As I listened to Jim Leavelle at the Dallas Park City Club yesterday, I was thinking about some of my favorite books written about the JFK assassination.
Leavelle was the Dallas policeman who escorted Lee Harvey Oswald in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters on Sunday, November 24, 1963. Oswald was being transferred to another jail, and he was killed by Jack Ruby. He is on the left side of the photograph, wearing a hat.
Unfortunately, Leavelle has never written a book. It is my great hope that he will at least publish an “as told to” book, sharing his experiences, in the remaining years of his life.
In no particular sequence, here are my favorite books about the events surrounding November 22, 1963, in Dallas:
Five Days in November by Clint Hill (Gallery, 2013) – Hill was the secret service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy, and he jumped on the president’s limousine to shield her as she attempted to crawl out the back of the car
Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi (W.W. Norton, 2007) – despite its 1,648 pages and more than 900 additional pages of footnotes on a CD, this book by the Charles Manson prosecutor is highly readable
Rush to Judgment by Mark Lane (Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1966) – this critique of the Warren Commission Report should be entitled “rush to press,” as it contains so many inaccuracies they are laughable
Crossfire by Jim Marrs (Basic Books, 1993) – the best of the conspiracy theory books – I do not believe any of these, as I am firm in my conviction that Oswald acted alone – I saw Marrs speak in person in Fort Worth about this book
Mortal Error: The Shot that Killed JFK (Hunter’s Moon, 1992)- by Bonar Menninger – the most plausible alternative explanation outside of a conspiracy theory to account for the assassination; it was largely ignored by the media and public
Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt, 2012) – I cannot stand this guy, but this book is readable and contains material that I have never seen anyplace else, and that I doubt is even factual; as with all of his books in this series, Martin Dugard is a co-author
What about you? What are your favorites about this historical event? Click on “add a comment” below and share it with others.
I am enjoying Bill O’Reilly’s epic based upon a Fox News series, entitled Legends and Lies: The Patriots (Henry Holt, 2016). But, wait – Bill O’Reilly didn’t write the book! His name is featured on the book so it sells.
The author is actually David Fisher. He has a small line on the front cover, and an even smaller one on the spine. There is no pretense. The cover reads, “Written by David Fisher.”
Fisher is no novice to publishing. He is the author and coauthor of more than twenty New York Times bestsellers including another with O’Reilly, Legends and Lies: The Real West. His work has also appeared in most major magazines and many newspapers. The inside cover of the book claims that he is the only reporter ever given complete access to the FBI’s forensic library.
I find the book very readable, and one of the most interesting and detailed accounts of the events surrounding our nation’s early days and our fight for independence from Britain. I also believe it is refreshing when presumptions and possibilities are labeled for what they are, and not facts. There are detailed chapters on practically all of the nation’s first and finest, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and so forth.
Surely, this attention to detail is Fisher’s doing. I’ve never seen a commentator have to make so many retractions, clarifications, and admitted mistakes than O’Reilly, and still keep his job. You can go to Wikipedia to read a short list of them. Remember that CBS fired Dan Rather for misstating information about President Bush’s National Guard Service, following a lifetime of service. And O’Reilly gets how many chances? Of course, Fox News is not CBS.
Regardless, I think anyone with even passing interest in this era of our nation would find this a fun and educational read. I know that I have.
I just finished the most recent Bill O’Reilly “killing” book. This one is entitled Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault that Changed a Presidency (New York: Henry Holt , 2015), co-authored with Martin Dugard.
I have read all of these O’Reilly books. They include killing Lincoln, Jesus, Patton, and Kennedy. They are entertaining. I will tell you that I have read things in these books that I have not seen anywhere else. For example, we know that Marilyn Monroe had a thing for the Kennedy brothers, but O’Reilly is the first person I have ever seen that claims JFK spent a full weekend with her. I don’t like him. Go to Wikipedia.com and look at all the disputed claims – some of the same things that Dan Rather was fired for at CBS. Of course, O’Reilly works for FoxNews, not CBS, and I guess you can get away with more by not being on a major network.
