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Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America Hardcover – September 9, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition first Printing edition (September 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805072136
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805072136
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,430,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ever since the success of Garry Wills's Lincoln at Gettysburg, various authors have tried, with varying degrees of success, to create similar books focusing on the personalities, events and politics surrounding great rhetorical moments. One of the more valuable such efforts is this new study of JFK's inauguration and his memorable "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech. Clarke (Pearl Harbor Ghosts; Lost Hero) offers an excellent reconstruction of the details of that frigid, snow-encrusted day in January 1961—and the many busy days before, when Kennedy and such advisers as Ted Sorenson and John Kenneth Galbraith joined words that still resonate in our national memory. Contesting accepted wisdom that gives Sorenson the bulk of the credit for the address, Clarke—through assiduous sleuthing—documents Kennedy's primary authorship of the speech considered by many to be his greatest public utterance. One quibble: for all the value of tracking numerous drafts of the inaugural remarks back to JFK's original dictation, handwritten draft and on-the-spot changes from the podium, following all these minuscule revisions sometimes makes for a blizzard of detail only the most devoted Kennedy fan will want to negotiate. Nevertheless, Clarke clearly breaks new ground, creating a valuable book worth making room for on the crowded Kennedy shelf.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Clarke has two purposes in Ask Not: to examine the Kennedy Inauguration in precise detail and to determine J.F.K.’s role in writing the speech. Clarke uses newly discovered primary source material to make his case for the ex-President’s authorship over speechwriter Ted Sorenson. Critics disagree about the efficacy of his argument, but in the end, it veers in his favor. Does this event deserve the intense scrutiny of an entire book? The Washington Post calls Ask Not padded (how much, really, do you want to read about Jackie’s dresses?); The San Francisco Chronicle relishes the personalities and small details that set the stage for Camelot.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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In any case, the book made me want to hear the speech again.
Swissmiss
This is another wonderful book from Thurston Clarke, who is well known for his meticulous research, rich detail, funny anecdotes, powerful writing.
Julia Rush Toland
This was one of the best books i have read about J.F.K. and was taken back in to the 60's and as if i was there.
Andrew T. Kiln

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Rodolfo Camacho on September 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Ask Not" is, without doubt, the most interesting addition to Kennedyana of recent years. Thurston Clarke, a gifted storyteller, takes the reader into a detailed journey into the lives of JFK, his family, friends and advisers on the hectic days of January 10-20, 1961, as Kennedy created an Inaugural address that, 43 years after it was delivered, hasn't lost any of its power and magic. At the center of this quest, Thurston introduces new evidence establishing that Kennedy, and not Ted Sorensen, was the author of the speech's most poetic, stirring and fascinating passages. If it is true that Sorensen has never written or said that he was the author of Kennedy's Inaugural, he has always mantained an ambigous position on the subject. Most historians and scholars have keep this ambiguity alive, and many still believe today that Sorensen was really the author of a message that defined the Kennedy era and launched America into the revolutionary and contradictory sixties.

Clarke writes a captivating day-to-day (almost hour-to-hour) account of when and how John F. Kennedy dictated or wrote the words and sentences that converged in one of the most important speeches of the twentieth century. From the moment during a flight on his private plane to his family's mansion in Palm Beach when he dictated to Evelyn Lincoln, his secretary, the core of the most beautiful lines of the speech, till the very moment when he made minor corrections as he was delivering it, this book reivindicates Kennedy's authorship. It also makes the case that the Inaugural can be seen as a philosophical and spiritual biography of JFK, tracing the origins of its ideas and setences not just to previous extemporaneous speeches delivered during his 1960 campaign, but also to episodes and experiences of Kennedy's life.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Ranger Pat on November 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
You must bring several grains of salt to the author's discussion of what exactly JFK might have been doing or thinking here or there, but the main premise (that JFK wrote the speech, not Sorenson) is convincingly laid out. Also, Clarke's overview of that Inauguration Day (Jan. 20, 1961) is fascinating...he provides great sixties details and a keen assessment of what people on that podium (such as his brief but vivid portrait of Mamie Eisenhower) thought about JFK, based on firsthand accounts, memoirs, conversations. Also, this is a good refresher on what real Democrats and real Republicans stood for in Kennedy's time. I really enjoyed reading this book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Swissmiss on February 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. As a New Englander who was only 6 years old at the time of the inauguration, I can no longer tell if I remember watching the Inaugural or if over the years seeing the newsclips and videos at the JFK Library have indelibly stamped his words in my brain. In any case, the book made me want to hear the speech again. A visit to the Library during my next visit to Boston may be in order.

One bone to pick. How is it that a regular person like me constantly finds errors in books that seem to be otherwise well-researched and the editors don't catch them? Henry Fonda's ex-wife who was at Joseph Alsop's party was named Afdera, not Alfreda. Errors like that drive me nuts.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David J. Morgan on July 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a short, interesting, and satisfying read. It follows closely, and as factually as is possible, the development of this historic speech. I think it does a good job of finding and exploring the influences and authorship of the speech as well as the editing and construction of the speech - its amazing to see how much each word and phrase is considered, changed and laboured over.

Something which adds weight to the book, is the authors ability to depict the feeling and temper of the time. Kennedy obviously brought some new hope to America and was also just a very popular, charismatic figure. There are some good, revealing anecdotes which i have not come across in reading other kennedy books. The book goes into quite a bit of detail about a very short period of time which gives also a closer insight into their day to day lives and habits.

For mine, Kennedy comes across as an intelligent and sincere man. His ideals are admirable and i think he was the real author of this important speech. I'm not so interested in the complete and utter originality of Kennedy's ideas, what is more important is that he selected, developed and articulated them in a way that spoke directly to the world and will leave an indefinite mark.

Overall, a beaut little book, i really enjoyed it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. D. Hughes on January 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I found it a fascinating book. Thurston Clarke's painstaking research and subsequent account of JFK's inaugural address recaptures a moment in time in a unique and intriguing way. I felt transported back to being ten years old, home from school due to heavy snow,watching the television coverage, but with the wisdom of Clarke's story on my side. My daughter, who obviously was not alive in 1961, but is a student of the history of the 60's, was similarly transfixed by Ask Not.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peter Sherer on January 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Thurston Clarke has created a well written account of both this impressive speech and the forces at play that caused it to have an enormous impact on a generation. It is a must read for anyone interested in better understanding the outpouring of altruism fostered by Kennedy's call to service.
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