Four Friends: Promising Lives Cut Short

Flatiron: Macmillan. Jul. 2019. 384p. ISBN 9781250070524. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250070531. BIOG
The titular friends who serve as the subject of this latest from Cohan (The Last Tycoons) are linked by two experiences: their years at Phillips Andover Academy, MA, and the tragedy of early death. Make no mistake, the promise in the lives described was heavily aided by their privileged circumstances and the social advantages gained through attendance at Andover. Only Jack Berman, the son of Holocaust survivors, met success solely on his own efforts and determination. Cohan is adept at relating how a combination of family background and attending one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country helped shape the lives of these four men, including John F. Kennedy Jr. and Harry Bull, heir to a prominent Chicago family. Perhaps the most engaging alum here is William Daniel, grandson of President Harry Truman. Choosing a career in social work over finance, Daniel is portrayed as one who genuinely cares about economic disparities inherent in the United States, risking his family’s reputation to improve them.
VERDICT Cohan is a masterful biographer, even if the occasional slip into armchair cultural anthropologist misses the mark. His detailed research spans newspaper accounts and school records to weave a full narrative of privilege and tragedy.

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