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If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History Hardcover – October 22, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


Praise for If Kennedy Lived
“It can be an enlightening exercise to challenge the belief that what happened had to happen.  Usually it didn’t.  In his diverting If Kennedy Lived, Greenfield, the veteran political commentator, asks how things might have played out had John F. Kennedy survived in Dallas.”—The New York Times Book Review
“On the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, this is the book to read. An intelligent, often haunting book about what America and the world would have looked like if John Kennedy had lived . . . It's a clever, moving book.”—Fareed Zakaria
“Greenfield grounds his fictional history in research and interviews with some of the era’s experts and, as in his previous excursion into alternative history, offers an ending that the reader will not see coming . . . Kennedy-era followers will enjoy this book.”—Library Journal
“Greenfield does good service in demythologizing JFK to suggest that, had he indeed lived, his second term might have been marked by scandal and controversy, a Camelot undone by the president’s own proclivities as much as by the events of the time. . . . Well researched and thought through—an interesting, plausible exercise in pop history.”—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Jeff Greenfield

“Shrewdly written, often riveting, gripping…Thanks to Mr. Greenfield’s own familiarity with American politics and a lot of energetic research, he turns these twists of fate into accelerating historical snowballs that rumble through our recent history, altering the social landscape in ways both small and large.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Not only thoughtful and sophisticated, but marked by the author’s enthusiasm. Greenfield is having fun here, and you can feel it on every page. His scenarios are relentlessly grounded in plausibility. This is a book political junkies will adore.”—Bryan Burrough, The Washington Post
“Satisfying, entertaining, insightful. The key to Greenfield’s success is that he knows his politics and the strengths and weaknesses of leaders. Greenfield’s storytelling is compelling and his research superb.”—The Miami Herald
“Historians have long been tantalized by the what-ifs of history. In the hands of this tremendously gifted storyteller, Then Everything Changed will captivate the reader every step along the way.”—Doris Kearns Goodwin
“You expect intelligence and a devilish sense of humor and a profound knowledge of political history from Jeff Greenfield. But there is a deeper, haunting quality to this book as well. By adding a simple twist of fate, Greenfield brings fresh – and exhilarating – insights to the history of our times.”—Joe Klein, columnist, Time magazine
“Jeff Greenfield has taken the ‘what-if’ game and turned it into something else entirely – a trio of thought-provoking, interesting, and downright clever scenarios that remind us just how much individuals do matter.”Bob Schieffer, moderator, Face the Nation

About the Author

JEFF GREENFIELD is the host of the PBS news show Need to Know, a Yahoo! News columnist, and a veteran of CBS News, ABC News, and CNN. A five-time Emmy
Award winner, he is the author of twelve books. He lives in New York City and Santa Barbara.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (October 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399166963
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399166969
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #73,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Robert G. Rosenthal on November 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a fascinating, if safe, account of what a Kennedy presidency could have looked like. Timed to release around the 50th anniversary of his assassination, the premise follows the questions "what if Kennedy survived the assassination attempt?"

I say "safe" as the author follows paths that existed during and after the Kennedy administration. Throughout the book are references to historical events and comments taken in new context. For example, when John Kennedy returns to the White House after his hospital stay after being shot, John-John (John Kennedy Jr) salutes his father as he exits Marine One.

The author covers the key themes of the times such as civil rights, nuclear war, the Cuban embargo, the cold war, our relationship with isolationist China. He also gets into scandals that may have come out had time allowed.

It was an enjoyable book. Fortunately, I was traveling and was able to read 1/2 of the book on my flight out, and the other half on the return.

If you are a student of the Kennedy era, I think this hits the highlights. I think Greenfield could have taken a few chances in taking more unlikely routes. It may have made this not just enjoyable but more exciting. However, it was well written and I'm glad I read it.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Pen on March 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I've now read three alternative histories regarding the survival of JFK and the serving of his second term. The most recent is If Kennedy Lived by Jeff Greenfield. It's a very workmanlike and interesting book that gives a detailed insider recounting of what JFK might have accomplished during his second term, and where he might have failed. I found the detail to be both fresh and factual-hard to do with 50 year old history-but I did not really connect with the presentation. It reads like a string of newspaper articles suggestive of how he might have acted vis-a-vis Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggle, China and other subjects. But I didn't connect emotionally. There is no protagonist. It would make a fine, suggested alternative history documentary, but outside the beltway, the wonkishness might not travel.
I'm also disappointed that he took the government's position that Oswald, the lone nut, was singularly responsible and leaves that thread of the story mostly untouched. I think there is far more there, as do a majority of Americans. And if Oswald was a patsy, or at least peripheral in the assassination, then there is a wide river of undercurrents left unexplored by Mr. Greenfield's story. But all in all, it was a well written, provocative read.

The second alternative history I would mention of the three is 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Billed as an alternative history, and playing off the idea of presenting a world where JFK survived, it did not really live up to the hype. It is a lovely love story, revolving, ala King and time travel, around an attempt to stop Oswald from taking the fatal history-altering shot. It's a bit bloated [is King now too big to be edited?] and looks at JFK's survival from a macabre surrealist viewpoint that is a hallmark, in my many readings, of King's works.
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Alastair Browne on October 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I usually do not read historical what ifs, but in this case, I'm willing to make an exception, and what an exception it is! What Greenfield does is take the life of Kennedy, and his family, as it was, up to November 22, 1963, the day he was assassinated, and from Kennedy's perspective, personality, views, and actions, continues the time line all the way up to the 1968 presidential election. I myself remember these years, starting from when Kennedy was alive, so I know when a certain point in this timeline has been reached, compared to the other. This book is not fantasy, nor is it science fiction. It is political fiction dealing with the realities of that time, and how Kennedy himself may have dealt with them.
Before his assassination, Kennedy has had several brushes with death, from World War II in the Pacific, PT-109, to an operation on his spine in 1954, to a little known assassination attempt in 1960, after he was elected president. A would-be suicide bomber (a disgruntled 73 year old retired postal worker) was determined to ram his explosive laden car in the back of Kennedy's as a walked out from church. The bomber was anti-Catholic. Jackie exited the church first, and the bomber was a gentleman, determined never to kill a lady. (This really did happen) Three what-ifs were speculated here from these three incidents.
The story begins, or continues, in Dallas, where it rained (in reality, it was sunny, but rain was forecasted that day) and the bubble was installed on Kennedy's car to protect him from the rain. As the car drove past Dealey Plaza, Oswald shot and shatter the glass, and then took another shot, shooting Kennedy in the back, but the driver managed to step on the gas, and the car sped away. Kennedy survived.
From this point, events start to happen.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mark R. Jorgensen on November 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
No one does this sort of history better than Jeff Greenfield. I know the history, personalities, issues and currents of this period very well -- though I have learned new things from the book, subsequent research and listening to interviews with the author. For me Mr. Greenfield comes closest to what I think might have happened had Kennedy lived -- and his counter-factual history presents for the most part very plausible outcomes. The "Afterword: The Sources of Speculation" provides immediate sources used by the author but I wish he had expanded the material here to include other recommended background reading.

Other reviewers seem to be dissatisfied with this very plausible alternative history. I believe this is because Kennedy does not "live" up to the heroic mythos we have constructed for him. What they forget is that Kennedy was a politician who had to contend with many issues -- often difficult and intractable ones -- and equally difficult personalities. I agree with Mr. Greenfield that the Vietnam conflict would likely have taken precedence in any second term. Several years ago I wrote up such an alternative scenario in discussions with other "era" veterans -- and we are in agreement that during any Kennedy second term there would not have occurred a massive troop commitment as happened under Johnson.
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