ABOUT THIS BOOK
A unique document in the history of the Kennedy years, these letters give us a firsthand look at the working relationship between a president and one of his close advisers, John Kenneth Galbraith. In an early letter, Galbraith mentions his "ambition to be the most reticent adviser in modern political history." But as a respected intellectual and author of the celebrated The Affluent Society, he was not to be positioned so lightly, and his letters are replete with valuable advice about economics, public policy, and the federal bureaucracy. As the United States' ambassador to India from 1961 to 1963, Galbraith made use of his position to counsel the President on foreign policy, especially as it bore on the Asian subcontinent and, ultimately, Vietnam.
Written with verve and wit, his letters were relished by a president who had little patience for foolish ideas or bad prose. They stand out today as a vibrant chronicle of some of the most subtle and critical moments in the days of the Kennedy administration--and a fascinating record of the counsel that Galbraith offered President Kennedy. Ranging from a pithy commentary on Kennedy's speech accepting the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination (and inaugurating the "New Frontier") to reflections on critical matters of state such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the threat of Communism in Indochina, Letters to Kennedypresents a rare, intimate picture of the lives and minds of a political intellectual and an intellectual politician during a particularly bright moment in American history.
Letters to Kennedy is about as far removed from the familiar tell-all biographies or nutty assassination conspiracies as it is possible to go… The letters confirm Galbraith’s skill as a writer, his abiding contempt for the State Department as an institution and Richard Nixon as a politician, and in particular, his prescient opposition to American military involvement in Vietnam, even before it had begun.
-- Tim Cornwell Times Higher Education Supplement
[This] book is a goldmine for political sophisticates… In one letter to Kennedy in 1961… Galbraith warned Kennedy that the situation in ‘South Vietnam is exceedingly bad… Unless I am mistaken, Diem has alienated his people to a far greater extent than we allow ourselves to know. This is our old mistake. We take the ruler’s word and that of our own people who have become committed to him… But I fear that we have one more government which, on present form, no one will support.’ It would be 14 years, and 55,000 American soldiers dead, and a million Vietnamese lives wasted in war, before that letter’s gloomy forecast was apparent to Washington. Then, as now, Galbraith’s was a voice worth heeding.
-- David Nyhan Boston Globe
Venerable Canadian-born economist Galbraith was one of John F. Kennedy’s closest advisers, and U.S. ambassador to India from 1961 to 1963. These letters—polished, witty, thoughtful—offer advice on matters from speeches (Galbraith contributed the memorable ‘Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.’) to economics and public policy.
-- Globe and Mail
John Kenneth Galbraith was a friend of, adviser to and an Ambassador to India for John F. Kennedy. He also was—and is—a fine writer and thinker… The letters he wrote to Kennedy between 1959 and 1963…are intrinsically interesting and often extremely amusing…[and] document exchanges about important themes… His warning memorandum in April 1962 about the dangers of deeper involvement in Vietnam holds up remarkably well… There is a sage counsel about the American economy, a wise caution against foreign policy ‘adventurism’, in the immediate run-up to the Bay of Pigs, and a dissenting view that, in building up the European Common Market against the Soviet Union, the United States was actually building up an economic bloc against itself. This makes interesting reading today, as the euro prepares to challenge the dollar. Most intriguing however, is the picture the letters give of the relationship between older adviser and young President… Clinton could certainly do with such wise and witty advice.
-- Timothy Garton Ash The Times
This book consists of the letters that, for just over two years, the most irreverent member of JFK’s personal entourage regularly sent back to Washington… James Goodman, the new book’s editor, has performed a useful service in presenting the letters in sequence—while at the same time offering valuable and exhaustive explanatory notes.
-- Anthony Howard Sunday Times
A valuable addition to the history of the Kennedy administration. Galbraith’s observations about economics, politics, and diplomacy—the State Department, India, China, Vietnam, and the third world generally—are interesting as evidence not only of what Galbraith thought but of what JFK was willing to hear.
-- Robert Dallek, Boston University
Ken Galbraith’s letters to Jack Kennedy are a timely reminder that Camelot had a brighter side. Elegant, droll, amusingly self deprecating, they range widely over politics, economics, and, especially, foreign affairs. Galbraith’s prescient warnings about the foredoomed venture on which America was embarking in Vietnam are alone good reason for buying this book.
-- William E. Leuchtenburg
Letters to Kennedy is a marvelous collection. Galbraith is at his best writing to his president—wise as well as clever and pithy. The book is an invaluable addition to literature on the Kennedy era.
-- Ernest R. May
A most unusual combination: substantive historical documentation on India, on Vietnam, and on the conduct of foreign and economic policy, joined with inside political gossip in the context of a fascinating friendship between two notable figures, all told in witty and engaging letters… I don’t suppose there has been anything quite like the Galbraith–Kennedy relationship since Voltaire and Frederick the Great.
-- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
The Galbraith and Kennedy correspondence contains a great deal of fascinating historical materials on subjects ranging from the fine points of presidential speechmaking to the looming conflict in Vietnam. But more than that, it wonderfully conveys the admixture of optimism, irony, wit, and self-regard that was the essential spirit of the New Frontier. Galbraith and his skillful editor, James Goodman, have produced a uniquely instructive volume on the Kennedy presidency.
-- Sean Wilentz