Monday, October 08, 2018

Beginning Hour Annex: JFK Books

Before I pack many of these JFK books back in their box (for there is no room on the overflowing shelves) I thought I'd give them their close-ups. These books remind me that at least in my lifetime there has never been as broad and extensive interest in a presidency as there was of JFK in the early 1960s. Consider this as well as an appendix to previous History of My Reading posts, such as this one and this one.
These are books that JFK authored.  Why England Slept was based on his Harvard undergrad dissertation, originally published in 1940, about how and why England failed to prepare for World War II.  He authored Profiles in Courage while a US Senator while recovering from a recurrent back problem.  It profiles 8 Senators in history and their acts of political courage  It was a best-seller and won the 1957 Pulitzer for biography.  JFK acknowledged the role of special assistant and speechwriter Ted Sorensen, though perhaps not the extent of his contribution.  The role of writers such as Sorensen in books by public figures is now assumed.

  A Nation of Immigrants was JFK's statement on immigration policy published in 1958 when he was in the Senate.  The other books are principally collections of speeches: To Turn the Tide covers roughly the first year of the presidency, The Burden and the Glory covers the remainder.  The Strategy of Peace selected Senator Kennedy's statements on foreign policy issues, plus an interview with him.  Published in 1960, it was meant to articulate positions he would advocate in his presidential campaign.  I got my first copy from the Citizens for Kennedy office on Main St. in Greensburg, PA, where I did some campaign work.
Three editions of Profiles in Courage still in my possession.  My first was a paperback written by "Senator John F. Kennedy." It was reissued when he was President, without changing the photo or the cover.  That's the bottom one.  I'm not sure when I got the Inaugural Edition but I got the Memorial Edition as a gift in 1964.  It's physically a little bigger than the Inaugural Edition with a different back cover photo.  The foreword by Robert Kennedy is notable for the sentences: "President Kennedy would have been forty-seven in May of 1964.  At least one half of the days that he spent on this earth were days of intense physical pain."

Theodore White's account of the 1960 presidential campaign, from the primaries through the general election contest between JFK and Richard Nixon, was the first of a now-familiar genre.  It just hadn't been done before.  Published in 1961, The Making of the President 1960 was a sensation, at the top of the best-seller list for months.  Teddy White wrote three more in his series, and using the Making of.. title or not, taking an inside view of presidential campaigns has become a publishing tradition ever since.
John Kennedy: A Political Profile was the first JFK biography and for awhile the only one.  Researched by historian and political science professor James MacGregor Burns in 1959 and 1960, it was published in paperback in 1961.    P.T. 109 was the best-selling account of JFK's WWII exploits in the Pacific, leading 11 survivors away from their severed P.T. boat to swim for 4 hours to the nearest small island, JFK towing one injured man by a rope held in his teeth.  There were a number of articles about this incident (notably John Hershey's in Reader's Digest) but this book by a New York Herald reporter published in 1961 became the standard.  The 1963 feature film starring Cliff Robertson as JFK was based on it.
You can gauge the early 60s voracious interest in JFK--generally as well as mine--by the fact that The Kennedy Government, nothing more than bios of JFK's cabinet and White House advisers, was published in mass market paperback in 1961. America's first man in space (Alan Shepard) and first to orbit the earth (John Glenn) were major events of the JFK years, leading to his commitment to land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.  This paperback (First American Into Space) is notable for its author, prominent science fiction writer and anthologist Robert Silverberg.  It was a time for s/f authors to claim some respectability, as the future they'd written about in their fantasies was becoming reality.
In the Kennedy government were authors of books already published, such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., J.K. Galbraith and Robert Kennedy.  Others published during the JFK administration, notably these two.  Point of the Lance was a selection of Sargent Shriver's speeches plus some additions relating directly to the Peace Corps, of which he was the first director.  Many years later I had dinner with Harris Wofford, an associate of Shriver's as well as White House operative in the JFK years, and later Senator from PA.  This book came up in the conversation, and Wofford said that he'd written most of it, completely uncredited. Under his own name he authored Of Kennedys and Kings, an account of the 60s.

  The Quiet Crisis by JFK's Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall is a different matter.  It's first of all a real book, not a collection of speeches.  Published in 1963, it is an early argument for government action to save the environment, as well as a historical look at attitudes towards the natural environment in the US, beginning with "The Land Wisdom of the Indians."  Popularizing the great Aldo Leopold's concept of "the land ethic," Udall's book is a conceptual and policy breakthrough for the US and the US government.  President Kennedy wrote the introduction.
The early 1960s were rife with satire and political humor.  The Kennedys were gently spoofed in enormously popular recordings, beginning with The First Family in which comedian Vaughn Meader imitated the unique characteristics of JFK's speech and voice.  There were books of political humor as well, such as the Gerald Gardner series of photos with cartoon dialogue balloons, beginning with Who's in charge here?

