Customer Reviews: Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years
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on August 25, 2007
It took me a while to actually get into the book. It took about 40 or 50 pages.
I've read tons of material on JFK's murder and this book initially felt like just another rehash of all of the other evidence that other people have flogged to death. It is much more than that, however.
Most importantly, it provides the historical context for JFK's murder. Though it is not as thorough with the lead up to RFK's murder, he does provide a fair bit of context for RFK's murder in 1968. He does not, however, capture the mood, the near-panic of that spring/summer, as first MLK and then RFK was gunned down. Because I lived through those tumultous times, as a kid growing up in Detroit, I can safely say that it felt like the world was starting to spin off its axis. He does not quite capture that feeling or sense.
But he does a great job of providing that kind of feel for the time period leading up to Dallas in '63. I'd forgotten many of the details about the events from that time. Talbot pulls it all together with lots of detail and fact and illustrates how JFK's murder was almost an inevitable event. Considering everything that led up to it.
It always amuses me when one reads critical comments such as those offered by negative reviewers here, comments that in no way address the real factual issues and concerns that have remained unresolved for over 40 years. Critics simply lapse into ad hominem attacks and never, ever address the huge factual and logical holes in the Warren Commission approach to this crime.
As someone who tried criminal cases for a living, I believe that any case against Oswald as a lone nut killer is so full of holes, it probably could not have been charged, if he had lived. If they had attempted to try him as a lone killer, they would have been laughed out of the courtroom. Part of a conspiracy? Maybe. A lone killer shooting from the sixth floor? No way. Also, it amuses me that critics denigrate claims of conspiracy, as though only the unhinged would ever believe in such a ridiculous concept. Obviously these people have never spent much time in criminal courts, because prosecutors routinely charge people with conspiracies, day in and day out. If small and large conspiracies happen every day - according to the people who prosecute crimes in our country - why is it so unbelievable that a conspiracy to murder a very important person could happen?
And while the particular facts are too complex to discuss in this forum, Talbot does a very good job of laying out basic, uncontested facts that clearly support his central thesis: that JFK was murdered by a conspiracy and that RFK was not stupid enough to have simply accepted the tripe that was being offered by the government. The book is remarkably free of speculation. It is grounded in simple solid reporting.
It is a book that was difficult to put down. I'm very glad that I took the time to read it. I finally realized why my old grandfather proudly hung one of those tacky velour "portraits" of JFK, MLK and RFK on his wall. (Most black folks know exactly the "portrait" I am referring to. The one that shows MLK flanked by the two Kennedy brothers.) This book makes you understand why my grandfather and so many other black folks all over the country felt so strongly about the two brothers.
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If you think you know all there is to know about the Kennedy presidency, you will learn more than you expect from reading the new material in Brothers. If you don't think you know enough yet to satisfy you, Brothers is a must read.

The title of the book is a little misleading. Brothers is really focused on RFK and a few of his most loyal lieutenants. The lieutenants were so close to the Kennedys that they felt like and were treated like brothers.

As time passes, historical events become clearer. But if you wait too long to render judgment, you lose the testimony of those who participated in the events. Brothers is unusual in that sense: It adds the views from 150 new interviews, but unavoidably loses some perspective as many witnesses are no longer available and many important documents remain classified.

Here are some of the new perspectives Brothers brought to my attention:

1. JFK wasn't really in control of the CIA and military while he was president. The CIA was off running anti-Castro operations in violation of direct presidential orders. The Bay of Pigs invasion was planned by the CIA from the beginning as a ploy to trigger an American military invasion of Cuba which the Joint Chiefs supported.

2. Some in the Pentagon were pushing for a preemptive nuclear strike on the Soviet Union in 1961.

3. JFK and RFK had so little confidence in the Secret Service that they were planning to put presidential protection under the attorney general's office.

4. The Cuban missile crisis was more dangerous than I believed. The Soviets had many more troops than the CIA believed and those troops were equipped with tactical nuclear weapons and permission to use them against an American invasion of Cuba.

5. JFK planned to withdraw from Vietnam after the 1964 election.

6. RFK began his own private investigation of JFK's assassination and concluded that he needed to dismantle the CIA if elected in 1968.

7. Those who were in the best position to judge in Dallas thought that there was more than one gunman.

8. Some of those with RFK in Los Angeles thought that there was more than one gunman there.

9. A group of CIA dirty tricksters were present in both Dallas and Los Angeles when the assassinations occurred. You are left to draw the inference that the CIA assassinated JFK and RFK, but there's no direct evidence to sustain the point.

I found that the book tended to try to cover too much ground. As a result, any particular set of evidence was covered quite quickly. In light of the many books that have been written on these subjects, it would have been useful to address those books and try to straighten out incorrect viewpoints from at least the most influential of those books. For example, the cases for and against multiple gunmen in Dallas and Los Angeles receive relatively little attention, even though much has been written on this subject.

