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''A work of love, even passion . . . Mr. Manchester's final telling of the death of Kennedy is most moving.'' --Gore Vidal
''[An] articulately organized and utterly compelling compilation.'' --New York Times
''Mr. Manchester matches the dislocation and identification which almost everyone experienced during the tragic events of that long weekend. Inescapably.'' --Kirkus Reviews
--This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
About the Author
William Manchester (1922-2004) was a hugely successful popular historian and biographer whose books include The Last Lion, a three-volume biography of Winston Churchill; Goodbye, Darkness; A World Lit Only by Fire; The Glory and the Dream;The Arms of Krupp; and American Caesar. He received the National Humanities Medal and the Abraham Lincoln Literary Award.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
You read this book not for the basic chronology of the JFK assassination and funeral but for their emotional impact, on the author, the Kennedy family, JFK's associates, the nation, and the world. American Caesar, Manchester's biography of Douglas McArthur, is a history book; Death of a President, a song full or longing and nostalgia for a man Manchester worshipped. His depiction of a White House dinner for the Supreme Court in the beginning of the book feels like the dinner scene in James Cameron's Titanic. Later parts of the book also reminded me of the atmosphere of Stephen Frears' The Queen. How do you make a 200-page blow-by-blow depiction of a state funeral readable? Manchester does it masterfully, often by focusing on details and glitches that humanize the participants: Robert McNamara getting drenched in the rain while checking out the Arlington grave site, the seating plan at the cathedral that forgot to account for account for participants wearing overcoats, chaos with limousines on the way out... none of which were visible to TV viewers. And Manchester concludes that this was consistent with JFK's life "of achievement, not tidiness." Manchester's JFK is flawless: a perfect husband and father, as well as a brilliant statesman. While more modern historians have not knocked JFK off his pedestal, they have at least made a more nuanced portrait of him. But, for the sake of this book, it doesn't matter. Manchester's vocabulary choices are sometimes surprising. JFK's circle of close associates, for example, is referred to as his "mafia," without any sinister meaning. This is apparently how they were referring to themselves, but I don't think a modern writer would use it in this way today. Like another reviewer, I had never heard of this book before reading about the conflict it caused between Manchester and Jacqueline Kennedy in Vanity Fair. Today, this book is out of print and hard to find. It shouldn't be.
On my seventh birthday, November 22, 1963, I returned home from school and was told that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated earlier in the day in Dallas, Texas. Even for a seven-year-old schoolboy the gravity of event was striking. For the next forty years, because of my own curiosity and because the event was continually thrust upon me by the media, I studied the sad event from every possible angle. I considered the views of those propounding the prospect of the lone shooter, the single bullet. I listened to the views of those sure that a conspiracy of monumental proportions had taken the President. In short, I have heard every possible explanation and still the evidence--in my view--leads backs to the beginning. In "The Death of a President," William Manchester, one of the greatest authors of our time and one renowned for his concise, almost obsessive, research was called upon by Jacqueline Kennedy to attempt to set the record straight. The work was published in 1967, four years after the assassination. His research was characteristically pointed, considering every detail, every venue, every person involved. The result: the only book needed to understand the "crime of the century." In 1988 the book was reprinted and Manchester wrote a new forward to his masterpiece. He mentions how individuals came to him wondering whether he would update and modify his original work due to "new developments" in chronicling the story. He observed at the time that, in his view, "the cruel fact" was that there were no new developments. Having studied, as I said, the event in considerable detail, I echo Manchester's profound sentiment. There simply is nothing that holds up under severe scrutiny.Read more ›
This book was published in 1967. Reading it today gives the reader an opportunity to contrast the perspective of the mid-'60s with current information. The subject matter is treated with great reverence. At times, objectivity suffers. The book is very close to fawning in its treatment of Jackie Kennedy, for example. It is also very apparent that one who admired John Kennedy wrote the book. Again, there is that perspective thing. The ravages of time have taken its toll on the martyred president. More of the unsavory details of JFK's personal life are now a matter of public information. Jackie Kennedy stepped down from her pedestal and became "Jackie O" in the late '60s. The Kennedy aura in general has suffered. Equal to the book's admiration of John Kennedy is its utter contempt for Lee Harvey Oswald. Great effort is made to disparage Oswald as the most contemptible of losers. Oswald is portrayed as arguably history's greatest mediocrity. A nonentity who forced his way into the history books by a despicable and cowardly act. The book openly regrets that Oswald's memory will be forever enmeshed with JFK's. William Manchester takes the reader through the bleak events of that long November weekend in 1963. The trip to Dallas, the motorcade, the assassination, the hospital, the plane trip back to Washington, the funeral, the inside details of the friction between the Kennedy and Johnson factions, the worldwide reaction, and Oswald's unplanned televised execution by Jack Ruby are all discussed in meticulous detail. This book is a grim portrait of a turning point in American history. Regardless of one's politics, this single event marked the death of innocence and naivete that was typical of much of post WWII America, even as late as 1963.Read more ›