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Bite-sized book reviews, volume fourteen: JFK edition

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner offers a fourteenth volume of “bite-sized” book reviews, this time dedicated to recent literature pertaining to the life and death of John F. Kennedy, whose presidency came to a tragic end fifty years ago.

These Few Precious Days: The Final Year of Jack with Jackie (Gallery Books, $27.00) by Christopher Andersen – Acclaimed biographer Andersen draws on hundreds of interviews with Kennedy family and friends to lift the veil of secrecy shrouding Camelot. The result is a compelling telling of his subjects’ waning days together. Though many have attempted to convey this tragic love story before, few have achieved the same level of intimacy—one that is sympathetic yet unflinching.

November 22, 1963: Reflections of the Life, Assassination, and Legacy of John F. Kennedy (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.95) by Dean R. Owen, editor – This collection features remembrances from a wide variety of sources including politicians, journalists, and celebrities, who provide unique and personal insights into Kennedy’s life, death, and enduring legacy. The circumstances of his assassination are largely ignored, which alone makes this volume refreshing and worthwhile.

Reclaiming Parkland: Tom Hanks, Vincent Bugliosi, and the JFK Assassination in the New Hollywood (Skyhorse Publishing, $26.95) by James DiEugenio – Veteran researcher DiEugenio offers an impassioned and systematic dismantling of Vincent Bugliosi’s pro-Warren Commission tome Reclaiming History (later reprinted in truncated editions as Four Days in November and the movie-tie in Parkland). Further, he exposes the forces that influence Hollywood, resulting in the politicization of media content. A unique and thorough addition to the assassination literature.

Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination (Random House, $26.00) by Jim Lehrer – The author draws on his experiences as a reporter in Dallas on that fateful November day in 1963 to tell the story of an agent plagued by PTSD after ordering the plastic bubble top off of Kennedy’s car just prior to the motorcade. It’s an original and fascinating premise, yet Lehrer’s flair for the melodramatic and the speed with which he unravels his plot diminishes the overall impact.

Survivor’s Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect President Kennedy (Trine Day, $24.95) by Vincent Palamara – Civilian expert Palamara makes a compelling case for complicity in Kennedy’s death (and the resulting cover-up) on the part of the Secret Service. Meticulously researched and drawing upon rare interviews with more than 80 former agents, this book mines largely uncharted territory, turning up golden nuggets that should inspire alarm in the reader—and that more than make up for the occasional lack of polish.

End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (William Morrow, $29.99) by James L. Swanson – After mining Lincoln’s killing (in the bestseller Manhunt, etc.), historian Swanson turns his attention to the Kennedy assassination. Unfortunately, his account is a retread of works written decades ago by the likes of Jim Bishop and William Manchester, resulting in a rather lackluster affair that dispels any hint of conspiracy without weighing the merits of the evidence. The best parts of this book are those that deal with the aftermath of Kennedy’s death, leaving the reader to slog through hundreds of pages before reaping any reward.

Into the Nightmare: My Search for the Killers of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J.D. Tippit (Hightower Press, $38.50) by Joseph McBride – Scholar McBride offers a lengthy account that melds personal memoir, historical context, and original research that will resonate strongly with anybody who has found themselves venturing down the rabbit hole known as the JFK assassination. Though the author’s editorializing and the oversized presentation of material may dissuade some readers, it’s a worthy investment for true students of the case—and particularly those intrigued by the mysterious circumstances of Tippit’s death.

Five Days in November (Gallery Books, $30.00) by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin – After collaborating on The Kennedy Detail and Mrs. Kennedy and Me, former Secret Service Agent Hill and co-author McCubbin revisit those November days that have been forever ingrained in our nation’s history. Hill is in a unique position to offer insights, as he was present during the assassination and its aftermath, though his reflections (that he was spattered with blood upon mounting the trunk of the limo, etc.) occasionally conflict with his professed belief in the lone assassin scenario and, at other times, come across as thinly-veiled yet uninviting arguments against conspiracy theory. The text, accompanied by a wealth of photographs that range from iconic to extremely rare, is a deeply personal history of larger-than-life events.

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How about you, dear readers: what books have kept you turning pages? Sound off in the comments box below …

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