I was only 35, but already a former college professor when the Berlin Wall fell, communism deteriorated and the Cold War ended. For most of my years, Ronald Reagan is credited with winning the cold war, the most stunning force being his public call to Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in a speech on June 12, 1987 in Berlin. When it went down, I’ve never seen such a “yawn” and uncelebrated response than the one that the first President George Bush offered. Former presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan is likely the biggest proponent of the Reagan influence. It is well documented that Reagan stood up to Gorbachev, as no American president had ever done with a Soviet leader, even walking out of a summit when negotiated terms were not to his liking.
O’Reilly is clear that the friendship between Reagan and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an important factor in ending the cold war. But, a new book suggests that it was Thatcher, not Reagan, who was the most influential.
Charles Moore’s book, Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith – In London, Washington and Moscow (Knopf, 2016) debuts in bookstores on January 5. Moore argues that it was Thatcher who pushed Reagan to recognize Gorbachev’s strengths and limitations. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Moore writes that “Thatcher risked letting Mr. Gorbachev drive a wedge between her and Reagan” (p. C3). Without Thatcher’s work on Gorbachev, “interpreting Reagan to her Soviet visitor,” we may not have seen the same ending to the Cold War. The title of his essay today is “How Thatcher Won the Cold War.”
This book will be an important historical revelation to allow us to compare just how influential different leaders were in ending the Cold War. We need to learn whether Thatcher was more than an intermediary between Reagan and Gorbachev. It appears that this new book says just that.
I am reading THE KID (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2013) about Boston Red Sox superstar Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr.. This is a book that I got from Randy at Christmas, and I am about 250 pages in right now.
I am enjoying this book. I find it well-researched and documented, organized, and well-written.
It is hard for me to describe, but for some reason, I am irritated about the heavy use of secondary sources. I understand that Ted Williams has been dead for twelve years, and obviously, Bradlee could not interview him for the book. For that matter, Bill O’Reilly could not interview Abraham Lincoln for Killing Lincoln.
But, if you look at the many footnotes and references, there is a significant reliance on previous books and articles about Williams, including extensive quotations from the star hitter himself that appeared in these works.
The problem is not documentation. There is nothing stolen or plagiarized here. What is missing, however, are primary sources, such as original interviews by Bradlee with Williams’ family and descendants, or original observations resulting from Bradlee’s personal travel to Cooperstown, Boston, Pensacola, or San Diego (Williams’ home town). I don’t get the sense that I am reading Bradlee’s subjective take on Williams, as much as I am reading an objective master’s thesis put together from a physical or online library.
If you aren’t familiar with Ben Bradlee, Jr., I found his biography on his website, at www.benbradleejr.com:
He spent 25 years, from 1979 to 2004, with The Boston Globe 10 years as a reporter and 15 as an editor.
As a deputy managing editor, Bradlee oversaw the Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church from July 2001 to August 2002, and also supervised the production of a book on the subject, “Betrayal”, which Little, Brown published to critical acclaim in June, 2002.
His first editing assignment was as Political Editor, supervising the paper’s State House and City Hall bureaus in 1989 and 1990. He then served as Assistant Managing Editor for local news from January of 1991, to November of 1993, when he was named Assistant Managing Editor for Projects and Investigations. He was later promoted to Deputy Managing Editor, while retaining the same position. In that capacity, Bradlee oversaw the Spotlight Team (the Globe’s investigative unit) and several other reporters who produced longterm projects or series. He also worked on an adhoc basis with reporters on the metropolitan, business, national and foreign staffs in producing special projects, and occasionally, wrote major pieces himself.
As a reporter, he served on the Spotlight Team, at the State House bureau, and as the paper’s roving national correspondent from 1982-1986. He covered the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis and also reported overseas for The Globe from Afghanistan, South Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Vietnam.
Bradlee has written three previous books. His first was “The Ambush Murders”, the case of a black activist accused and ultimately acquitted after three trials of killing two white policemen in Riverside, Calif. It was a story about smalltown justice and how justice functions in emotionally-charged circumstances when police investigate the deaths of two of their own. The book was published in 1979 by Dodd, Mead, and later made into a television movie for CBS.
Bradlee was co-author of “Prophet of Blood” the story of polygamous cult leader and self-styled prophet of God Ervil LeBaron, whom authorities considered responsible for up to a dozen murders in the Intermountain West and Mexico during the 70’s. The book which explored the interplay between sex, violence and religion in an offshoot of the Mormon Church was published by G.P. Putnam in 1981.
