JFK Assassination : Books You Would Recommend?
April 29, 2011 3:06 PM   Subscribe

I finished reading Richard Belzer's hilarious book UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe and it has gotten me interested in the JFK assassination. I then looked at a YouTube video that basically used a computer sim that showed the shooting coming from the book depository. My main question: Can any mefite recommend a book or three (of the million written) on the subject that they enjoy and find convincing on the assassination? I am open to any suggestions. Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.
posted by snap_dragon to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
High Treason is one of the more informative and level-headed places you could start, it has a good overview of the major aspects of the controversy, and is pretty gripping just as a general read. If you really want to get technical on it a good next step would be Six Seconds In Dallas.
posted by chaff at 3:24 PM on April 29, 2011

I enjoyed Buglosi's Reclaiming History. It's actually an anti-conspiracy book, written to prove that many of the conspiracy theories would not stand up in a court of law.

I'm not a JFK-assassination expert, so I can't really debate the merits of his argument, and some friends have told me that this book has some issues. But it provides a very in-depth discussion of many major controversies, and an excellent minute-by-minute reconstruction of the actual event from the accounts of many witnesses.
posted by kingoftonga86 at 3:29 PM on April 29, 2011

Case Closed, by Gerald Posner is a pretty good summary of the anti-conspiracy position.
posted by Sculthorpe at 3:43 PM on April 29, 2011

I have not involved myself very much in this "case," though I was around when the shooting took place, but my big question always was: assuming Oswald did it (or he did it with others), what was the motivation for the assassination?
If you assume the case is fairly presented and clear, then perhaps you ought to explore the views of those who believe in some sort of conspiracy, as in these works:

JFK Books

at which point you might be on more solid grounds to make your own decision.
posted by Postroad at 3:51 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best Evidence by David Lifton. If you're anti-conspiracy, you'll think the author's a complete nutcase, but if you lean toward believing a conspiracy is plausible, you'll find it to be very thorough and engrossing. I think it's fascinating either way.
posted by amyms at 3:56 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Who Killed JFK? is a short and readable pro-conspiracy account.
posted by Zed at 4:14 PM on April 29, 2011

It is a fiction book but you should read Don DeLillo's Libra as well if you are into this topic.
posted by safetyfork at 4:43 PM on April 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'll second Bugliosi's book; he's always readable, provocative, skeptical and although I've read only about half this book, what I read made good common sense.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 5:06 PM on April 29, 2011

Came here to recommend Libra too. It's amazing.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:20 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I suppose I should identify myself as something of an expert in this subject.

My favorite book is Dick Russell's The Man Who Knew Too Much. It's a fabulous read, although it's main subject is a peripheral (but important) character in the events. What this book will give you is a good understanding of the complexity of the situation and its troubling conflicts, coincidences and general WTFs.

Anthony Summer's Conspiracy (which IIRC was reprinted with a different title about 10 years ago) is a well-written overview of the case in the post-HSCA years.

Sylvia Meagher's Accessories After the Fact is a detailed, eviscerating look at the Warren Commission and also a good backgrounder for understanding why and how the assassination was never investigated properly at a time when evidence was fresh.

Posner's book is utterly dishonest in terms of facts. Lifton's book is a quirky take on the medical evidence and not particularly enlightening. Bugliosi is disappointing because while it might work as a legal brief, it ignores the larger context, which is really the heart of this episode in history.

FWIW, I really disliked Libra, partly because I didn't like the tone (and I like a lot of Delillo's work) and partly because I knew some of the characters in real life and did not agree with their characterizations at all.
posted by grounded at 6:29 PM on April 29, 2011

Lee Harvey Oswald, a pro Soviet communist, shot Jack Kennedy because he disapproved of Kennedy's hard line against communist Cuba. "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK" by Gerald Posner is a good summation of the facts and exposes the various conspiracy theories for the hysterical twaddle they are.
posted by joannemullen at 9:21 PM on April 29, 2011

Doesn't the justaposition of the last two posts sum up this question. Now, if Joanne and grounded could be placed in a locked room, and told the door would not be unlocked until they can agree, maybe we could get to the truth. If it matters anymore ...

Isn't this an example of 'first pick your truth, then find the evidence'? May have some similarity to the more recent case of the birth certificate ...

I would think at this distance, there is nothing that will convince either 'side' that the other viewpoint may be valid.
posted by GeeEmm at 10:03 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

A true story about Posner's Case Closed...

