J Randy Taraborrelli, the author of a prior book on the Kennedy family Ethel, Jackie and Joan, tells the story of the Kennedy Family in After Camelot: A Personal History Of The Kennedy Family, a comprehensive book that covers the family from 1968. Taraborrelli has met the subjects of his book many times and has a clear fondness for his subjects. He is also no stranger to writing about others in the public eye including Madonna and Michael Jackson and knows how to tell a story using primary sources.The incredible range of people he has interviewed, from employees to close friends and many members of the extended Kennedy family is what makes this book so intriguing even as it covers events that played out in the public eye and have been explored in depth before.
The book unpacks some intriguing stories such as the complicated negotiations that took place before Jackie Kennedy became Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Taraborrelli doesn’t let his affection for the Kennedy family keep him from exposing some of the secrets that the family has gone to great effort to hide such as the real story of what happened to Rosemary Kennedy, the sister of Bobby, Jack, and Ted Kennedy who was given a lobotomy in 1941 at the behest of her father. He also delves into the murky scandal of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick. No one will ever truly know what happened that night when Ted Kennedy drove off the wooden bridge, ending both a young woman’s live and his own Presidential chances but the author reveals as much as can possibly be known in a way that is both respectful of the situation and deeply informative. His tone is also sympathetic when exploring the short and troubled life of David Kennedy, Robert and Ethel’s son.
With the Kennedys nothing is ever simple. To truly understand the Kennedy character and the Kennedy mystique means embracing both the highest aims of human endeavor, a pull toward honor and public service, as well as acknowledging the ruthless ambition, fierce competition, rampant egotism, and a certain existential sorrow and loneliness. It is no easy thing to be a Kennedy.
The book is laid out in short chapters that are more like vignettes than sustained narrative. For the person who is completely unfamiliar with the Kennedy saga this could be a bit confusing but for those with some familiarity with the events and stories this book adds a new layer of richness and understanding of what it is like to be part of this complicated family.