For all of his straight-talking bravado as host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Chris Matthews isn’t above throwing audiences a curve ball, especially when it comes to discussing America at its most heroic. Playing to a packed house during the popular author breakfast at the Brazilian Court last Friday, the one-time aide to Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill shot from the hip—and also spoke from the heart—during a captivating review of his sixth book,Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.

It’s familiar territory for the son of Irish parents and graduate of Holy Cross, whose 1996 book,Kennedy and Nixon, detailed the rivalry and relationship between political giants who, as Matthews noted during his talk, had enormous respect for one another. However, inElusive Hero, Matthews sheds light on Kennedy the man—from what shaped him as a leader to what drove choices in his personal life.

What struck Matthews during his research—culled from interviews with those in JFK’s inner circle, oral histories and historical documents—was how Kennedy managed to understand the feelings and intentions of those around him and then use that knowledge to make informed decisions.

“I think he’s the most inner-directed person I’ve ever come across in my life,” Matthews said. “One of his closest friends describes how, at JFK’s wedding, you could see two Jacks. There was the groom, which was the role he was playing that day. Then there was this omniscient observer, who was watching what everyone was doing and what their motives were.

“There is such power that comes with that kind of personality ... to have tremendous perspective on other people and who they are—and yet be totally unaffected by it.”

Perspective is Matthews’ stock and trade; few news broadcasters bring more scholarly understanding and appreciation of political history to their interpretations of current events. So it came as no surprise that Matthews cut to the core of Kennedy in a way that resonated in the room.

Asked about JFK’s greatest legacy, Matthews took many of the attendees back to their own childhoods when he said, “Those of us who grew up hiding under a school desk, we all thought that the third World War was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. And it was going to be nuclear.

“Jack got us through the toughest part of the Cold War. ... If we had hit Havana, Khrushchev said that he would have hit New York. And then we would have hit Russia. And that would have been the end. Think about a world where hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of lives—on both sides—were lost in one day? It would have taken the smile off the face of this earth.”

Other highlights from Matthews’ segment at the Brazilian Court:

Greatest revelation: “JFK was not his father’s son, thank god. He went to war with his father early on about World War II. The old man, who saw no problem with Hitler, was a terrible person with his pro-Nazism and anti-Semitism. ... Think about the Marshall Plan, one of the greatest things we’ve ever done—rebuild Europe, rebuild our trade patterns and save Western Europe from being taken over by Stalin. The old man didn’t support it; he wanted Europe to fall so there would be more business opportunities for guys like him. What terrible narrow thinking. ... Joe Kennedy was not patriotic. Jack was a complete patriot.”

Next Author Breakfast

When: Feb. 17

Where: Brazilian Court, Palm Beach

Who:Nelson DeMille/The Rich and The Dead—This best-selling author introduces 20 original tales by today’s most elite mystery writers—including a tale of his own;Cherie Burns/Searching for Beauty: The Life of Millicent Rogers—Burns chronicles Rogers’ glittering life, from her days as a young girl afflicted with rheumatic fever to her debutante debut and her Taos finale.

Contact: 561/366-4301