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The First Kennedys

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Member Reviews

I really loved this account of John F Kennedy’s ancestors as they traveled to Boston to escape the Irish Famine during the 1840s and struggled to survive and then flourish as they made a place for themselves in their new world.It tells the story of his great grandmother Bridget who becomes a widow  with 4 children and must fight for survival after her husband dies young.Very interesting account of the indomitable Will of America’s first family.
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Book Review: The First Kennedys - The Humble Roots of an American Dynasty
Author: Neal Thompson
Publisher: Mariner Books (formerly HMH Books)
Publication Date: February 2, 2022
Review Date: October 25, 2021

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

From the blurb:
“Based on genealogical breakthroughs and previously unreleased records, this is the first book to explore the inspiring story of the poor Irish refugee couple who escaped famine, created a life together in a city hostile to Irish, immigrants, and Catholics, and launched the Kennedy dynasty in America.

Their Irish ancestry was a hallmark of the Kennedys’ initial political profile, as JFK leveraged his working-class roots to connect with blue-collar voters. Today, we remember this iconic American family as the vanguard of wealth, power, and style rather than as the descendants of poor immigrants. Here at last, we meet the first American Kennedys, Patrick and Bridget, who arrived as many thousands of others did following the Great Famine—penniless and hungry. Less than a decade after their marriage in Boston, Patrick’s sudden death left Bridget to raise their children single-handedly. Her rise from housemaid to shop owner in the face of rampant poverty and discrimination kept her family intact, allowing her only son P.J. to become a successful saloon owner and businessman. P.J. went on to become the first American Kennedy elected to public office—the first of many.

Written by the grandson of an Irish immigrant couple and based on first-ever access to P.J. Kennedy’s private papers, The First Kennedys is a story of sacrifice and survival, resistance and reinvention: an American story.”
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What a first class piece of chronological history writing! Having grown up doing the days that JFK was president, it was fascinating to read the story of his original Irish refugee ancestors. The book is written in great detail, but is still very easy to read. Having read JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century, 1917-1956 by Fredrik Logevall, this book was a good look at the prior history of the Kennedy dynasty. For those of us who love to read history, this is a must-read book. Highly, highly recommended.

Thank you to Mariner Books (formerly HMH Books) for giving me access to this book, and best of luck to Neal Thompson with his continued historical research and writing. 

This review will be posted on NetGalley and Goodreads.

#netgalley #The First Kennedys-The Humble Roots of an American Dynasty
#nealthompson #marinerbooks #JFK #americanhistory
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The First Kennedys
Neal Thompson

Release date: 22 Feb 2022	

Description:
"Their Irish ancestry was a hallmark of the Kennedys’ initial political profile, as JFK leveraged his working-class roots to connect with blue-collar voters. Today, we remember this iconic American family as the vanguard of wealth, power, and style rather than as the descendants of poor immigrants. Here at last, we meet the first American Kennedys, Patrick and Bridget, who arrived as many thousands of others did following the Great Famine - penniless and hungry. Less than a decade after their marriage in Boston, Patrick’s sudden death left Bridget to raise their children single-handedly. Her rise from housemaid to shop owner in the face of rampant poverty and discrimination kept her family intact, allowing her only son P.J. to become a successful saloon owner and businessman. P.J. went on to become the first American Kennedy elected to public office—the first of many." 

Review:
Not just about the Kennedys but about the plight of Irish immigration in the mid-19th century. Most of my ancestors were from Ireland and came to the United States just after the Famine so this was very interesting to me. As a genealogist, I liked how the author used census records as well as other previously unreleased records to compile this book. Highly recommend.
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Thank you NetGalley for providing this book in return for an honest review. I went into the reading experiencing knowing very little about either the Kennedy lineage or Irish immigration to America, yet came away with a vivid and thoroughly nuanced perception for both. Thompson write succinctly though also with a unwavering charm for the story of the lives of those he writes about and as such breathes life into characters long dead, unknown to the reader and with sometimes very little information to work with - I think this shows the talent in the writing and research therefore, in making the likes of Bridget so known and tangible. The only slight mar on my enjoyment of the book was the heavily political segments do not have the same energy and flow as the rest of the book, feeling more densely packed with characters and sluggish, sometimes veering into confusing. Despite this it doesn’t take away from the accomplishments of the book overall  and I thoroughly enjoyed it, prompting me to further interest in its field.
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A potential reader might well see this book on the shelf and think, "Just what the world needs-another book about the Kennedys!"  Understandable...but this book covers different territory.  The First Kennedys tells the stories of the Kennedys who left Ireland during the potato famine and emigrated to America.  Each of the segments of the story is fascinating, heart-breaking, and relevant to nearly every American descended from poor immigrants.  Mr. Thompson has created a masterwork of history based squarely on years of painstaking research which is documented in the extensive notes and bibliography, both of which will be of great use to future researchers.  Where he can't verify something positively, he says so, explaining what the possibilities are and where the gap in source material lies.  
The book focuses primarily on Bridget Kennedy, Patrick Kennedy, and their son, PJ Kennedy, the great grandparents and grandfather of the future president, John Kennedy.  Bridget and Patrick each came to Boston  in the mid-nineteenth century on "coffin ships" from Ireland and survived by hard physical labor and the support of friends and family who had also emigrated.  The life of the poor in Boston is a book in itself and the author tells the story without melodrama; however, the reader will likely be moved simply by the facts of these people's lives. The book does not go far into the story of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and their children, for that is well-trodden ground.
I recommend this book whole-heartedly.
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I appreciate the publisher allowing me to read this book. If your interested in the Kennedy family this is a must read for you, very well written.
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Thanks to NetGalley, Mariner Books and the author Neal Thompson, for the opportunity to read this very well researched narrative about the first Kennedys. The book had great detail, perhaps more than I was expecting to read, but comprehensive.

I probably would give it 3.5 stars but rounded up to 4 for the historical value and the research done.I especially enjoyed reading about Joe Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald as children, and their fathers' long association with each other.

A very in depth picture of a particular Irish American family in Boston and how similar their origins were to others at that time.
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An incredibly well-researched read about the beginnings of the Kennedy family, starting with Patrick and Bridget.  I learned so much about their struggles, successes and challenges coming to America from Ireland.  At times, this read much like a history book, but I enjoyed reading about the roots of the Kennedy family from the very beginning - all of which is in very great detail.
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Bravo to Neal Thompson’s incredibly detailed and onerous research that went into the writing of this book. The background of Patrick and Bridget Kennedy’s first steps onto American soil, from ravaged Ireland, details, not only their struggle in the new land, but the struggle of the Irish, in general. The book goes into much detail and although I was familiar with immigrants struggle, upon their embarking on American soil, I was further enlightened. The ascension of the Kennedy clan, in a word, is remarkable. I enjoyed reading about their struggles and successes. I found the book, at times, read almost like a history book and I had to skim parts of it, as it became too laborious. But having said that, I still will give it 4 stars for the enormity of work and fact finding expertise that went into this well written and interesting book. Thank you NetGalley and Mariner Books for the opportunity to read and review this ARC.
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