Bradlee’s third book was “Guts and Glory: The Rise and Fall of Oliver North.” Published by Donald I. Fine Inc. in 1988, the book chronicled North and the Iran-Contra affair, and was the basis for a four-hour television mini-series which aired on CBS in May of 1989.
A graduate of Colby College, Bradlee served in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan from 1970-1972. On his return to the United States in 1972, he went to work as a reporter for the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise, remaining there until mid 1975.
Bradlee has three children. He and his wife Janice live outside Boston.
Don’t let these comments stop you from reading this book. I am reading things here I did not know. And, perhaps about 500 pages from now, I will feel differently.
I understand that I received this book to learn about Williams, not Bradlee. And, there has been enough written about Ted Williams where it is hard to say something new. However, the author’s stamp is what makes a book unique. How the author writes about what we might already know is what gives a book like this its value.
So, for now, at page 250, where is Ben Bradlee, Jr., in this book?
As a disclaimer, I do not like Bill O’Reilly, nor his network, Fox News. You might, and that is just fine with me. I chose to become angry at his interview with President Obama before the Super Bowl, where he demonstrated poor questioning skills, poor probing skills, and abysmal listening skills. He was obviously more interested in making a scene for himself than providing a forum on issues for a national viewing audience. A quick review of his television career shows him to be a walking time-bomb, with explosive unsubstantiated commentary, often followed by apologies, corrections, and dissatisfying defenses delivered in a Howard Cosell-like manner. Yet, these are behaviors that make him popular, and create vast viewing audiences.
But, his three best-selling books are another matter. Henry Holt was the publisher of all of these. I have finished two of these, Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot (2012), and Killing Jesus: A History (2013), and am now into a third, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever (2011). As you see, that one was actually the first in the series. His co-author is Martin Dugard, a not-so-famous historian, who for all we know, may provide gravity to O’Reilly when he might otherwise stray from facts. The fourth, Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, is due in September this year.
These are all highly readable accounts of famous history. I find them novel-like in their wording, pacing, and unfolding dramatics of events. He adds feelings to facts, and emotions are a strong appeal to his writing. All the books keep you focused, but also move you off-balance in a very positive way. You think you know what will come next, and it will, but not how you expect it. O’Reilly opens several windows as he writes, but not so many that you find yourself flipping back to review. Even his footnotes are interesting and explanatory. And, Iike many people, I don’t usually read footnotes.
The background and context are particularly strong elements. I am grateful, for example, that we are given a condensed review of ancient Roman and Judean history, including key events, characters, traditions, customs, geographies, among others, way before we even read about Jesus’ birth and brief time on earth. The writing is more appealing than even a visual imagery could provide.
I can tell you that I also read things in these books I have never seen before. If you read these, you may occasionally feel the same way. You might react with “I didn’t know that” or “oh, yeah?” Here are two I remember. The JFK-RFK interest in Marilyn Monroe is public knowledge, but I have never before read in such a strong and factually-appearing manner that JFK spent two consecutive nights with her in California. Tiberius was known as power-hungry and egotistical dictator, but I never knew that he swam with young boys who nibbled at him below the water. At minimum, I never remember studying that in Sunday School.
Years ago, I read the famous author, Jim Bishop, who wrote accounts of these same three. He called them The Day…. (Kennedy Died, Christ Died, Lincoln Died). They have been reprinted several times. They were good, but they are nothing like the O’Reilly accounts. Compared to the dynamism from O’Reilly, they seem static to me today.
Perhaps that may be due to the title. Note the word: “killing” begins each of his books. The use of the “ing” means that we are reading a process, not an event. “Kennedy killed” is an account. “Killing Kennedy” is a dynamic, in-action, unfolding of a story.
Put aside any feelings you may have about O’Reilly. If they are negative, don’t let that interfere with your access to these books. You will find your time well-spent by doing so.
And, I plan to order the Patton book when it is ready in September. If nothing else, I can read some new things and replace the George C. Scott image that seems to always be in my head.
…we will become a trivial people, incapable of coping with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, perhaps even reality. We will become, in a phrase, a people amused into stupidity.
