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Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House Hardcover – October 8, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 88 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Dallek’s portraits of advisers including Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Walt Rostow are lapidary, and it is difficult to quarrel with his judgments.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“Dallek is an assiduous digger into archives. . . . The story of how a glamorous but green young president struggled with conflicting and often bad advice while trying to avoid nuclear Armageddon remains a gripping and cautionary tale of the loneliness of command.” (Evan Thomas, The Washington Post)

“Think The Best and the Brightest meets Team of Rivals. . . . Dallek is one of the deans of presidential scholarship.” (Beverly Gage, The Nation)

“Dallek brings us closer to the complexity and the humanity of Kennedy’s geopolitics, and helps us grasp the uncertainties he and his men faced in an abbreviated presidency.” (USA Today)

From the Back Cover

A Globe & Mail 100 Selection

In his acclaimed biography of JFK, Robert Dallek revealed Kennedy, the man and the leader, as never before. In Camelot's Court, he takes an insider's look at the brain trust whose contributions to the successes and failures of Kennedy's administration were indelible.

Kennedy purposefully assembled a dynamic team of advisers noted for their brilliance and acumen, among them Attorney General Robert Kennedy, his "adviser-in-chief"; Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara; Secretary of State Dean Rusk; National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy; and trusted aides Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger. Yet the very traits these men shared also created sharp divisions. Far from unified, JFK's administration was an uneasy band of rivals whose personal ambitions and clashing beliefs ignited fiery debates behind closed doors.

With skill and balance, Dallek details the contentious and critical issues of Kennedy's years in office, including the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, civil rights, and Vietnam. He illuminates a president who believed deeply in surrounding himself with the best and the brightest, yet who often found himself disappointed in their recommendations. The result is a striking portrait of a leader whose wise resistance to pressure and adherence to personal principles, particularly in matters of foreign affairs, offer a cautionary tale for our own time.

Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Camelot's Court is an intimate tour of a tumultuous White House and a new portrait of the men whose powerful influence shaped the Kennedy legacy.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First edition (October 8, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006206584X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062065841
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #370,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Griswold VINE VOICE on August 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Even though Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House is billed as a look inside the Kennedy White House, the majority of the book is taken up by the two principle international affairs matters that occupied Kennedy during his brief presidency: Cuba and Vietnam. If one is looking for a discussion of Kennedy's domestic political debates then you'd be better served to look elsewhere as civil rights is often placed firmly in the background of Kennedy's international relations.

On the bright side, I thought that Robert Dallek did a really good job of reconstructing the problem of Cuban relations from the lead up to the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis to the perhaps less publicized aftermath. With every page, the reader can almost feel the tension between Kennedy's civilian advisors and the military men. Adding a wrinkle to the conflict was the diversity of opinions that existed between the civilian advisors and military men themselves. I really appreciated the depth of the Cuba portion.

The Vietnam section just didn't have the same bite for me. Perhaps it was because it was intertwined with the Cuba conflict in sections or if it just devolved into a mass of conflicting opinions so much that it was hard to keep up with who thought what about action x in Vietnam. At the end of the day, I'm not sure that its' breaking news that presidential administrations are rife with personal feuds. Those types of things have been going on since this country was founded.

The bottom line is that Camelot's Court is a worthy addition to a library on US Presidents with a good Cuba portion, but it makes it sound like domestic issues meant nothing to Kennedy and the Vietnam section may be difficult for readers to follow.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is Dallek's thirteenth book and the second to deal specifically with the Kennedy presidency. The dust jacket describes it as "an insider's look at [JFK's] brain trust," what Ted Sorenson labeled the "ministry of talent," The book is a detailed analysis of the policy discussions that took place between president and advisors over the course of Kennedy's Thousand Days. This focus allows Dallek to zero in on the complicated, frustrating process of decision-making in a time when no one answer was clear and unequivocal and the consequences of a wrong decision frequently seemed dire.

Dallek judges Kennedy "an astute judge of character and reasoned policy . . . .a quick learner," echoing political philosopher Isaiah Berlin's observation after meeting Kennedy that the president was the best listener he had met in many meetings with world leaders. The president, Dallek makes clear, spent as much and frequently more effort in selecting the men who would advise him as he did in his Cabinet selections. (As important a selection as Robert McNamara for the post of Secretary of Defense was made with little prior knowledge of, or communication with, McNamara, because Kennedy intended to be his own determiner of military policy.)

From the start, the president encouraged discussion among his advisors. "The last thing I want around here is a mutual admiration society," he told press secretary Pierre Salinger early in his presidency. "When you people stop arguing, I'll start worrying." But it wasn't just expert advice he sought. He had read and absorbed Richard Neustadt's book on presidential power and taken to heart his analysis of how FDR kept power: FDR had sought advice from multiple sources, never letting one proposed solution dominate.
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"Domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us." That's a famous quote of JFK's and Mr. Dallek invokes it early on in this book to set the table for the emphasis on foreign policy herein. All the smart, spirited and patriotic men who advised the President on Vietnam, Cuba, Krushchev and DeGaulle are here. What comes out is that the decisions the President made were ultimately his, and he owned them. There's not only much to learn about the early 1960s and the Cold War and Vietnam, there's also a lot about leadership. It's an interesting and relevant book today as we look back on recent Presidential decisions on Bosnia, Rwanda, and Iraq, as well as ahead to Syria.

Dallek knows his subject cold -- not surprising when you realize he's also done well-respected books about other major players in Vietnam saga (Kissinger and LBJ and Nixon).

It's nice to read a serious, balanced book about JFK that focuses on what he did as President, not on the gossip about his personal life, and not about the grisly details of 11/22/63. However, I subtracted two stars because at times it was quite a slog. I felt that the author's earlier book on Kennedy, An Unfinished Life : John F. Kennedy, 1917 - 1963 was more readable. If you're more interested in Kennedy than you are in the Cold War, you might enjoy the earlier book more.
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After winning the extremely close election of 1960, JFK was faced with the challenge of all new presidents - transitioning from campaigning to governing - the first task, naming a cabinet and forming a team of advisors. Camelot's Court premise/goal is to provide the reader a detailed view into the workings of the Kennedy White House - the personalities, discussions, differences of opinions and ultimately the decisions made, (or not made), and thus policy. If there was any doubt in your mind, this book will confirm how difficult it is being President - even with a bunch of smart and intelligent people around to help.

The good news is that what is covered here - JFK's foreign policy - is done fairly well. And foreign policy in the early 1960's meant the Cold War - the USSR and Khrushchev, Cuba and Castro, Berlin and of course, Vietnam. On the flip-side the narrative concerning US domestic policy during JFK's 1000 days is at best cursory; topics such as Civil Rights or the US economy minimally covered. (And because of this it's unclear to this reader as to why this book simply wasn't "positioned" as a JFK foreign policy/Cold War book.)

Back on the plus side of the ledger, Dallek, as usual, does a very good job of bringing these historical figures/players to life by utilizing a combination of biographical info, quotes, analysis and context; all without impeding the narrative. (As an aside, McGeorge Bundy does not fare well here.) If you are familiar with this period of history Camelot's Court is a nice "refresher", i.e. nothing really new here. Conversely if you are new to the subject matter, this is a great place to start.
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