If the declassification of the latest skip of Kennedy paperwork just left you angry and confused, well, why wouldn’t it?
More than fifty years on and they are still tossing out information on the case like leaflets from a bi-plane?
Why can’t they just put it all in order and tell us what happened?
It’s like receiving the pages of a book shoved under your door, unnumbered and in random order, with a vast ensemble of authors, some clearly deranged, providing a selection of endings for you to choose from.
This is not the sort of behaviour most likely to support the official “Nothing to see here” line.
Still, if the latest littering has had the effect of making you wish you were better informed about this whole mess, here are five terrific books to assist you in working toward delivering your own verdict in a confident and unwavering tone.
William Manchester – The Death of a President: November 20 – November 25, 1963
Amidst all the shouting about bullet trajectories, exit wounds, fixed elections and lack of air cover at the Bay of Pigs, it’s easy to forget the man at the true heart of the story: President Kennedy.
This extraordinary work of journalism, written at the request of the Kennedy family in 1964, describes the events of the 48 hours prior to the assassination and the 72 that followed.
It blends the great sweep of context – such as why the President was in turbulent and Kennedy-hating Dallas in the first place – with microscopic detail such as the “Spare me!” complexities of mounting a presidential motorcade, an undertaking that seems to involve no end of squabbling and no shortage of improvisation and finger-crossing.
It tracks the motorcade, yard by yard, then switches to the bedlam at Parkland Memorial Hospital, LBJ’s chaotic swearing in on Air Force One and the challenge of pulling off a presidential funeral at such short notice.
A vast cast swarms through the book in a battle to keep pace with events and keep chaos from taking charge, and extraordinary moments abound, such as how the team of pall bearers prepared by carrying a coffin full of sand up and down stairs all night. To make sure there was no chance of the coffin slipping under the weight, a soldier was made to sit on top while they repeated the process. To make doubly sure, a second soldier was added to the load.
David Talbot – The Devil’s Chessboard
This weighty masterwork by towering journalistic presence David Talbot is ostensibly an account of CIA director Allen Dulles and how he turned the post-war CIA into an operation above the law, answerable to nobody and joined at the hip with organised crime.
His organisation saw Kennedy as a degenerate, a traitor and a threat to national security, hence his removal.
This was an establishment plot by an group of men who believed they were the true “government” of the US, with plenty of hands-on experience on how to remove a head of state, and the means to control the post-hit narrative.
William Collins, £7.69
Anthony Summers – Not In Your Lifetime
Originally published in 1980 and titled “Conspiracy” , the book was significantly updated in 2013.
The title refers to a comment made by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who unofficially lent his name to the commission assembled to investigate the killing, and which concluded its ruminations with the official lone gunman theory.
It also claimed Jack Ruby’s actions were all his own doing.
The comment was a response to a question as to whether Warren believed the truth would ever come out. He replied that he thought it would, but “Not in your etc.” – an extraordinary remark from a man charged with getting to the bottom of the whole damn fiasco.
Summers provides an excellent introduction to the baroque cast of characters who stroll through the Kennedy story, the mobsters, CIA lifers, Cuban operators, sundry low-lifes and freelancers. He also does a compelling job of kicking hard at the evidence to test its integrity.
An abundance of reasonable doubt emerges.
James Ellroy – American Tabloid
Ellroy’s superb fictionalisation of events involves his “inventing” three characters and dropping them in among Bobby Kennedy, Howard Hughes, J Edgar Hoover, Santo Trafficante and the other real time protagonists who were grafting away, working their angles and settling their scores.
Worth reading for the hypnotic rhythm and supermarket trash mag diction alone, Ellroy has no time for the Last Supper saintliness of the Kennedy brand: “Jack Kennedy was the mythological front man for a particularly juicy slice of our history. He called a slick line and wore a world-class haircut. He was Bill Clinton minus pervasive media scrutiny and a few rolls of flab.”
The mob did it.
Windmill Books, £8.99
Patrick Nolan – CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys
Starting to stray into the slightly more arcane reaches of Kennedy research, this book attempts to draw parallels between ways in which the CIA prepared Lee Harvey Oswald and RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan as “patsies”.
Whether you believe the account or not (Nolan is one of the people who believe Oswald possibly didn’t fire any bullets, let alone all of them), his book contains plenty of interesting Oswald material, and by introducing the RFK murder (killed by shots from behind, whereas Sirhan was standing in front of him), even the most devout of lone gunman supporters will struggle to deny the tang of something fishy in the air.
Skyhorse Publishing, £9.99
Not enough? See also Brothers – The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years (David Talbot); The Dark Side of Camelot (Seymour Hersh); I Heard You Paint Houses (Charles Brandt, for an interesting detail on where the gun(s) came from) and this Rolling Stone piece about E. Howard Hunt’s deathbed confession.