Ultimately, the book raises a fundamental point: We have experienced some national tragedies beginning in 1963 which include these assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Isn't it time that we made it a priority to understand what happened and what went wrong, so we can avoid repeating the mistakes? If we let sleeping dogs lie, they may awake and bite us again.
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on May 25, 2007
Brothers chronicles how the children of elites attempted to take on the United States power structure from within the administrative branch--and who the enemies were, determined to bring them down.

Because several preceeding books have previously been written about the Kennedy brothers, readers might initially be skeptical about picking up David Talbot's work. I can affirmatively assure them that this one is a keeper for your personal library. It reads like a really good mystery book which you know just has to make it to the screen someday.

Talbot disperses some light-hearted trivia throughout his book (Jack was a forerunner of what would be known as 'metrosexual' because he would hold meetings in his underwear' and commented on the attractiveness of other men) but it is not a celebrity triva book. He provided the trivia to take readers into the complex psyches which constructed both men in eras when they were, frankly being immortalized as plastic and one-dimensional images.

A strength of Talbot's writing is that he is obviously an admirer of the Kennedy's. He gets a little too partisan at times, but comparatively appears less partisan than earlier books in the pro-Kennedy camp. Footnotes are provided at the back of the book for reference, so he's not just shooting off his mouth for the sake of it.

I was born well after the times referenced in this book, but the well-writen text took me to the places referenced and drew me in. I really understood the radical potential the Kennedy brothers had for transforming America and why the modern new right organized against them so fiercly.
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on August 11, 2007
For many years there has been a continued effort to tear down the reputation of the Kennedy Brothers, largely fueled by the innuendo. This poison, including the calculated whispers of opponents that the Kennedy's battled during their brief tenure, has managed to infect a lot of the "history" that was published in the last quarter century.

Mr. Talbot is obviously prejudiced in his view of Camelot, but at least that view is supported by a decent amount of research that is transparent. These guys were fighting for our lives, and a way of life free from the forces that even Ike was getting pretty concerned about. The fact that they nearly succeeded save for assassination is both testament to the potential of enlightenment and tragically disheartening in terms of suggesting the futility of resisting the vested interests.

What is amazing is how many situations that they faced 45 years ago resonate our contemporary problems, and how their decisions were so different than the ones we see being made today.

Something very special was happening at that time; the myth has substance. The details remind and fortify. One can only pray that the opportunity will come again for us to take the more enlightened path.
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on August 18, 2007
This multidimensional book about the Kennedy years is one of the most important books written about post World War II American history. One dimension is the inspiring story about how, despite our security establishment's rejection of any way out of the cold war except through a nuclear confrontation, JFK conceived of a peaceful way out through negotiations based on(as Sorensen indicated to Talbot) "peace through strength". (JFK's 1963 American University speech confirmed that understanding and compassion were also ingredients in this formula). Another dimension is the tragic story of RFK's fatal response to a Hobson's choice: how to pursue justice and work for his brother's and his ideals in an atmosphere where, as RFK said, "If the American people knew the truth about Dallas, there would be blood in the streets". Finally, Talbot presents the repugnant account, all too familiar to a growing number of Americans in this age of the Iraq War, about the ability of manipulative Washington players to twist perception away from reality in order to allow for actions that are an anathema to democracy and human decency.
Larry Nakrin
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on May 30, 2007
This book is a triumph. A triumph of truth over propaganda and a triumph of powerful and gripping writing. It is tremendously successful in immersing us in the hostile environment the two Brothers found themselves in after entering the white house, and underscoring the fact that the hostility was from their own government, not some lone nut patsy.

By making decisions based on the public good, President Kennedy and Attorney General Kennedy incurred the deadly wrath of the pentagon cold warriors, the new world order warriors, the CIA warriors, LBJ and his minions, the Texas Oil millionaires, and the right wing nutters like the John Birch Society, the Minutemen, and the KKK. The brothers interrupted an ongoing process wherein the military-industrial-congressional complex (a phrase coined by President Eisenhower who later softened it to "military-industrial complex") was solidifying their post WW2 power and making war the biggest most profitable business in the US. By contrast John F. Kennedy described himself as "almost a peace at any price president." He paid the ultimate price in his quest for peace, as did his brother.

"Brothers" allows to see these facts, to see the two young Kennedy men as strangers in a strange land, isolated in their own administration after years of Truman and Eisenhower neglect allowed the CIA and pentagon to get out of control. As General McArthur warned President Kennedy shortly after his 1961 inauguration "The chickens are coming home to roost. And you just moved into the coop."

