There must be two dozen new books about the Kennedy assassination alone, and since I'm obsessed with the subject, I suppose I will have to read all of them, if only to see if there's anything I missed. The assassination properly fascinates. But where do you begin? How do you separate the good books from the really bad ones? There are many really awful, stupid books that became bestsellers. Here are my five favorites. The authors of two of them believe that Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill Kennedy alone. Two others are trenchant critics of the conspiracy theorists. And the final author is the guy, still alive, who was closest to the kill shot. I'd recommend reading these in order.
1. Six Seconds In Dallas, by Josiah Thompson. Thompson was the first author to carefully and dispassionately consider the evidence collected by the Warren Commission, noticing discrepancies and pointing out analytical deficiencies. Thompson's research led him to believe that the Commission got it wrong, that there was plenty of doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. Virtually every conspiracy book used Thompson's evidence as its foundation. You don't need to read any other book. Just his.
2. Libra, by Don DeLillo. Why did Oswald kill Kennedy? He never uttered a word against the man. Of all the unanswered questions about the assassination, Oswald's motive remains the most legitimate. (It's legitimate, but it's not significant vis-a-vis his guilt. The evidence that he was looking to get attention, to redress grievances against the United States, that he was mentally disturbed and prone to violence, as well as all the evidence that he actually killed the man is quite sufficient.) DeLillo creates a scenario that explores what might have happened if Oswald was indeed part of a conspiracy. Libra is fiction, but it interprets Oswald in an original and provocative, and even plausible, way.
3. Cased Closed, by Gerald Posner. This was the book that the doors off of my conspiracy toolkit.
4. Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, by Vincent Buglioisi. This is the longest book I've ever read, and the single most definitive reference work on the assassination, ever. Actually, it might be the longest book devoted to a single historical moment, ever. Vincent Buglioisi, of Helter Skelter fame, hand-wrote all 1,648 pages, which were then typed in by his secretary. The meticulous reporting he did ties up the strings of many unanswered questions, and his pen skewers less nimble minds quite deftly.
5. Mrs Kennedy and Me, by Clint Hill. Hill is that guy, the Secret Service agent who climbed on the back of the presidential limousine, was nearly shot himself, got spattered with JFK's brain goo, and covered and secured Jackie Kennedy during the frenetic ride from Dealy Plaza to Parkland. And yes, he still feels he could have acted more quickly. Along with a companion book, Five Days in November, Hill's perspective is perhaps as close as one can come to reliving the actual event.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 10 things you need to know today: November 24, 2014
- Obama just kneecapped Jeb Bush and Chris Christie's 2016 prospects
- It's official: The religious right is calling it quits
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- What would it take for humans to build a settlement on Mars?
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The dangerously childish morality of liberal ObamaCare supporters
- Want to eliminate the scourge of frat culture? Lower the drinking age.
- How science is accelerating our search for alien life
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week