Tuesday, February 10, 2015

When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys by Thomas Maier

The Churchills and the Kennedys were the most talked about families in their heyday. They shared love interests, close friends, political ambitions, business deals, and sea excursions on Aristotle Onassis' yacht with his weird whale foreskin covered barstools. When Lions Roar is the story of the family's rise and fall from power and everything in between. At nearly 700 pages, I took my time with this book and spread out the story of these larger-than-life families (seriously, there are so many Kennedys) over the course of a month.

Title: When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys
Author: Thomas Maier
Pages: 784 pages
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Crown
Genre: History; Biography
My Rating: 5/5

The first comprehensive history of the deeply entwined personal and public lives of the Churchills and the Kennedys and what their “special relationship” meant for Great Britain and the United States.

Acclaimed biographer Thomas Maier tells this dynastic saga through fathers and their sons – and the remarkable women in their lives – providing keen insight into the Churchill and Kennedy families and the profound forces of duty, loyalty, courage and ambition that shaped them. He explores the seismic impact of Winston Churchill on JFK and American policy, wrestling anew with the legacy of two titans of the twentieth century. Maier also delves deeply into the conflicted bond between Winston and his son, Randolph, and the contrasting example of patriarch Joe Kennedy, a failed politician who successfully channeled his personal ambitions to his children. By approaching these iconic figures from a new perspective, Maier not only illuminates the intricacies of this all-important cross-Atlantic allegiance but also enriches our understanding of the tumultuous time in which they lived and the world events they so greatly influenced.

There were two standout men in this book. And by "standout" I mean, complete train wrecks that I could not get enough of. That is of Randolph, Winston's son, and Joe Kennedy, father to JFK. These guys...lemme tell you.

Described as "noisy, self-assertive, whining, and frankly unpleasant," "the most insufferable bore" ever to listen to, and as "fat and just as repulsive as ever," Randolph free-wheeled off daddy's success. He sucked so much that when his parents discovered he was being cheated on by his wife, they didn't really give a shit. In fact, they still seemed to favor their daughter-in-law. I was so intrigued by Randolph's sad little life, that Maier has inspired me to seek out more about the guy.

The same goes for Joe Kennedy, who was on the other end of the obnoxious spectrum. Joe Sr. is like the annoying fly in the room that is half of a second faster than you are. He capitalized financially on Prohibition ending. He capitalized on his position as Ambassador to Great Britain. He tried to capitalize on his scandalous memoir. He coddled both FDR's and Winston's sons like his own so that he would be held in their dad's good graces. The shady Joe Sr. had successes in his career many times, but was often the laughing stock of Washington and London because you can not, will not, not then, not now, not ever, pull a fast one on Winston Churchill. He's the roar of the goddamn lion.

I thought my admiration for Winston Churchill would dwindle after reading this book. Maier puts all the scandals of the Churchills and Kennedys on the table, so I thought it was only a matter of time before I read something like, "Winston had a taste for dog meat and would breed Staffordshire Bull Terriers, as he found their flavor most satisfactory." But, that revelation never came. Instead, Winston went around defending the world against tyranny and saying things like, "Some people pretend to regard me as the British Lion. But I am not the Lion. I am simply the Roar of the Lion," and "England has been offered a choice between war and shame. She has chosen shame, and will get war." Seriously, I love this guy.

Maier's book takes you through the tensions between the Churchills and Kennedys, from arguments over whether or not to trust Ireland, to resentment over the death of one of the Kennedy sons in WWII. You get a sense of admiration between the families as well, from JFK emulating Winston, to Bobby Kennedy commissioning Randolph Churchill to write the late JFK's biography. Bobby and Randolph even died on the same damn day. Just like The Notebook.

Although this book focuses on two highly political families, it's not politics-centric at all. You don't have to be an academic or a history buff to "get" this. It's not densely crammed with facts, but a really understandable and enjoyable read. If you have even the slightest interest in these two compelling families or WWII, I implore you to check this one out.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

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