Re-examining Kennedy: 10 books offer insights

By Chuck Springston
Re-examining Kennedy: 10 books offer insights

    He served in office for only three years, but authors continue to examine and re-examine the life, death and legacy of John F. Kennedy. The 50th anniversary of his assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, disgorged a torrent of books about the 35th president.

      These new books add to a voluminous collection already in print. More than 40,000 books have been written about Kennedy since his death, and more than 200 have been published this year alone, according to a tally on
      Below are 10 books that show the range of Kennedy offerings published in 2013. The first books on the list are overviews of Kennedy’s life, presidency and impact. They are followed by books about his last year and the assassination. The final two books are novels about how history would have been different if Kennedy had lived.
      These 10 books were selected to give readers a sampling of the new titles available. The summaries generally are edited excerpts from the publishers’ descriptions.

The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy
By Larry J. Sabato
Bloomsbury USA, 624 pages
Author bio: Sabato is the university professor of politics at the University of Virginia. He has written two dozen books on American politics.
Summary: Sabato explores Kennedy’s influence over five decades on the media, the general public and his nine successors. He re-examines JFK’s assassination using previously unseen information, then documents the effect the assassination has had on Americans of every modern generation. Sabato shows how JFK’s presidency has influenced the policies and decisions of all the presidents who followed.

Edited by Martin W. Sandler
Bloomsbury Press, 384 pages
Editor bio: Sandler has written history books on a variety of topics, including “Kennedy Through the Lens.” He also has won Emmys for television writing.
Summary: The book draws on letters collected at the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including letters to and from Martin Luther King Jr., Clare Booth Luce, Pearl Buck, John Wayne, Albert Schweitzer, Linus Pauling, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nikita Khrushchev, Harry S. Truman, Herbert Hoover and a young John Kerry. The book also includes letters from ordinary citizens, schoolchildren and concerned Americans.

Pathway to the Presidency
By John T. Shaw
Palgrave Macmillan, 256 pages
Author bio: Shaw is a senior correspondent for Market News International and a contributor to the Washington Diplomat. He was a media fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Summary: Shaw looks at how a young Sen. Kennedy was able to catapult himself onto the national stage. Kennedy envisioned himself as a "historian-scholar-statesman" in the mold of his hero, Winston Churchill. The 1957 publication of “Profiles of Courage” earned the senator a Pulitzer Prize and public limelight. He was smart, dashing, irreverent and literary. The press could not get enough of him.

Inside the Kennedy White House
By Robert Dallek
Harper, 512 pages
Author bio: Dallek is a historian whose works include “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” and “Nixon and Kissinger,” a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Summary: Kennedy assembled a team of advisers noted for their brilliance and ambition, but his administration was an uneasy band of rivals engaged in fiery debates behind closed doors. Dallek details contentious issues including the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil rights and Vietnam. He reveals a president who believed in surrounding himself with the best and the brightest but often found himself disappointed with their recommendations.

By Ira Stoll
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages
Author bio: Stoll is editor of and the author of "Samuel Adams: A Life.” He was vice president and managing editor of The New York Sun from 2002 to 2008.
Summary: Kennedy is lionized by liberals, but by the standards of both his time and our own, he was a conservative, Stoll argues. Kennedy’s tax cuts, which spurred an economic boom, were fiercely opposed by his more liberal advisers. He fought against unions. He pushed for free trade and a strong dollar. He pushed for a military buildup and aggressive anticommunism around the world.

The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President
By Thurston Clarke
The Penguin Press HC, 448 pages
Author bio: Clarke has written a variety of fiction and nonfiction books, including a previous book on John Kennedy and one on Robert F. Kennedy.
Summary: Kennedy’s last 100 days began just after the death of his 2-day-old son, Patrick Kennedy. The loss convinced Kennedy to work harder as a husband and father, and there is evidence that he suspended his philandering, Clarke says. Kennedy came to view civil rights as a moral as well as political issue. Though often depicted as a devout cold warrior, he took steps during this period to improve relations with the Soviet Union.

The Assassination of John F. Kennedy
By James L. Swanson
William Morrow, 416 pages
Author bio: Swanson is an attorney and history writer. His recent works include “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer.”
Summary: Swanson follows the assassination hour by hour, from the moment Lee Harvey Oswald conceived the crime three days before its execution to his own murder two days later at the hands of Jack Ruby. Swanson also recounts the days of national mourning that culminated in Kennedy’s funeral.

The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination
By Philip Shenon
Henry Holt and Co., 640 pages
Author bio: Shenon is a former New York Times reporter and author of “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation.”
Summary:  While writing an account of the Warren Commission’s investigation of the assassination, Shenon discovered information that was withheld from the commission by the CIA, FBI and other powers in Washington. He says the commission's investigation was doomed to fail because the man leading it, Chief Justice Earl Warren, was more committed to protecting the Kennedy family than getting to the full truth.

The First and Second Terms of John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History
By Jeff Greenfield
Putnam Adult, 272 pages
Author Bio: Greenfield has written books on politics, media and alternate histories. He is a Yahoo News columnist and has worked for PBS, CBS News, ABC News and CNN.
Summary: What if Kennedy had not died on Nov. 22, 1963? What would have happened to his life, his presidency, his country, his world? Greenfield presents a narrative that explores questions such as: What would the 1964 campaign have looked like? How would Kennedy have approached Vietnam, civil rights, the Cold War? Would his indiscreet private life finally have become public? Would his health issues have become so severe as to literally cripple his presidency?

What if Kennedy Survived Dallas?
By Bryce Zabel
Mill City Press Inc., paperback, 334 pages
Author bio: Zabel, a former CNN correspondent, is now a screenwriter who has created, produced and written a variety of TV projects.
Summary: Zabel’s narrative dramatizes what might have happened if Kennedy had escaped the assassination attempt. He imagines a post-1963 political scenario that is painfully disruptive to the nation, culminating in a constitutional crisis, and even calls for the president’s impeachment. In Zabel’s story, the president and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, become the first conspiracy theorists, determined to strike back at their enemies.


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