Monday, November 4, 2013

Killing Kennedy by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

Having read Killing Lincoln in February, our book club felt that reading Killing Kennedy  was quite apropos for the month of November, the 50th anniversary of that day that changed the world. Killing Kennedy  is an easy, if not pleasant read. It hearkens back to that day when we listened to Walter Cronkite announce to us that "the president has been shot." Those of us alive at the time will never forget where we heard that news. I was sitting in the auditorium in study hall at North Hills High School, Pittsburgh. The initial chattering reaction turned to silence as we awaited further news. The bus ride home was hushed as we couldn't believe such a thing could happen in our country.

The author's account of the days leading to the assassination begin with John Kennedy's service in the Navy and how he was such a hero saving the men of PT-109. This event so changed his life and as a reminder, he kept the important coconut on his desk for the remainder of his life. The bulk of the book recounts the days in the White House from his inauguration to his death. For those who have read voraciously on his life or who have helped students research the time known as Camelot, a lot would be familiar. It is the commentary and the asides that O'Reilly and Dugard include that captures the reader's interest. The interactions between John Kennedy and his brother Bobby, and those that surround them - J.Edgar Hoover, Martin Luther King. Allen Dulles, Chester Bowles, and, especially, Lyndon Johnson- are enlightening. Behind the scenes conversations and actions are illuminated. They cover the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, and numerous Civil Rights incidences. And, there is also the description of his voracious sexual encounters of which his wife was aware and tolerant. Killing Kennedy is also about that man - husband and father to two small children. 

In a parallel story, the reader gains insight to the man, Lee Harvey Oswald, his abused wife, Marina , and government officials that missed the mark when investigating him before the assassination. With attention to the most critical details, we learn of Oswald's frustration with the government and his life itself and how he slid down the rabbit hole into a delusional world. Little attention is given to Oswald's killer, Jack Ruby, beyond what most Americans already know.

Killing Kennedy  addresses some of the ongoing conspiracy theory concepts without dwelling on them. It actually seems to set out to affirm the Warren Commission Report. The description of the president's condition after he was shot, Jackie Kennedy's reaction and resolve, and Lyndon Johnson's arrogance are revealing.  For me, I was glad to have read the book as the anniversary of the assassination approaches. For the scholars among us, however, there would be better sourced and chronicled examinations of this event in our history.

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