Forty Ways to Look at JFK: Facts and Further Reading

Photo of JFK making a speech

I use fact sheets, tips, quizzes, and other unconventional forms—not as gimmicks, but because I’m fascinated by how putting facts in a particular context shapes our understanding.

For instance, our interest in reading a list of simple, discrete facts about JFK exposes our belief that such details somehow shed light on his life and character.


Facts on JFK

Hair Color: reddish brown

Eye color: greenish grey

Height: 6’

I.Q.: 119

Astrological sign: Gemini

Weight when elected: 167 pounds

Body mass index: 22.6

Cholesterol level: 410

Blood type: O positive

Hat size: 7 5/8 (extremely large)

Jacket size: 40”

Waistline: 32”

Shoe size: 10C

House at Harvard: Winthrop

Medals he won for wartime service: Purple Heart and Navy and Marine Corps Medal

First year he voted in a local primary election: in 1946, age 29, when his own name was on the ballot

Gift to ushers at his wedding: a Brooks Brothers umbrella engraved with the recipient’s initials and the wedding date

Age at which he lost his virginity: at age 17, when he and Lem Billings went to the same New York City prostitute, who charged three dollars

How many children he wanted: five, at least, but not too close together

Year he was Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year”: 1961

Temperature of the White House pool: 90 degrees, to ease the pain in his back

Actor whom he chose to play him in the 1963 movie based on his PT-109adventure: Warren Beatty (Beatty declined, and Cliff Robertson played JFK)

Routine gifts he gave: to acquaintances, a copy of Bartlett’s Quotations; to friends, an inscribed silver bowl

His first Executive Order: Executive Order No. 1, Jan. 21, 1961, to increase the variety and double the quantity of surplus foods for four million poor Americans

His golf score: high 70s and low 80s

County in Ireland from which the Kennedy family came: County Wexford

His ideas for a post-presidential career: to be President of Harvard, Ambassador to Ireland, a Senator, or to found or buy a newspaper. He suggested that the Senate consider passing a bill that would make every former president an honorary member.

Happiest day of his life: July 10, 1963, the day he signed the instruments of ratification for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty

What he believed to be the greatest single problem in the 1960s: nuclear proliferation

The honor that made him happiest: winning the Pulitzer Prize for Biography

What he considered the most admirable of human virtues: courage

What he said was his best quality: curiosity

What he said was his worst quality: irritability ­ impatience with the boring or mediocre

Kennedy’s greatest fear: that he might be the President to start a nuclear war

Things at which he didn’t excel: playing poker and learning foreign languages

Essence of the Kennedy legacy, according to Bobby Kennedy: “a willingness to try and to dare and to change, to hope for the uncertain and risk the unknown.”

What Kennedy wanted to be said of his presidency: “He kept the peace.”

Further recommended reading 

  1. Conversations with Kennedy, Ben Bradlee – an entertaining account of Kennedy based on contemporaneous notes taken by one of his closest friends.
  2. An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek – an outstanding biography that brings to light much new information about Kennedy’s health.
  3. The Dark Side of Camelot, Seymour Hersch – a controversial but illuminating examination of Kennedy’s “dark side.”
  4. Jackie Under My Skin, Wayne Koestenbaum – a brilliant, inventive examination of the life and influence of Jacqueline Kennedy and of the JFK mystique.
  5. A Thousand Days, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. – a fascinating account of Kennedy’s election and presidency by one of his most ardent admirers.
  6. Grace and Power, Sally Bedell Smith – an absorbing and meticulous account of the private lives of the Kennedys during the White House Years.
  7. Kennedy, Theodore Sorensen – a compelling history by one of Kennedy’s closest advisors and chief speechwriter.
  8. Making of the President 1960, Theodore H. White – a groundbreaking account of the 1960 presidential election.
  9. Of Kennedys and Kings, Harris Wofford – an insightful memoir by Kennedy’s special assistant for civil rights.

Kennedy’s own favorite books

Pilgrim’s Way, John Buchan
The Young Melbourne, David Cecil

Links

jfklibrary.org — the best source for Kennedy material, with a biography, text of major speeches and press conferences, photographs, and audio clips

pbs.org — an excellent overview of Kennedy’s life and career, with useful features like a family tree, photo gallery, and time line of events

historyplace.com — a selection of JFK photos

americanpresidents.org — essential information about Kennedy, with some engaging video clips

arlingtoncemetery.org — information about Kennedy’s gravesite

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