Audiobook Review: Rosemary : The Hidden Kennedy Daughter

November 2, 2015 audiobook, biography, Blackstone Audio, book review, family 4


  • Written by Kate Clifford Larson
  • Narrated by Bernadette Dunne
  • Published by:  Blackstone Audio, October 6, 2016
  • Length:  7 hours 44 minutes
  • Source:  Purchased with Audible credit

Summary:  Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled — a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family.  Major new sources — Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors’ letters, and exclusive family interviews — bring Rosemary alive as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then — as the family’s standing reached an apex — the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties. Finally, Larson illuminates Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three, and the family’s complicity in keeping the secret.
Rosemary delivers a profoundly moving coda: JFK visited Rosemary for the first time while campaigning in the Midwest; she had been living isolated in a Wisconsin institution for nearly twenty years. Only then did the siblings understand what had happened to Rosemary and bring her home for loving family visits. It was a reckoning that inspired them to direct attention to the plight of the disabled, transforming the lives of millions.

My Thoughts:  I read a review of this book from the New York Times by Meryl Gordon.  I had somehow missed all other advance discussion of this book.  I’ve always been fascinated with the Kennedy family and I’ve read many biographies and autobiographies of many family members and those covering the larger landscape of the Kennedy elite.  They are like no one else.  I enjoyed the review by Gordon, and the photos that accompanied it.

The author has used previous interviews and biographies of Rose Kennedy and others in her book about Rosemary, but she has also given her readers some insight into her siblings and how they felt about Rosemary.

Rosemary was the third child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, the first daughter.  Her birth was slowed by a nurse who was capable of delivering her but chose to wait for a doctor, hours in the birth canal may have seriously impacted Rosemary’s brain.  She was slow, but also aware that she was different and she didn’t like it.  While Rose devoted herself to finding the right school and education and opportunities for Rosemary, she felt she may have taken away from her time with her other children.  The book focuses a lot on Rose herself.  She turned a blind eye to her husband’s affairs and also took her own leave from the family to get away as she needed.  Money and privilege do breed odd actions.

What I found most interesting was how Rosemary appeared to have adjusted to life in Europe prior to WWII, and certainly returning her to that setting after the war seems like an option in hindsight, her father didn’t see it that way.  He most especially was always worried that Rosemary’s actions and simply being, might deter her siblings chances for political power.  This is a sad but realistic fact.  The frontal lobotomy procedure was in it’s infancy and still her father went ahead with it, and her life was destroyed.  The once beautiful and lovable young woman was unable to walk or communicate, forever in need of care.  With much rehabilitation she was able to walk, but with an altered gait.   She was then sent away to a place where for many years none of her family even went to visit.

Her sister Eunice became her savior.  Eunice went on to champion the cause of the mentally handicapped.

While I wish there had been more insight into Rosemary, more of her writing, or more on her life with others, the book did give me a glimpse at a very hushed and shuttered daughter of this very public family.

The audio was good, I wasn’t familiar with the narrator.  I recommend this book if you are curious or if you’re fascinated with this family like I am.  I assume the book has photographs that the audiobook naturally didn’t provide.

4 Responses to “Audiobook Review: Rosemary : The Hidden Kennedy Daughter”

  1. lakesidemusing

    I’m fascinated by the Kennedy’s, too, and have read or listened to several books about them.The most detailed look at Rosemary I found was in a biography of her father called The Patriarch… it’s excellent on audio. Not sure how much additional info this book has, but I’m tempted to give it a try. Thanks for the review.

  2. GwenGwen

    I just added this to my holds list at the library the other day before even reading your review, not so much because I’m a Kennedy fan, but because…this will sound ghoulish…an interest in psychology and the effects on all involved with lobotomies. Now I can’t wait to read it. Crude, now I sound even more ghoulish!

  3. litandlife

    It really is a fascinating family and this is a story I’ve always been curious to learn more about.

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