Some years ago, a local news affiliate contacted me to ask if I was interested in debating Posner about his book. I sat down with the book to review the case as presented but quickly realized there was no point in 'debating' the nonsense on the pages.

I'd noticed that several times in the book, Posner cited a particular assassination historian -- an academic at a major university -- as one of the sane, sober voices in the field, and he gave the impression that this historian supported Posner's views. I knew this academic, and I was surprised he'd agree with any of it. So I sent him a fax (it was that era) asking him about the book. He faxed me back saying "Case Closed is the most dishonest book I've ever read on this subject."

Unfortunately, the debate never happened. I'd planned to ask Posner about his association with the academic -- expecting an answer about how he was a scholarly voice of accuracy and reason -- and then I'd read the fax out loud to him. Case closed, indeed.

(These days, Posner is not considered a reputable journalist, as evidenced by multiple incidences of plagiarism and quote fabrications.)
posted by grounded at 10:33 PM on April 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

Albert H. Newman's The Assassination of John F. Kennedy: The Reasons Why includes an amazingly detailed day-by-day account of Oswald's (publicly known) doings after his return to the U.S. in 1962. The author believes Oswald acted alone but that his main motivation throughout 1963 until his arrest was to kill Edwin Walker.
posted by gubo at 4:23 AM on April 30, 2011

Response by poster: So grounded, what is your take? Did the shots come from the book depository? Was Lee the shooter? Do you have a website or book? Thanks for your comments. I had heard some bad things about Posner's books and not just from conspiracy buffs. I faintly remember reading some other book (well, skimming) and there were supposed photos where two pics of Oswald where put side to side but features didn't match up like nose line and chin. Strange. Based on my very limited understanding it seems Lee didn't do it as he wasn't much a marksman and the gun had a poor bolt action. Plus the report of officers saying the gun they saw was a Mauser. But I'm far from well-read on this (hence this mefi question).
posted by snap_dragon at 7:39 AM on April 30, 2011

Best answer: My take is simply this: the JFK assassination was never investigated properly.

All of the problems stem from that simple fact.

There is no chain of evidence on the rifle, bullets, even the James Tague curbstone. The rifle sights weren't set properly and Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano would have had to have been fired at its absolute maximum speed (reloading, recycling, etc) for the shots to have happened the way the Warren Commission alleged. The rifle, in the WC's own tests, malfunctioned much of the time. (And Oswald's only post-Marines shooting practice was done by an impersonator on a rifle range in Dallas. Go figure. As a competitive pistol shooter, I can tell you for a fact you don't just pick up any old rifle with misaligned sights and pull off this kind of a shooting job.)

As for conspiracy and anti-conspiracy: If you want to believe there was no conspiracy and that JFK was killed by a lone nut assassin, then you have to come up with a different lone nut than Lee Oswald. His life is inextricably interwoven with US intelligence activities from the time he was a teenager, and most of these connections haven't been satisfactorily explained.

If you believe the HSCA evidence, then you've got to accept the fact that more than one person wanted JFK dead and that they successfully translated their passions into action. The question is: whose conspiracy? There was so much covert activity at the time with the anti-Castro Cuban craziness, which worked hand-in-hand with organized crime and business interests (who were also gearing up for Vietnam). And RFK was up to his neck in all of this and, by all accounts, determined to quash serious investigation of his brother's death.

But that's what makes the JFK assassination a great starting point for learning all about US covert/intelligence history. You start with Dealey Plaza and then you find yourself in Cuba, in organized crime in Louisiana, in oil politics in Texas, in Vietnam with the Saigon Military Mission, in Washington with National Security Memos and Robert MacNamara and corrupt LBJ, and then you find the same names cropping up again in Iran-Contra, and the Iran-Contra names carry forward to the Bush Administration and the Iraq mess.

You might not figure out who shot JFK but you'll have a very good idea of how we got where we are today.
posted by grounded at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just happened to read this comment from Werner Herzog this AM about the Warren Commission Report into the JFK assassination (he includes it on his list of recommended books for his film school):

"A most fantastic crime story—a most conclusive, most intelligent thing that human mind can ever put together," Herzog tells me. "It's a fantastic piece of human ingenuity." He declares that anyone who has actually read it has no doubt that Oswald did it, and did it alone. "Everybody raves and rants against it, and nobody has read it, including those like Oliver Stone who has made a film on the assassination. He has not read it. I know it because I asked him. Oh no, he is not reading this kind of crap. I said, 'You're wrong, and shame on you.' "

From this interview.
posted by dpcoffin at 2:24 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised this hasn't come up yet.

