Books History

Book review: Jack 1939, a WWII spy tale

Jack is a suave, reckless protagonist and “Roosevelt’s man in Europe”
  • The book gives the genesis for John F Kennedy’s passion for solving international politics and upholding democracy

Jack 1939 follows a young John F. Kennedy, a senior at Harvard researching his thesis about Europe’s political chaos with the impending world war.

Only the novel, by Francine Mathews (Riverhead Books, expected publication Thursday, July 5), takes a twist: Jack Kennedy is serving as President Roosevelt’s personal spy in Europe -from London to Paris to occupied Prague- trying to stop the Nazis from buying the 1940 U.S. presidential election to put an anti-war president in office. (So the novel is speculative.)

The novel takes on a tone like James Bond and Sherlock Holmes as Jack Kennedy -a chronically infirm boy- is exposed to the mysterious world of international espionage.

There are a number of well-written, memorable characters like Willi Dobler, Grubbins and Diana that show the reader the  U.S.’s first involvement in espionage that later defined the Cold War era of our country’s history.

The novel does a great job at showing the different attitudes of the war in Europe, from London’s political elite to undercover spy networks intent on overthrowing the Nazis.

Overall: Good action, Great ‘what-if’ portrait of how JFK grew into the U.S.’ firm, diplomatic leader.

There is a phrase one of the characters, Willi Dobler, tells Jack, that captures the tone of the novel:

Si vis pacem, para bellum;

Or, If you want peace, prepare for war.

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