Margaret Fuller, the Kennedy kids

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In the approach to Martha’s Vineyard in the fog, John apparently made multiple piloting errors that took his two passengers’ lives along with his own. The sober sibling Caroline, whom he loved, had little influence on John’s life choices.

Mr. Heymann fully explores the Kennedys’ disparate educational experiences (Caroline was a good student, John was not), reactions to the stress of being always in the public eye (John often cheerfully accommodated autograph seekers while Caroline generally froze), choice of marital partner (neither cared for the other’s spouse) and management of the Kennedy legacy (the author characterizes Caroline as greedy, while speculating that John might well have entered public life and been elected president).

Mr. Heymann is a good writer and he organizes his material well. If there are people out there who have never read anything about the Kennedy children, this book may well be the last word.

Other readers may find the book repetitious and far too detailed — for example, all those very public fights of John and Carolyn Bessette get analyzed to a fare-thee-well, since everybody in New York seems to have witnessed them. In essence, John seems to have exhibited all the foolhardiness of his father and other Kennedy males in their personal lives, and whether John could have channeled his energy into public service remains an open question.

As for Caroline, who can fail to sympathize with the challenges posed by her mother’s marriage to Aristotle Onassis and the paparazzi’s intrusion at every turn, not to mention persistent threats against any Kennedy’s life? If Caroline, whose fortune is estimated at more than $400 million, wants to sell off family-associated memorabilia or trade on her mother’s name in anthologizing poetry and the like, who’s to blame her? But no amount of money can guarantee her family’s privacy, and that’s the one thing Caroline really wants.

John M. and Priscilla S. Taylor are writers in McLean, Va.

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