shed important light on her life with JFK.
Andersen was formerly an editor at People Magazine, and the book is clearly written to appeal to a popular audience. The intimate portrait he paints is equal parts fascinating, insightful and disturbing. For those interested in the Kennedys and this important era in American politics, this thoughtful and colorful volume will be required reading. As with so many books about this legendary couple, it serves as a reminder of what was and offers a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been.
Terry Hartle is senior vice president of government relations for the American Council on Education.