Baltimore definitely lived up to its former slogan “the City that Reads” as about as 500 people packed the main atrium of the Enoch Pratt Free Library Thursday to hear MSNBC’s Chris Matthews speak about his book “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.” Matthews shared his insights on Kennedy’s early years, his illnesses and how they affected his life, and his drive to be a career politician, studying and mastering the craft of “retail politics.”
At the event, the TV host did not read from the book, instead he retold stories of the president’s life, interjecting observances from the people Matthews had interviewed as well as his own perspective. I appreciated the historical and social context he added, giving listeners an understanding of the time and place he was discussing. In fact, Matthews credits Kennedy for learning and understanding all he could about “his own time” and using that to his political advantage.
Matthews, who clearly knew his material and is a practiced storyteller, captivated the audience with details of Kennedy’s heroism saving his PT boat crewmen, the showdown over the Cuban Missile crisis, and Kennedy’s inner drive to master a career in politics.
But, like all heroes, Kennedy had flaws, which Matthews described, but he contextualized how those flaws may have been important factors in the course of history. Matthews said Kennedy could be cold and calculating, but “he had wisdom when we needed it.”
Matthews described Kennedy as the most “inner-directed person I have come across in history or literature.” I love the fact that Matthews referenced both history and literature, including one reference to the Great Gatsby. With this crowd (mostly white baby boomers, but actually more diversity than I expected) references like that did not seem so nerdy.
On the jacket of Matthews’ book it says, “‘What was he like?’ Jack Kennedy said the reason people read biography is to answer that basic question.” That’s actually how I feel about Nerd Trips. You can learn so much about “what someone was really like,” by visiting the places they’ve lived and worked. We are all the products of our experiences, choices and environment, so visiting locations connected to historic figures and events gives you context and perspective you can’t get otherwise.
We haven’t done a Nerd Trip yet to Massachusetts, which would include the Kennedy library. If you’ve read any recent Nerd Trips blogs, you know that we just took a trip to Dallas, including a visit to the Sixth Floor Museum, which chronicles the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination in November 1962.
I am eager to read “Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero,” but after spending an evening listening to Chris Matthews, I feel I have some insight into President Kennedy and “what he was like.”
You can download a podcast of Matthews’ talk on the Pratt Library’s website: prattlibrary.org. I searched “Chris Matthews.” (I embedded the link too). The Pratt Library is the best!!
The Pratt had a Twitter picture of the crowd, which I copied (see below). You can actually see me at the bottom on the left side of the aisle. (I was actually only about two-thirds of the way back).
You can see the edge of the bright purple folder I had for the Nerd Trips sign, which I held up when I got a picture with Chris Matthews. Next post: When Nerd Trips Meets Matthews!