Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough


The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

By: David Nasaw

Narrated by: Malcom Hillgartner

 “The Patriarch” is a revealing fact-filled account by David Nasaw of the father of the 35th President of the United States.  Nasaw plays no favorites in reporting historical facts and political movements of early and mid-20th century America.  Nasaw’s research invades Kennedy’s privacy to document public and private correspondence with history makers of his time. Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. praises, and abrades the greatest men, and some of the most beautiful women, of the mid-20thcentury.  Joseph P. Kennedy lives an unequal life in a land of equal opportunity.


Nasaw tells the story of Kennedy’s life—how he became rich; how much he loved his


family; how he provided for family financial security; how he influenced and was influenced by Franklin Roosevelt; how he became Ambassador to Great Britain; and what he thought of Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Joseph McCarthy.  In Nasaw’s unfolding of American’ history and world events, one finds some very personal details of Kennedy’s life.  Though Kennedy adored his wife and family,


he is an unfaithful husband; having affairs with famous women like Gloria Swanson and Clarie Boothe Luce.

IMAGES OF GLORIA SWANSON:” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>


Nasaw explodes myths of Joseph P. Kennedy’s life in showing him to be a pragmatic businessman with a view of the world that is at once prescient and myopic. Kennedy did not make his early fortune by being a bootlegger.  Kennedy lived the life of the American Dream.  He became one of the richest men in the world by capitalizing on a pre-1929 unregulated stock market, a beginning film industry, and a rising real estate market.  Kennedy’s actions to gather wealth are evidence of business acumen but counterfeits of social vision.

The irony of Joseph Kennedy’s life, in regard to his myopic social vision, is that he was the patriarch of social visionaries; i.e. his sons–John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy.  Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. is shown by Nasaw to be mired in a belief system that characterizes American isolationists before, during, and after WWII.  In spite of post-WWII knowledge of the genocidal slaughter of 6 million Jews, and 2.5 million gentile Poles, Joseph Kennedy refuses to believe American intervention is more important than economic security.


Joseph Kennedy’s societal’ belief is that dictators like Hitler or Stalin are like immoral businessmen that can be negotiated out of existence.  With hindsight, that vision shocks one’s sensibility. In Kennedy’s world, everything is negotiable. Like most pure business visions, there is only bottom line profit and protected wealth—the belief that if you are negotiating with a bad actor, one agrees to rules that both bad and good actors adhere to.  In other words, if everyone knows the rules, then the pure business mind thinks justice will be served; i.e. the presumption is that bad actors will eventually fail because of immorality, conscience, or violation of agreed upon rules.  David Nasaw shows Joseph Kennedy to be a man of pure business vision; a belief that everyone’s self-interest should be preserved so that each rises or falls based on a “good” businessperson’s or leader’s inherent ability to prevail.  In the long-term, that may be true, but in the long-term, we are dead; in the short-term, there is infinite and unjust pain.

Nasaw reveals Kennedy’s blind spots by showing how pure business vision (focus on profitability and financial security) leads to factional thinking that leads to “we-they” arguments; i.e. isolation of those who disagree and conspiracy theories that are one step removed from discrimination; two steps from isolation; and three steps from annihilation. One does not believe Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. is prejudiced against Jews or any religion or ethnic group after reading or listening to “The Patriarch”, but it shows how reasoning ability can be distorted by focusing on ends without consideration of means which is the mantra of the “pure” business mind.

Joseph Kennedy grows to believe there is a Jewish cabal maneuvering to takeover the media to influence government because he reasons that all consequences have precisely definable causes.   When his son, Jack Kennedy campaigned for President, Joseph Kennedy felt the Catholic Church organized to defeat his son without thought that there were many reasons  individual Catholics would not vote for his son.  When a precise cause cannot be identified, the human mind tends to manufacture conspiratorial causes.  Joseph Kennedy uses a narrow focus of attention that makes sense in the business world but misses nuances of cause and effect in a political world.

Politics have an important role in life because they deal with means; not just ends. Life is not only a business decision; i.e. ends are more than profit and financial security.  Proof of the need for a broad vision of life is offered in David Nasaw’s history of Joseph P. Kennedy’s life; i.e. a life filled with good and bad behavior, joy and tragedy; in unequal measure.  Joseph P. Kennedy outlived four of his nine children–Joseph Jr. (killed in WWII),Kathleen (died in a plane crash),John F. (assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald), and Robert Kennedy (assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan).  [contact-form-7 id=”4561″ title=”Comments?”]

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