Reading the News: The Kennedys

That’s right, I’m studiously ignoring the elephant in the room to bring you five books that concern the Kennedy assassination. (If you do not already know, the president is eager to tell you that the Kennedy files were released this week on his watch. Pay no attention to the fact that this release was scheduled back in 1992; Donald J. Trump presided over their 2017 release and that is all that matters.) There’s no question that Americans have been fascinated by the assassination for years, and you can make an argument that there’s a straight line connecting the conspiracy theories that surround Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby to today’s Birthers and fake news purveyors.

At any rate, I cannot resist an opportunity to recommend Adam Braver. (Please, people, read more Adam Braver.)

So here we go. Five books to read when considering the Kennedy assassination:

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  • The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, by David Nasaw. If you want to start from the very beginning, start with this biography of JFK’s father, and concentrate on the way he raised his children. It gives you real insight into JFK’s character to learn more about where he came from.
  • President Kennedy: Profile of Power, by Richard Reeves. There isn’t a lot of dirt here, but it is a closely detailed look at the Kennedy presidency, which is truly fascinating if you want to look past the mythology and learn more about what kind of president John F. Kennedy really was.
  • November 22, 1963, by Adam Braver. An impressionistic, fictional take on the day that Kennedy was shot, told from many different perspectives. The theme here is memory and history and their relationship. Brilliantly done. It’s a shame this book isn’t better known.
  • Libra, by Don DeLillo. A well-known fictionalized account of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, possibly DeLillo’s best novel. I confess I haven’t read it since grad school, but it strikes me that DeLillo’s conspiratorial sensibility is an amazingly good match for our current time.
  • Lincoln in American Memory, by Merrill D. Peterson. OK, so this book isn’t actually about Kennedy. It is, however, about how Americans turn fallen presidents into cultural icons and so I think it speaks to the way we remember Kennedy today.