Carlos Marcello certainly had motive, but I don't know if Oswald would be the guy he chose to do it.

Santo Traficante and Sam Giancana had enough dirt on JFK to shut him up without a bullet, with a little help from J. Edgar Hoover.

I'm sure Castro was pissed, but I'm not too sure how afraid I am a a regime that cant bake bread.

CIA/US involvement? There just would have been too many people involved to keep it a secret this long. The next day is one thing as far as keeping a lid on it, but 40 years later on your deathbed? You begin to understand the importance of history when the guy with the scythe is tapping his watch. Even Deep Throat copped eventually.

I've been a passing student of this, not fanatical, but never felt like all the questions got answered to my satisfaction. I agree the Warren Commission was less than convincing and full of contradictions, but I don't know if that because they had something to hide, or that is was the height of the Cold War, we were still a little spooked it might have been the Russians, and just wanted to move to a new chapter of American history as fast as we could.

My first take, was multifold. First off Oswald seemd too damned stupid to conceive and execute (excuse the pun) this all by himself. Secondly, he was so OUT THERE already in the media, why would anyone choose such an obvious individual for such a delicate and precise, and sensitive operation? Thirdly, If it was CIA/Mafia, KGB etc, wouldn't be more likely that JFK would have felt what he thought was a mosquito bite, some generic guy that looks like every other waiter that no one can remember just walks away carryng a tray in a crowd iin full view at some big function, then JFK feels a little sick, and is dead a few hours later from something no doctor has ever seen or can explain.

I think the thing that makes me wonder the most, beyond all the mountains of film and ballistics etc, is an old film clip I saw of Oswald being led down the hallway to an interrogation room at Dallas Police HQ. A very young Peter Jennings is standing there scribbling in a notebook. And they ask him if he killed the president.

His eye is black, and my first thought was "If I am trying to arrest a guy in a theater row, and he pulls a .38 revolver out of his pocket and draws it on me, am I going for the hand, or am I going to punch him in the eye? And when he answers the question, he just says very cooly, (paraphrasing a bit)

"No, I have not been charged with that, nor has any mentioned that to me."

Like fucking icewater. How in the hell do a buncha Texas cops drag a guy out of a theater who they think just shot the President of The United States, and not one of them spout off saying how he was gonna kill the little Communist bastard?

I think, maybe in hs own twisted mind, it's possible Oswald agreed to be a patsy, just so his sad ass could have some claim to fame. I'm not convinced he was the sole gunman, in the same respect, I have have any hard facts showing he wasn't.

Maybe he did maybe he was a cog in a bad machine.

Think about what a cakewalk this would have been for whoever is responsible...if it wasn't for that damned Zapruder.

If this really starts eating you up, and you get deep, deep into it sort of thing? Just saying, Jack Ruby is buried about a mile from me. I can make you a rubbing of his stone.
posted by timsteil at 4:03 PM on April 30, 2011

Response by poster: ...that was a really interesting bit of thought, grounded...thank you! And you're right. I am compiling a list of books stemming out from this. I grabbed Hellhound on His Trail about MLK for example among other things. Not a conspiracy book but interesting nonetheless. I think I have a lifetime of reading ahead. Which is utterly fantastic.
posted by snap_dragon at 4:04 PM on April 30, 2011

Response by poster: dpcoffin, I am a HUGE fan of Herzog, so thanks for this great interview.
posted by snap_dragon at 4:05 PM on April 30, 2011

I'm also a fan of Herzog's but I wouldn't take his statement seriously. First off, the WC report is laughably inept and, in today's CSI/Law & Order/Judge Judy/Court TV word, reads better as a satire than as a crime investigation. Also, during his JFK years, Oliver Stone was quite well-versed in assassination history, including the WC report.

If you really like this topic, get your hands on a set of the Warren Commission volumes, all 26 of them. They look great on the book shelf and are endlessly entertaining. You can take any one of them out and start reading anywhere. Very little of it is actually relevant to the crime but when you're looking at photographs of Lee Harvey Oswald's neckties and other random Americana, who cares?

Derek Pell's extended essay Assassination Rhapsody more accurately characterized the WC report as the 'perfect post-modern document' and thought it was a great work of fiction. Also, since I'm veering off course here into assassination fiction, please don't miss JG Ballards wonderful short story The Assassination of JFK Considered as a Downhill Motor Race.
posted by grounded at 4:27 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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