Meader and Gardner were witty about JFK, but JFK surprised the country with his dry sense of humor and deadpan delivery.  He was particularly adept at demonstrating it in his press conferences, which were carried live on national television.  Bill Adler selected zingers for his very popular paperbacks such as these two, The Kennedy Wit and More Kennedy Wit.  For example, from a press conference: QUESTION: The Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution saying you were pretty much of a failure.  How do you feel about that? PRESIDENT KENNEDY: I assume it passed unanimously.
Before digital, there was usually about a year between an author finishing a book and its publication.  So many books that were prepared during the JFK administration only came out when it was abruptly and unexpectedly over. Jim Bishop had done a series of "A Day in the Life" books.  He followed the Kennedys for four days in what turned out to be during the final weeks of JFK's life.  It is written in October and November 1963, and JFK press secretary Pierre Salinger was reading it in typescript when he learn of the murder in Dallas. Written in the present tense, and published in 1964 exactly as written (according to Bishop),  there are the inevitable eerie presentiments, especially as JFK spoke fairly often about the possibility of assassination.

Hugh Sidey was the White House correspondent for TIME Magazine, and was granted a lot of access and time with JFK.  His book, he says in the preface, was supposed to be "the beginning of the story."  Instead when it was published, also in 1964, it became the first book about the entire Kennedy presidency.

President Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet on November 22, 1963.

 There were many memorial issues of newspapers and magazines (I still have several) and there were books that were quickly published like this one, compiled by UPI and American Heritage Magazine.  It is mostly photographs covering that indelible weekend from the murder in Dallas on Friday to the funeral and burial at Arlington on Monday.
The official investigation into the Kennedy assassination was headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren.  The Warren Report, widely criticized over the years, was published in 1964.  My copy was a Christmas gift from my mother, which seems weirder now than it was then.

  Death of a President is a long and thorough historical account--more than 700 pages--published in 1967.  It is by historian William Manchester (his two volume set, The Glory and the Dream, has been my Bible on the Roosevelt 30s to 1972.)   Manchester had the cooperation of the Kennedys but Jacqueline Kennedy had strong second thoughts and tried to stop publication.  Deletion of a few paragraphs concerning the assassination was negotiated.  The book was an immediate best-seller but went out of print until 2013, which perhaps makes my crumpled second-hand paperback a rare book.  
These are the first definitive accounts of the Kennedy presidency by insiders who also were adept at objective research and were exceptional writers.   Kennedy by Ted Sorensen was published in 1965.  I wrote a long review of it published in the April 1966 issue of Dialogue, the Knox College magazine.  Arthur Schlesinger's A Thousand Days was published later in 1965, and won both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize.  These are my well-worn, much-used paperbacks.
Then there were the personal memoirs, such as these two, written by Kennedy's secretary Evelyn Lincoln (published in 1965; paperback a year later) and another by Kenneth O'Donnell and Dave Powers, who had known and worked for JFK since he first ran for Congress.  To suggest the continuing fascination with JFK, this one wasn't published until 1972.
The 50th anniversary of the Kennedy administration was the occasion of another flood of books, including two unique volumes, both essentially transcripts of enclosed audio recordings.

 Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy (Hyperion 2012) presents mostly recordings from 1962 and 1963, after JFK installed a hidden taping system in the Oval Office, and took to recording phone conversations.  The technology was comparatively primitive, so transcripts are essential.  (The recordings themselves can also be heard over the Internet from the JFK Library.)

 There are also JFK's private dictations, all meant to create an historical record and probably to aid him in writing his memoirs.  Some of the recordings are stunning--as we hear General Curtis LeMay sounding like Gen. Buck Turgenson in Dr. Strangelove--as well as mundane and vaguely interesting, as in a brief presidential conversation with the teenage Jerry Brown at the end of a call with his father, California Governor Pat Brown.

 More impressive is the 2011 Hyperion volume of Jacqueline Kennedy's reminiscences with Arthur Schlesinger in 1964.  She speaks with clarity and insight about specific events and policies in their historical contexts as well as observations on family, personalities and her own role in the White House.

 Because she never spoke on the record about the White House years, which (her daughter Caroline recalls) she later called the happiest years of her life, her voice and to a great extent her role in that history has been overlooked.  Now it can be heard, in 7 CDs. Again, the recordings are online, as are many others in the Kennedy Library oral history project. Both volumes include forewords by Caroline Kennedy, who was instrumental in releasing these sound recordings and creating these volumes.
These are two of the many new histories published during the 50th anniversary. (I wrote about them in more detail here.)  Though Clarke's book is a straightforward history (making much use of information that has come to light in the past 50 years) and Jeff Greenfield's speculates on what JFK's second term might have been like, based on the same sort of information, they come to remarkably similar conclusions, especially about American participation in the Vietnam War, which both agree JFK would have ended by 1965.

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