Assessing The JFK Assessments

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The 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination is bringing dozens of books, as we have been noting. In the upcoming Oct. 27th  New York Times Sunday Book Review, Jill Abramson, the newspaper’s Executive Editor, assesses the many books that have been published over the years, saying,

The true mystery in Kennedy’s case is why, 50 years after his death, highly accomplished writers seem unable to fix him on the page … Other presidents, good and bad, have been served well by biographers and historians … Kennedy, the odd man out, still seeks his true biographer.

Abramson celebrates one of the earliest, now back in print:

… the Kennedy family, which controlled publication rights to [William Manchester's] The Death of a President, allowed it to go out of print, and for a number of years copies could be found only online or at rummage sales. The good news, maybe the best, of the 50th anniversary is that Little, Brown has now reissued paperback and e-book editions. [Note: HarperPerennial brought an edition back into print in 2009, the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's election].

She also provides a sidebar sampler of her favorites, few of them newer titles (in the longer piece, she is unimpressed with the recent crop of books and is particularly scornful of Bill O’Reilly, who she says “has milked the Kennedy assassination with unique efficiency”). She calls An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, by Robert Dallek. (Hachette/Little, Brown, 2003; Hachette Audio), “one of the best of the full biographies.”

In a separate piece, Jacob Heilbrunn is kinder to several of the newer titles (he doesn’t mention any of O’Reilly’s).

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