Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's Hardball, doesn't throw readers any real curves in his new biography of John F. Kennedy.
In fact, the usually pugnacious TV commentator sometimes seems like he is playing softball with his subject matter, pitching his account of JFK's personal and political history down the broad ideological middle.
Matthews, like millions of Americans, clearly still feels the spell cast by JFK even now, nearly a half century after his assassination.
PHOTOS: John F. Kennedy's life and legacy
Still, it's sure to be a hit with readers who love the inside baseball of politics and the Kennedy cult of personality.
"My fascination with John F. Kennedy has remained an abiding one," Matthews writes. "He is avatar and puzzle, a beacon and a conundrum... Anytime I've ever met a person who knew him — someone who was there with JFK in real time — I crave hearing his or her first-person memories."
Those memories begin with Jack's childhood, especially his school days at Choate, where he showed the first signs of being "two Jacks." One was "sunny and full of good humor," the other lonely "with a craving for company" and "already a victim of persistent ill health."
Most significantly, he was already proving ambitious. From the start, it seems, he was ready to lead, to be "his own man," to go against the grain of established authority, even as he appropriated or transformed some of its conventions, and to throw off family ties that might bind him while still paying homage or making use of them as the mood struck him.
The biography also offers evidence that JFK's "Ask Not" speech might have originated with his headmaster at Choate; pulls the curtain back on some behind-the-scenes shenanigans at the now-iconic 1960 TV debates with Richard Nixon; and recounts a post-Bay of Pigs chat with Gen. Douglas MacArthur that seems straight out of Dr. Strangelove.
Matthews boldly states in his preface: "I believe I've come to recognize, and even unearth, key clues that help explain the greatness and the enigma of Jack Kennedy."
But, as Matthews also notes, Kennedy's key adviser and legendary speechwriter Ted Sorensen once said: "I never knew everything about him. No one did. Different parts of his life, work and thoughts were seen by many people — but no one saw it all."
Even JFK's wife, Jacqueline, couldn't know "that elusive man, unforgettable man," as she called him. Not completely.
And based on everything Matthews tells us, that's exactly the way Jack Kennedy wanted it.