The book captures lighter moments as well, including the president's attention to small matters that he thought might have large meaning. After the U.S. national hockey team was crushed in a game to Sweden, 17-2, in March 1963, Kennedy called a longtime friend of his brother Robert's, David Hackett, who had played on the Olympic hockey team years earlier.
"Christ, who are we sending over there? Girls?" Kennedy said. "So, obviously, we shouldn't send a team unless we send a good one. Will you find out about it and let me know?"
Attuned to public perceptions as always, JFK exploded in anger when he saw pictures of a $5,000 hospital bedroom that had been built at a Navy base on Cape Cod, ready in case his wife, Jacqueline, went into labor while on the Cape, in 1963.
"Let's cut their budget another hundred million," Kennedy told Arthur Sylvester, an assistant secretary of Defense. "I don't care what we owe the store, I'd just like to send that goddamn furniture back. And that silly fellow who had his picture taken next to the bed, have him go up to Alaska, too."
Tense moments are occasionally broken up by moments of levity, sometimes driven by Kennedy's young children. A 4-year-old Caroline Kennedy is heard drawing laughter in the Oval Office just moments before her father reviewed the latest surveillance photographs of missile installations in Cuba.
And Caroline and John F. Kennedy Jr. burst into the room at the end of a long meeting between the president and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, who is introduced to the children as the man whose boss, Khrushchev, sent them a puppy.
"His chief is the one who sent you Pushinka," Kennedy tells his children.
In the interview, Caroline Kennedy recalled hiding under her father's desk, trying to get candy from the grownups who were around and being forced to leave the Oval Office so important business could be conducted.
"Obviously, our dream was to be allowed into the office to see him. ... I used to go after school or walk him over before school or he would come out and see what we were doing, if we were outside," she told Sawyer. "He was obviously from a big family and so it didn't bother him at all to have kids running around and hiding under the desk. There's a few episodes here where we're being ushered out of room and we don't want to go. But, obviously, he was a good persuader."
The book also includes recordings from earlier in Kennedy's political career, when he harbored significant self-doubts about his own political acumen. In a conversation with two journalist friends, three days after he declared his presidential candidacy, he confided that he was "not a political type" who enjoyed glad-handing and meeting new people.
"I think I personally am the antithesis of a politician as I saw my grandfather who was the politician," Kennedy told James Cannon and Ben Bradlee, who were both then working for Newsweek. "I'd rather read a book on a plane than talk to the fellow next to me, and my grandfather wanted to talk to everybody else. I'd rather not go out to dinner.
"I had not regarded myself as a political type," he continued. "My father didn't, he thought I was hopeless."