We Americans have long been privy to the peaks and valleys in the Kennedy family story; we’ve watched them on TV, read about them, listened to their speeches and, at times, been appalled by their actions. The bright promise of JFK’s presidency, and the awful end of a would-be fairytale, have become a part of our collective American consciousness. Still, a comprehensive portrait entailing so many players is a tall order, which may be why J. Randy Taraborrelli considers his 17th book, After Camelot, his most challenging endeavor to date.

In After Camelot, Taraborrelli expands on his best-selling Jackie, Ethel, Joan and brings the whole Kennedy clan onstage. They are, he explains, “a family of complex, fascinating, and sometimes troubled personalities,” but despite unspeakable tragedy and loss, the Kennedys as a family “tried to hold on to the sense of hope, promise, and national service that had been so integral to the public personas of their fallen heroes.”

That struggle, despite its difficulties, is at the heart of Taraborrelli’s behind-the-scenes tale. In a fascinating chronicle that sweeps across a lengthy and tumultuous time period, from the impact of the inscrutable Kennedy patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, to his children, their spouses and the ensuing generation, Taraborrelli draws on extensive interviews and research to give each persona a distinct voice. We can hear Ted Kennedy inspire his audience when, with what must have been a heavy heart, he announced his withdrawal from the presidential race at the Democratic National Convention in 1980: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

The Kennedy ability to inspire, to find strength at times of intense sorrow or shame, and to uphold each other as a family, is perhaps what we admire most about them, and what makes After Camelot such a page-turning, emotionally riveting saga.

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