Remembering John F. Kennedy
November 22 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an event that resonates to this day. With this anniversary comes an abundance of new books on the topic, some being billed as the “definitive” book on the subject, while others claim to provide conclusive evidence that will reveal, once and for all, who was actually responsible for the murder. Here is a look at a choice few for your consideration.
While it may not be the most definitive, Clint Hill’s “Five Days in November” (Gallery Books, 2013) is certainly a very intimate account of the last days of our thirty-fifth president. Hill, the author of last year’s “Mrs. Kennedy and Me” (Gallery Books, 2012), is a former Secret Service agent who is perhaps best remembered as the man who jumped onto the back of the presidential limousine shortly after the shooting. Here he provides many rarely seen photographs accompanied by his personal insights into the events of the days immediately preceding and following the assassination.
James L. Swanson’s “End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy” (HarperCollins, 2013) is a gripping narrative of the murder. Swanson uses a similar format to his bestselling “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer” (William Morrow, 2006), retelling the event in an hour-by-hour fashion, beginning with Oswald’s decision to shoot the president and ending with his murder at the hands of Jack Ruby.
John F. Kennedy served as president for less than three years, yet his administration is seen as one of the most influential in the 20th century, ushering in a period of dramatic political and social change in the United States and around the world. Larry Sabato attempts to explain what made Kennedy’s short term in the Oval Office so important in “The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy” (Bloomsbury, 2013). Drawing on extensive survey results, Sabato describes Kennedy’s lasting appeal with the American public and explains why his policies have affected the decisions of every successive president.
Whether you believe the assassination was masterminded by Cubans, Soviets, Lyndon Johnson, the CIA, the Mafia or any other conceivable combination of suspects, the official investigation ruled that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. In “History Will Prove Us Right: Inside the Warren Commission Report on the Assassination of John F. Kennedy” (The Overlook Press, 2013) Howard P. Willens, a member of the Commission’s supervisory staff, details the process used to arrive at this conclusion and seeks to dispel many of the conspiracy theories that have developed over the past half-century.
In “If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History” (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013), Jeff Greenfield provides a fascinating thought experiment focused on how things might have been different if Kennedy had not been killed in Dallas. Using a background that includes years of research on Kennedy and 20th century history, Greenfield theorizes the possible alternative outcomes of the election of 1964, Lyndon Johnson’s political career, civil rights, Vietnam and Kennedy’s own personal life.
As captivating as the circumstances surrounding the death of JFK are, the story of the man who supposedly shot him is equally fascinating. “Marina and Lee: The Tormented Love and Fatal Obsession Behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s Assassination of John F. Kennedy” (Steerforth Press, 2013) by Priscilla Johnson McMillan is a comprehensive look at Harvey’s personal life and the events leading up to the assassination. McMillan interviewed Oswald while working as a journalist in Moscow and had the cooperation of his Russian-born wife, Marina, in researching for this book. Originally published in 1977, it was reissued earlier this year.
And, for the fiction reader, there is “11/22/63” (Scribner, 2011) by Stephen King. Stepping away from the horror genre, King tells the story of Jake Epping, a teacher from present day Maine, whose friend asks him to take on a special mission: preventing the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Jake incredulously accepts and makes his way back to 1958 with the help of a time portal. He then makes his way to Texas and encounters a loner by the name of Lee Harvey Oswald. While the setup is somewhat weak, King’s storytelling ability makes this well worth the read.