Reviews: JFK reconsidered in newest books
Editor's Note: On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, The Post and Courier's book page is featuring short reviews of 16 new books about JFK. Today, we continue with three more.
BY MICHAEL NELSON
Special to The Post and Courier
A CRUEL AND SHOCKING ACT: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination. By Philip Shenon. Henry Holt. 640 pages. $32.
"A Cruel and Shocking Act" has received a fair amount of media buzz. Former New York Times reporter Philip Shenon has written a detailed examination of the Warren Commission that began in 2008 with a phone call from a lawyer who started his career as an investigator on the commission.
"You ought to tell our story," the lawyer told the author. "This may be our last chance to explain what really happened."
So we learn much about the investigation from inside. Shenon writes of obstruction from the CIA and FBI, but the author assigns fairly benign motives to this. In the end, he finds the Warren Commission's conclusions to be plausible.
However, as Shenon and others point out, Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach sent LBJ aide Bill Moyers a memo prior to the Warren Commission stating, "The public must be satisfied that Oswald was the assassin; that he did not have confederates who are still at large; and that evidence was such that he would have been convicted at trial."
A weakness in Shenon's work is that it ignores 50 years of subsequent research from the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), the Church Committee, the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB), and documents released through the Freedom of Information Act.
G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel for the HSCA, said in an addendum to his interview with PBS, "Significantly, the Warren Commission's conclusion that the agencies of the government cooperated with it is, in retrospect, not the truth."
And so the controversies persist.
JFK IN THE SENATE: Pathway to the Presidency. By John T. Shaw. Palgrave Macmillan. 256 pages. $26.
"JFK in the Senate" by John T. Shaw is a much welcomed book on a period of John F. Kennedy's career that often is passed over: his years in the U.S. Congress.
Robert Dallek said that Kennedy endorsed Mark Twain's observation: "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself."
And when JFK was asked what it was like to be a senator, he replied, "It's the most corrupting job in the world."
But as the author illustrates, it was during his years as a U.S. representative (1947-53) and senator (1953-60) that Kennedy evolved philosophically and politically.
Shaw, longtime congressional correspondent for Market News International, examines JFK's writings and speeches, as well as events such as the establishment of the McClellan Committee (to investigate organized crime's influence in labor unions) and legislative initiatives.
Kennedy always had a keen interest in foreign policy and used his time in the Senate to build his knowledge and stature. His 1957 speech in the Senate in favor of Algerian independence from France caused a major stir. It was also during his time in the Senate that he wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Profiles in Courage," followed in 1960 by "The Strategy of Peace."
Shaw's book is an excellent portrait of a president in the making.
TO MOVE THE WORLD: JFK's Quest for Peace. By Jeffrey D. Sachs. Random House. 272 pages. $26.
Renowned economist Jeffrey D. Sachs' book "To Move the World" focuses on President Kennedy's peace initiatives around the world, and especially with the Soviet Union.
The book identifies the Cuban Missile Crisis as the starting point of awareness about the threat of nuclear war. Sachs prominently examines Kennedy's great speech at the American University as the centerpiece of Kennedy's evolving quest for world peace, culminating in the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
Sachs includes the full text of that speech, along with three other speeches from the summer of 1963, at the end of the book.
Reviewer Michael Nelson is a writer and editor in Charleston.