King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green (Puffin, $5). "History made him what he was," Jacqueline Kennedy said of her husband and all the reading he did as a boy because of childhood illnesses. "This little boy in bed so much of the time. This little boy was reading history. He devoured the knights of the Round Table. History is what made Jack… made him see heroes."

The World Crisis, 1911–1918 by Winston Churchill (Free Press, $23). This is the First Lord of the Admiralty's account of World War I. Young Jack completed it at age 14 during a hospital stay. His devotion to national heroes had shifted from the imaginary to the real.

Pilgrim's Way by John Buchan (out of print). When Jack was wooing Jackie, he gave her copies of his two favorite books. The first was this autobiography by the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps. It pays memorable tribute to the noble Raymond Asquith, who died in World War I. In words Kennedy would recite all his life, Churchill said of Asquith: "The War which found the measure of so many never got to the bottom of him… He went to his fate cool, poised, resolute, matter-of-fact, debonair." That conveys how taken Kennedy was with the poignancy of death at a young age.

The Young Melbourne by David Cecil (Hesperides, $30). This second book that Jack gave Jackie embodied another of his romantic notions. It celebrates the dazzling lives of British aristocrats who spent their days committed to public affairs, their evenings to affairs of another kind.

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman (Presidio, $8). This account of the beginnings of World War I taught Jack a vital lesson. It illustrates how a chain of events can bring countries, against their best interests, to enter horribly destructive conflicts. He would devote himself to preventing this from occurring in the nuclear age.

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming (Penguin, $14). It was President Kennedy's fondness for James Bond that brought the dashing British intelligence agent to popular acclaim. It's not hard to fathom 007's appeal to his No. 1 fan.

Chris Matthews' new book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, seeks to explain how a rebellious teen nicknamed Ratface grew into a war hero and Cold War statesman.