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.
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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-Presidents 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 Jackies dresses?); The San Francisco Chronicle
relishes the personalities and small details that set the stage for Camelot.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.