New books abound on JFK

Posted Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012  comments  Print Reprints


Kennedy: The End of Camelot

by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Henry Holt, $28


Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the


by Kitty Kelley

Thomas Dunne Books, $29.99

Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy

selected and introduced by Ted Widmer

Hyperion, $40

More on the Kennedys

Here are five more books about the Kennedys that have been published in recent months:

The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, by David Nasaw (Penguin Press, $40). The story of JFK's father, patriarch of America's greatest political dynasty.

The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis: The Secret White House Tapes, by David G. Coleman (Norton, $25.95). The dispute continued beyond the initial 13 days.

The Kennedys: Photographs, by Mark Shaw (Reel Art Press, $75). A photographic archive of the Camelot years from a Life photographer.

After Camelot: A Personal History of the Kennedy Family -- 1968 to the Present, by J. Randy Taraborrelli (Grand Central, $29.99). Tracing the triumphs and tragedies of JFK's famous family.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me: An Intimate Memoir, by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin (Gallery Books, $26). The Secret Service agent who protected Jackie Kennedy tells his story.

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So many books about John F. Kennedy, his presidency, his family, his death, his legacy.

So little time.

The tower of new titles published this year, during the months leading up the anniversary of Kennedy's death in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, is quite overwhelming.

Imagine how many more will come out next year in advance of the milestone 50th anniversary.

Amazingly, though, not one of these books presents the definitive last word on Kennedy.

So we propose a compromise if you want to get the full Kennedy-Camelot experience without having to wade through nearly a dozen new books. There are three that truly matter.

Start with Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (Henry Holt, $28). The book, which topped the bestseller list as soon as it was published in October, traces the Kennedy-Oswald collision courses in the style of a taut political thriller. It's both entertaining and informative.

Then leaf through the pages of Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys, a mostly-photography book with text by Kitty Kelley (Thomas Dunne Books, $29.99). Tretick was a photojournalist who enjoyed an unusually close relationship with John and Jackie Kennedy.

Finally, sit in on the president's top-level meetings with Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy, edited by Ted Widmer (Hyperion, $40), a collection of transcripts and audio (on two accompanying CDs) of Oval Office and Cabinet Room recordings while JFK was in office.

When taken together, these three books make the experience satisfyingly complete: You get the stories, the sights and the sounds -- a feast for the senses.

Killing Kennedy is O'Reilly and Dugard's logical follow-up to last year's Killing Lincoln, a 2 million-selling audience-pleaser in spite of some critical sniping from lesser-selling (and O'Reilly would say jealous) Lincoln historians.

O'Reilly might be a polarizing TV personality, but he knows how to tell a ripping good yarn that's surprisingly spin-free. He and Dugard paint a warts-and-all portrait of Kennedy. They address his privileged background, his emergence as reluctant war hero, his pathological unfaithfulness to wife Jackie, his indecisive leadership during the Bay of Pigs fiasco and his total command of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Meanwhile, the authors pretty much dismiss any and all conspiracy theories and pin everything on gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. They depict him as too much of a crazed wild card to plot anything with anyone else and then stick to the plan.

Oswald's motive for killing Kennedy? They keep it simple, suggesting that he was a small man who wanted to be a big man, a nobody who wanted desperately to be famous and to be remembered -- and that taking three shots at a passing presidential motorcade was his only way of achieving that goal.

It's also worth noting that O'Reilly has actually played a small part in the ongoing Kennedy story.

As a young television reporter for WFAA in Dallas in 1977, he was looking into the assassination. When O'Reilly showed up at the doorstep of George de Mohrenschildt (a Russian immigrant who befriended the Oswalds, who might have had ties to the CIA and who is sometimes suspected by conspiracy theorists), the man committed suicide before he could be interviewed.

Capturing Camelot, meanwhile, is an elegant, fly-on-the-wall look at Kennedy the president and Kennedy the family man.

Tretick, the photographer, covered the Kennedy campaign in 1960 for United Press International.

When JFK became president, Tretick was granted extensive access to the White House. Much of this work was published in Look magazine, but many of the striking images that he snapped never saw the light of day.

After Tretick's death in 1999, he left the treasure trove of photos to longtime friend Kelley, the bestselling biographer whose text in the book traces the friendship between Tretick and the Kennedys.

It's a nice companion piece to Killing Kennedy because it allows you to see people, places and events that O'Reilly writes about and brings them more to life.

And the same is true when eavesdropping on Kennedy's Oval Office meetings in Listening In.

Widmer, a former speechwriter and senior adviser to President Clinton, pored through hundreds of hours of secret recordings of White House conversations, creating an opportunity to hear the words and voices of Kennedy and his colleagues in the most candid setting ever.

Apparently only Kennedy himself knew they were being taped. He installed the recording systems in July 1962 in an effort to preserve an accurate record of his presidential decision-making, quite possibly thinking ahead to when he would write his memoirs.

On its own, the book seems a little incomplete and maybe gimmicky.

But it's an invaluable companion piece to a book like Killing Kennedy. Because, to cite just one example, after reading O'Reilly's take on a meeting between JFK and Martin Luther King Jr., it's illuminating to then hear the actual meeting on Listening In's CD extra.

It makes the story more real, especially to members of a younger generation for whom the Kennedy years are only history and not memory.

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