JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century

With Fredrik Logevall

Join us for a virtual conversation with Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Fredrik Logevall, who has written a revealing biography about our iconic, yet still elusive, 35th president.

At the time of his assassination in 1963, John F. Kennedy stood at the helm of the greatest power the world had ever seen, a booming American nation that he had steered through some of the most perilous diplomatic standoffs of the Cold War. Born in 1917 to a wealthy Irish American family, JFK developed political ambition at an early age. His meteoric rise to become the youngest elected president helped mythologize him, as did the many hagiographic portrayals of his dazzling charisma. Reports of his extramarital affairs, and disagreements over his political legacy, have also proliferated since his untimely death, but all these accounts fail to capture the full person.

Attracted by this gap in our historical knowledge, Logevall spent the last decade searching for the “real” JFK. The result is a two-volume biography that effectively contextualizes JFK amidst the roiling American Century. We will discuss volume one, which covers the first 39 years of his life—from his birth through his decision to run for president—revealing his early relationships, his formative experiences during World War II, his ideas, his writings and his political aspirations. Logevall shows us a more serious, independent-minded Kennedy than we’ve previously known, especially his distinct international sensibility, which developed amid the tumult of mid-century America and the Second World War, preparing JFK for his crucial role in keeping the Cold War cold.