Television has become the command center of our culture. The light entertainment is not the problem. The least dangerous things on television are its junk.
On television all subject matter is presented as entertaining. And that is how television brings ruin to any intelligent understanding of public affairs.
How serious can a bombing in Lebanon be if it is shown to us prefaced by a happy United Airlines commercial and summarized by a Calvin Klein jeans commercial? When newscasters say, “Now…this,” they mean to indicate that what you have just heard or seen has no relevance to what you are about to hear.
When a people become, in short, an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then…a nation finds itself at risk and culture-death is a clear possibility…
Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.
Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves To Death (I posted about this earlier here).
Where will people get their information? What is the quality of that information? Is it trustworthy? Is it honestly edited, delivered, “packaged?”
If the news can be driven by a well-known figure writing on her own Facebook page, and that sets the agenda for the news programming, are we getting what we need? (This is what is sometimes happening!)
If a candidate for major office skips traditional interviews with editorial boards, and basically decides not to answer questions, or even debate with an opponent, are we getting what we need to make informed decisions?
I am worried about the decline in the quality/credibility/trustworthiness of our information. And the voices for such worry are increasing.
I don’t often make this kind of blanket pronouncement: we are all busy, and there are so many good books to read. But I would strongly recommend that everyone read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. (You can buy a used copy through Amazon, currently for less than $4.00, including shipping). This 1985 book seems ever more true as time goes by.
And now, Ted Koppel has weighed in. I realize that many current readers do not know just who Ted Koppel “was.” During the Iranian hostage crisis, 1979, he began a late-night wrap-up of the day’s events in that crisis on ABC. The program was called “The Iran Crisis—America Held Hostage: Day xxx”. After the 444 days of the crisis, the program remained on the schedule, re-named Nightline. It always presented just one story (the current Nightline presents three stories).
Though he was not a perfect journalist (the program was accused of bias toward the U. S. Government view – see the paragraph in this Wikipedia article), there was still something a little more pure about his program than we might find in today’s programming. It was an intelligent, non-shouting presentation of one important issue of the day. There really is nothing quite like it on the air any longer.
Well, Mr. Koppel has now weighed in on the modern news scene. It is not a flattering assessment. The article, Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news, is in the Washington Post. Here are some key excerpts:
To witness Keith Olbermann – the most opinionated among MSNBC’s left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts – suspended even briefly last week for making financial contributions to Democratic political candidates seemed like a whimsical, arcane holdover from a long-gone era of television journalism, when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.
Back then, a policy against political contributions would have aimed to avoid even the appearance of partisanship. But today, when Olbermann draws more than 1 million like-minded viewers to his program every night precisely because he is avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan, it is not clear what misdemeanor his donations constituted. Consistency?
We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.
The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.
Why the loss of a more honest journalism?
To Postman, it was news as entertainment. It was inevitable with the arrival of the technology. Television would, ultimately give preference to the most “amusing” (“entertaining”) presentation. (Think new theme songs written to introduce the current crisis/war. Why does a war need its own theme song? For entertainment value).
To Koppel, it is news as profit maker. It is the inevitable consequence of news as “profit center.” Here is more from the Koppel article:
To the degree that broadcast news was a more virtuous operation 40 years ago, it was a function of both fear and innocence. Network executives were afraid that a failure to work in the “public interest, convenience and necessity,” as set forth in the Radio Act of 1927, might cause the Federal Communications Commission to suspend or even revoke their licenses. The three major broadcast networks pointed to their news divisions (which operated at a loss or barely broke even) as evidence that they were fulfilling the FCC’s mandate. News was, in a manner of speaking, the loss leader that permitted NBC, CBS and ABC to justify the enormous profits made by their entertainment divisions.
On the innocence side of the ledger, meanwhile, it never occurred to the network brass that news programming could be profitable.
Until, that is, CBS News unveiled its “60 Minutes” news magazine in 1968. When, after three years or so, “60 Minutes” turned a profit (something no television news program had previously achieved), a light went on, and the news divisions of all three networks came to be seen as profit centers, with all the expectations that entailed.
I am not optimistic that this will be reversed. (Postman said that it would never be). But it is sad… And I think it hurts us all.