A JFK assassination book that stays away from conspiracies?
November 23, 2013 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a book about JFK's assassination that covers the events leading up to, during and following the assassination, but not one that gets bogged down in discussing the various conspiracy theories. A book that's written by a respected historian with a good reputation works the best. Thanks!
posted by Fister Roboto to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well, it's not quite what you want, but the Warren Commission Report isn't actually that bad a read. It's fairly easy to read, in truth.
posted by Fortran at 6:18 PM on November 23, 2013

Its not a book, but if you want an up-to-the-minute analysis of the Kennedy assassination, watch this: Cold Case JFK.

They are 'just the facts' but use modern forensics to prove the Oswald/single bullet theory is what happened. No conspiracies, just one nut. Great detail coverage.
posted by nogero at 6:36 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A couple of the folks from the Cold Case JFK episode that nogero links to were interviewed on Science Friday yesterday. Didn't catch the whole thing so I can't tell you if any good books were mentioned, but I wouldn't be surprised.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:05 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just to note, there are folks out there who are not conspiracy nuts who do disagree with the Warren Commission.

Are you wanting to read anything about plausible alternative theories that account for flaws in the Warren Commission report?
posted by Fukiyama at 7:44 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

The lack of consensus regarding "the events leading up to, during and following the assassination" is the reason there are so many conflicting theories. I'm an agnostic on the subject, but I would be suspicious of any treatment of the assassination that didn't thoroughly address alternative explanations.
posted by she's not there at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want the view of an academic historian, Dr. David Wrone has written extensively on the JFK case, with a focus on the evidence.

Also, the Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations would be a more satisfying read than the Warren Commission Report.
posted by grounded at 10:24 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Reclaiming History by Vincent Bugliosi is pretty good, and the framing of proving Oswald's guilt means that while there's debunking, it's not the focus.
posted by klangklangston at 2:31 AM on November 24, 2013

On the other hand... a sober article from John Cassidy, in The New Yorker
posted by Mister Bijou at 5:00 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've only read a very brief excerpt of Dallas 1963, so I can't speak for it in its entirety, but it seems like it might just what you're looking for.
posted by dizziest at 8:33 AM on November 24, 2013

I really recommend Case Closed by Gerald Posner.

I thought it was excellent, clear-eyed and sober. I read it on a European vacation years back and enjoyed it a lot. The book was a finalist for the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for History. It was also the subject of a double issue of U.S. News and World Report.

Here's a clip from it's Publishers Weekly review:

"Posner, a lawyer and investigative reporter, has set himself a major task here and brought it off with considerable panache. In the face of a multitude of assassination books propounding dozens of theories, all of them critical of the lone-assassin/no-conspiracy case, he has come out square for Oswald as the sole culprit. Posner propounds--and offers good evidence for--just three shots, all from Oswald in the Book Depository, and spends nearly half the book on a closely detailed examination of the life of that unhappy and, he claims, ultimately paranoid young man.

He also scrutinizes every minute of the time Jack Ruby spent between the assassination and the moment he shot Oswald in the police garage, and cannot find that Ruby's act was other than an outburst of spur-of-the-moment rage born of unexpected opportunity. Posner does not ride, testy and rough-shod, over objections , as lesser proponents of Warren Commission orthodoxy do. He scrutinizes many of the conspiracy theories and theorists carefully, sometimes even with respect, but inevitably finds them wanting.

If someone has changed his or her story later (as many witnesses did), he tends to give more credence to their first impressions, before the conspiracy theories tempted them to doubt themselves. And in many cases--perhaps too many--he finds that people whose stories have been widely relied upon by writers are mistaken about time or place, crazy, delusional or otherwise unreliable.

About New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison, the hero of the movie JFK , he is merciless, laying out an endless trail of his lies and exaggerations. Posner is occasionally critical of the Warren Commission and the later House Select Committee investigations, but makes extensive use of their findings, adding to them much recent expert testimony--and technological enhancements of visual and auditory material--to which they did not have access.

..[T]his is a painstaking and remarkably thorough presentation of what has become an utterly unfashionable approach. There are extensive notes on sources, and some innovative and helpful graphic reconstructions of the shooting scene and the shots."
posted by diabolik at 9:07 AM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here's what I think you're looking for: Death of a President, by William Manchester. It's nearly contemporary, and is not an exploration of conspiracy theories.

Here's what I think you're not looking for, but just in case... Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Bugliosi. Bugliosi thoroughly explores conspiracy theories and (at least, in my opinion) disproves them.
posted by Ducks or monkeys at 12:23 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend Shooting Kennedy: JFK and the Culture of Images by David M. Lubin. This is more of a postmodern inquiry into the the cultural discourse of the assassination, and the wider culture that it took place in. This might be up your alley, in that it's (a) totally about the Kennedy assassination, and (b) totally not about who did it.
posted by awenner at 12:26 PM on November 24, 2013

Vincent Bugliosi's Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It's essentially the "recap of what happened" part of Reclaiming History without the conspiracy stuff. It's very thorough and interesting. (It was also the inspiration for the movie Parkland that came out last month.)
posted by kirkaracha at 2:17 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like the ideal book for you to read on the assassination might be Not in Your Lifetime by Anthony Summers. Summers and his co-author/wife Robbyn Swan were Pulitzer finalists in 2012 for their (very long) examination of 9/11, The Eleventh Day. So: While not historians, they have shown comprehensiveness, diligence and caution with their reporting on mind-numbingly intricate "World Historical Events."

What's more, Summers has a great deal of familiarity with the historical figures surrounding the Kennedy assassination having written biographies on J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, Kennedy-friend Frank Sinatra, and Kennedy-(er)-masseuse Marilyn Monroe. He was far ahead of everyone on Hoover's secret double life and his closeted relationship with Clyde Tolson, to the point that it took respected historians years before they treated the disclosures as anything more than tabloid garbage.

So -- if you want an account of the events that is fair to the facts, but doesn't waste 60 pages trying to prove that "Badge Man" is clearly visible behind the picket fence in Mary Moorman's photograph of the grassy embankment -- then Summers' latest edition of the book is the tome for you.

I am frankly a little shocked that anyone could read your query and suggest Vincent Bugliosi's Reclaiming History which devotes the lion's share of its Biblical heft (1648 miserable freaking pages!) to debunking each and every ludicrous conspiracy theory, before devoting scant, unconvincing attention to the historical record. If you don't want to get bogged down in discussing the various conspiracy theories, then you don't want to read 15 pages where Bugliosi goes after David Lifton for suggesting someone altered the President's body between Parkland and the second autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital; nor do you need a 19-page chapter entitled "The Zanies (And Others) Have Their Say"; nor a full chapter on the history of the conspiracy movement, followed by a chapter solely about civil rights lawyer and "conspiracy theorist" Mark Lane.

Also -- and you don't have to take my word for this -- but Gerald Posner and his book Case Closed are terrible. Make an effort to read about Posner's late-period plagiarism scandal from his time as the Daily Beast's chief investigative reporter before you consider picking up his self-satisfied, definitive account of those tragic events in Dallas. It speaks to his abysmal laziness on this subject that he found barely half-a-chapter's worth of deserving new material for later editions of his book from the 50,000 pages of government documents pertaining to the Kennedy assassination that have been de-classified in the wake of Oliver Stone's 1992 film.

Clearly, I am a pedant who cares like way, way too much about this topic, so I am gonna just stop myself now.

Here's a fun thought experiment though: Try and remember a major earth-shattering scoop published by the Daily Beast like ever --- but in particular prior to 2010 when Posner was forced to resign in disgrace?

Case Closed.
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 8:42 PM on November 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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