Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Killing Kennedy, Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard

Category: Nonfiction: Biography; Politics & Washington, D.C.; Death & grief

Synopsis: A recount of President John F. Kennedy’s last months of life, the events of his presidency, and his assassination.

Date finished: 12 July 2014

Rating: ****

I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to this book. I’m a long-time viewer of “The O’Reilly Factor” and respect O’Reilly as an investigative journalist. There were two things holding me back, though. First, he hawks his books mercilessly. And I have just enough stubborn German in me to not want to read what someone tells me to. Second, it always bothered me that O’Reilly had a co-author. Did Martin Dugard do the research while O’Reilly wrote the book? Did Dugard write the book using O’Reilly’s research? Was Dugard a ghostwriter making O’Reilly millions?

But alas, I took the plunge and read it. After all, I am somewhat of a Kennedyphile. Also, I got nerdily interested in the team’s forthcoming Killing Patton, and I wanted at least one other “Killing…” book under my belt before its release.

I have to say, I was rather impressed. The pace is quick, yet not surface. I learned a great deal about Kennedy (though not a whole lot I hadn’t read in other Kennedy books) and a lot about his presidency. It was a tumultuous time in American history, and I remember my American Government teacher in high school saying that had he not been assassinated, his presidency would have gone down as a dismal failure. I didn’t realize what an unmitigated disaster the Bay of Pigs was. And the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although he supported the Civil Rights Movement, his support may have been more tied to his (and Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s) concerns for their political future than we’d always been led to believe. If I’m making this sound like a right-wing hatchet piece on Kennedy’s name and character, I have to assure you that it was not. The book is fair. (No one can deny, for instance, that his dithering and fear in dealing with Cuba made us a laughing stock and cost lives. And no one can deny that the Kennedy glamour went a long way in bringing America together.)

The thing that keeps this book from being a 5-star for me is that it’s a bit sensational. Now, the Kennedys were a sensational bunch, but there was too much here that seemed shocking and grandly rehashed. I mean Kennedy did get involved in some scandalous behavior, no denying, but sometimes the book went far enough that I wished they’d just let the man rest. He was a president, after all. But it wasn’t just Kennedy treated this way, many others were too: Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr. (I’ll never look at him the same way again), Bobby Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, etc.

But in general, I’d highly recommend this book to those interested in history. I learned a great deal about the presidency, J. Edgar Hoover, LBJ, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and many other people and events.

It isn’t until the nice little cast of characters wrap-up at the back of the book that I learned that much of the research was done by Bill O’Reilly when he was a young reporter. He’s been spending the better part of his journalism career putting the pieces of the Kennedy administration and assassination together. I wish he would have said that up front.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, highly.

You might also enjoy:
Rose Kennedy
Mrs. Kennedy and Me (written by Jackie Kennedy’s Secret Service agent, Clint Hill; it was obvious in Killing Kennedy where pieces of information came from this book)

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