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Idealists Without Illusions

Like all relationships, the special transatlantic one is in a state of constant flux—warmer or cooler at different times, enhanced by empathy, marred by misunderstandings, riven by reality—but always affected by the personal qualities of the incumbents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 10 Downing Street.

For a short but eventful span between January 1961 and October 1963, the United States and Britain were presided over by an apparently comically mismatched duo: John F. Kennedy and Harold Macmillan.  It is Christopher Sandford’s design to explain why this double act worked better than might have been expected—mending fences post-Suez, facing down Khrushchev over Berlin and especially Cuba, trying to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, and tamping down postcolonial bushfires from Congo and Laos to British Guiana.  In so doing, he hopes to burnish “Supermac’s” reputation and explain a few of his failures.

Sandford has written extensively on both the politics and culture of the 60’s, including a series of books on the Rolling Stones.  This breadth of references stands him in good stead for analyzing Kennedy, who was himself rather like a rock star—idolized, married to a celebrated beauty, and, as a forty something non-WASP Democrat, potently symbolic not only of a burgeoning superpower but of a whole new kind of country.  The contrasting Conservative...

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