On November 22, 1963 irresistible armed forces met an immovable object. They couldn't control John Kennedy so they eliminated him. Shortly after that they eliminated his brother. Now we are without great leaders.

David Talbot shows us how we got here, and what we lost on the way.
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VINE VOICEon June 11, 2007
Brothers, The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot is a troubling book. Even after 44 years we find ourselves debating the Kennedy's and their years in power.

Talbots book is thorough. Covering the Kennedy Presidency and RFK's time as attorney general, Talbot supports his conclusions and insights with a tremendous library of interviews of those that participated in the history making era. That many sources that could shed new light on the events of the 60's remain classified is a stumbling block to authors doing research. Talbot was faced with the same blockages.

Yet, Brothers does spring some new information on the reader. To me the most surprising tidbit was that neither JFK nor RFK had any faith in the Secret Service. Also, it is now clear that Jack Kennedy had a definite time limit for our involvement in Vietnam. He planned to pull out after he was re-elected in 1964. Talbot also tells us that the U. S. military was in favor of a nuclear strike against the Soviet Union, a contention I find hard to believe.

Regardless, David Talbot's research is first rate. With copious notes and references you'll be able to check the resources for yourself. Whether you agree with the authors conclusions or not, Brothers is a worthwhile read.
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on May 22, 2007
Outstanding on every level: narrative power, original research, unabashed defense of a likely conspiracy behind JFK's murder. If you read Anthony Summers' "Conspiracy" (now titled "Not in Your Lifetime"), this is the best book on the JFK assassination since that book ... and that's saying a lot. I must admit that I had become jaded about Kennedy brothers' legacy over the years (and Talbot doesn't ignore JFK's reckless personal behavior), but Talbot gave me a new appreciation of just how wise and farsighted JFK and RFK were, especially given the tenor of the times they lived in.
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on July 1, 2007
When he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during Watergate, Sam Ervin explained how they depicted those responsible for the scandal. They could've worked like some artists who draw a picture and put a caption under it that reads "This is a horse." Instead, he said, they just drew the picture.

David Talbot does more than draw the picture of who killed the Kennedys, but he can't convincingly write the names of those responsible because crucial evidence has probably long been destroyed. Still, his well-documented investigation points to the following: Rogue agents of the CIA & anti-Castro Cubans who wanted to get even for JFK's withdrawal of airpower during the Bay of Pigs invasion; organized crime bosses & crooked labor leaders angry about being investigated; J. Edgar Hoover nervous about being replaced in JFK's 2nd term; Allen Dulles angry about JFK's détente with the Russians & being moved out of the CIA; a gang of generals & admirals eager to expand the war in Vietnam crowding into Dallas's Parkland Hospital to ensure JFK's autopsy points to the lone gunman theory.

JFK's murder was a factor in killing some of the youthful idealism that was budding in the early `60s, turning it to rage in the inner cities and drug craziness in the suburbs. Some of Talbot's sources attest to that, along with suggesting that nuclear tensions and the conflict in Vietnam would've been substantially lessened had JFK lived.

Talbot asserts that Bobby, heading for the '68 Democratic nomination and very likely the White House, would've opened an investigation challenging the conclusions of the Warren Commission, advanced a social justice agenda that would've chilled some corporate interests, and ended the Vietnam War. The book examines lingering questions about Bobby's killing in L.A. and the people who would not be unhappy about his death.

Ruminating about all this won't bring the brothers back, and there probably is no political will to reopen a formal investigation into their assassinations. But this book, particularly in its first half, is valuable in revisiting and, just maybe, recapturing a time of great optimism for change in American politics.
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on May 20, 2007
Many previous authors (and at least one moviemaker) have alluded to the possible roles of the mob, hard-line elements within the Cuban exile community, the entrenched and traditionalist elements at the CIA and military officers committed to war with the Soviet Union in the assassination.

Talbot goes to the next level. He places the JFK presidency firmly within its historical context and in doing so he demonstrates that each of these communities possessed a motive for precipitating the first and only coup d'etat in our history.

The most memorable lesson of history that I came away with from this reading is that, after the Civil War, the moment of greatest peril to American democracy was that period in the very early sixties when a new president sought to bring the national security and military colossus under some sort of rational civilian control, such that the final war might be avoided. I wonder if even that president himself realized the awesome interests and capabilities that were arrayed against him as he made his efforts, lurching from crisis to crisis, and then to some semblance of success, in the hopes of securing a posterity for us all.

Isn't it ironic that Eisenhower, who certainly had a part in the creation of the national security state, warned us all of its dangers as he left office? Did the new president appreciate the warning?

It is the convincing demonstration that JFK provided various interest groups with a rationale for his destruction that represents the strength of this work. It's weakness lies in its excessive and unrealistic idealization of both JFK and RFK.
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