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Camelot's Court: Inside the Kennedy White House Hardcover – October 8, 2013
"The Best 'Worst President'" by Mark Hannah and Bob Staake
A noted political commentator and renowned New Yorker illustrator team up to give Barack Obama the victory lap he deserves. Learn more
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“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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Good detail in the book. Sticks to the facts. A good account of a storied era.Published 4 months ago by JIm W
Being a fan of the Kennedy's, I still learned a few things about JFK's administration that I didn't already know! Mr. Dallek is a wonderful historian!!Published 9 months ago by Jerry Pulley
It's amazing how, a half-century after the assassination, there's more information to be mined from one of the briefest administrations in history.Published 12 months ago by Amazon Customer
Great Book easy to read
Detail superb of inner working of Kennedy administration
Very enjoyable book. Great insight into the Kennedy administration. Telling example concerning the impact of experts with differing views on the same subjects.Published 16 months ago by James
This book is a fascinating look inside the Kennedy administration. It focuses on the extraordinary interplay between the President and his all star team of advisers. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Michael Lapelosa
I have read uncountable books on President Kennedy but learned a lot of new, behind the scenes information during the crisis periods about the individuals involved and how... Read morePublished 19 months ago by Tom Cobb
Ok thought be more in depth on back biting between members of staff together closer to JFK. Little disappointing.Published 22 months ago by Bruce D.