James MacGregor Burns, Pulitzer-winning historian and scholar of leadership, dies at 95

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Burns had a more personal and complicated experience as the biographer of a living politician, Kennedy. Burns and Kennedy had gotten to know each other in 1958, when Kennedy was (successfully) seeking re-election to the Senate, and Burns (unsuccessfully) seeking election to the House.

Kennedy worked to boost Catholic support for Burns, while Burns was happy to help Kennedy among Protestants. They got on so well that when Burns agreed to write a biography of Kennedy, who was planning to run for president in 1960. The family promised full cooperation.

In some ways, Burns justified the Kennedys' trust. His book dutifully repeated a cover story about JFK's sister Rosemary, whose mental disability the family wanted hidden from the public. Burns described her as a "sweet, rather withdrawn girl" who cared for "mentally retarded children."

But he also labeled John F. Kennedy "casual as a cash register" and imagined that a Kennedy administration would be "quiet, taut, efficient — sometimes, perhaps, even dull." Jackie Kennedy wrote to him, saying that Burns had "underestimated" her husband.

"The expectation was that it would practically be a campaign tract, which was never my intention, obviously," Burns explained to the AP. "And when the book came out, they were exceedingly disappointed."

Burns was critical of most presidents, finding Bill Clinton too willing to compromise and George W. Bush too partisan.

Burns was married twice and had four children. Dunn said Burns will be buried at Williams College. A private funeral is planned for Saturday.


Italie reported from New York.

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