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The Dark Side of Camelot Hardcover – November, 1997

3.8 out of 5 stars 183 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If the Kennedys are America's royal family, then John F. Kennedy was the nation's crown prince. Magnetic, handsome, and charismatic, his perfectly coifed image overshadowed the successes and failures of his presidency, and his assassination cemented his near-mythological status in American culture and politics. Struck down in his prime, he represented the best and the brightest of America's future, and when he died, part of the nation's promise and innocence went with him. That, at least, is the public version of the story.

The private version, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh, is quite different. His meticulous investigation of Kennedy has revealed a wealth of indiscretions and malfeasance, ranging from frequent liaisons with prostitutes and mistresses to the attempted assassination of Fidel Castro to involvement in organized crime. Though scandals in the White House are nothing new, Hersh maintains that Kennedy's activities went beyond minor abuses of power and personal indulgences: they threatened the security of the nation--particularly in the realm of foreign policy--and the integrity of the office. Hersh believes it was only a matter of time before Kennedy's dealings were exposed, and only his popularity and charm, compounded by his premature death, spared such an investigation for so long. Exposure was further stalled by Bobby Kennedy's involvement in nefarious dealings, enabling him to bury any investigation of his brother and--by extension--himself.

Based on interviews with former Kennedy administration officials, former Secret Service agents, and hundreds of Kennedy's personal friends and associates, The Dark Side of Camelot rewrites the history of John F. Kennedy and his presidency.


The big casualty in the Marilyn-papers fiasco is the five years of hard work Hersh put into his book. One may quarrel with his judgments but the man is a great investigative reporter, no lie, and when he says somebody told him something he makes it easy for doubters to check it out. Nothing in The Dark Side of Camelot gives off even a whiff of the dead-fish aroma of the trust fund from Marilyn's Mom, but Kennedy loyalists, joined by others who just don't want to know, are using Hersh's terrible misstep to dismiss what he has dug up as trifling gossip and unsupported heresay. -- The New York Times Book Review, Thomas Powers

This warts-and-more-warts bio is so determined to kill off the Kennedy mystique it should be subtitled The Second JFK Assassination.... Hersh packs so much sleaze and scandal between the covers, he makes Kitty Kelley look like a pussycat. Much of it is old news, of course, even if Hersh does document the allegations more assiduously than ever before. -- Entertainment Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 498 pages
  • Publisher: Little Brown & Co (T); 1st edition (November 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316359556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316359559
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (183 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
First, the disclaimer: although I am a conservative, I like and admire much of what JFK did as president, and I admire the man. Few readers will begin reading this book without a pre-existing opinion of Kennedy. That is/was mine.

Hersh does a workmanlike job illustrating the apparently undeniable fact that Kennedy had medical problems, integrity issues, and personal problems that the country would probably not tolerate in a president today. This book appears to be well-researched and well-documented. It does not present a flattering portrayal of Kennedy and it does not intend to.

First, the infidelity. Hersh goes into depressing detail as to his theme that JFK's marriage was a sham. According to Hersh, JFK never missed an opportunity to philander whenever Jackie Kennedy was away, and sometimes when she wasn't away. Much of JFK's inner circle conspired with him in this regards (according to Hersh) to a degree that is hard to imagine. Hersh speculates that part of Kennedy's abnormal libedo was induced by various drugs he took for his Addison's condition. Hersh develops this theme further in his discussion of the Cuban Missile Crisis and speculates that the cocktail of steroids and other drugs that Kennedy evidently needed to get through the day affected his judgment and his willingness to take risks. This in turn may have caused him to be more prone to the kind of brinksmanship that Hersh claims characterized Kennedy's handling of the Missile Crisis.

Personally I'm not so sure. Despite the fact that the US had an overwhelming nuclear and overall military superiority over Soviets in 1962, Kennedy did not bomb the missiles out but instead negotiated. Here I felt Hersh was unfair to Kennedy.
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Format: Paperback
Basically, how you rate "The Dark Side of Camelot" all comes down to how you feel about the Kennedys, as the previous reviews of this book have clearly demonstrated. If you admire the Kennedys, then this book is "trash" and Hersh's claims about John F. Kennedy's Presidency are "wildly exaggerated" or "just not true". But if you don't like the Kennedys, then Hersh's claims are "without doubt" and "undeniably the truth."

Books about John F. Kennedy usually fall into one of these two groups - the scholarly, mostly admiring "serious" books which concentrate on the issues Kennedy dealt with as President and look only briefly at his many personal flaws; and the so-called "sensational" books which focus primarily on JFK's wild private life and only briefly examine the major historical events of his term of office (the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, etc.). I tend to look at Hersh's book somewhat differently - I think that many of Hersh's allegations are indeed true, and there's little doubt (as many other books and sources have confirmed Hersh's allegations), that JFK was anything but a saint in his private life. However, I'm still not convinced that his private behavior had much effect on his judgments and decisions in the great historical moments of his Presidency. For example, does anyone (except his strongest critics) believe that Kennedy seriously sought advice from one of his many mistresses during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, or consulted with them about how to deal with the civil rights movement in the South? The clear impression one gets from this book is that JFK saw his mistresses as a way to have fun and relax, and that he kept them separate from the serious, policy-making side of his job.
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Format: Paperback
"This warts-and-more-warts bio is so determined to kill off the Kennedy mystique it should be subtitled The Second JFK Assassination.... Hersh packs so much sleaze and scandal between the covers, he makes Kitty Kelley look like a pussycat." (Editorial Review from Entertainment Weekly, a respected journal of political & historical analysis.)

The Kennedys were entertainment, daily, for a nation becoming addicted to the drug of television. Jack, Jackie, Bobby, Teddy, and even strange Robert McNamara were stars, mainlining glitz to the masses in a perpetual party where the best & brightest women, wearing Casini gowns, pushed each other into Georgetown swimming pools and where their men fiddled with Faddle in John Kennedy's hide-away pool at the White House.

Seymour Hersh, respected and sometimes venerated for his expose' journalism about My Lai, Cointelpro, and Abu Ghraib, was reviled by the eastern liberal priesthood for exposing in this book a naked liberal icon. Spit and vituperation flew about Hersh's sloppiness, his near miss in almost going to print with some bad intel about Marilyn Monroe. That single slip-up became the firestorm focus of a mainstream media seduced by John Kennedy in 1960 and 1961 (JFK said in January '61 that it was our "moment of maximum danger" ... and indeed it was; we had entrusted the free world to an amphetamine kid and to the kid's kid brother) and that's seduced by him now.

Historian Michael Beschloss said that while the public is still enamored of the Kennedy phantom, most historians now know better. But historical honesty and accuracy are hampered by the priesthood I mentioned.
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10 Comments 73 of 86 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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