For many of us who lived through it, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was as shocking and emotionally jarring as the events of 9/11. That may be difficult for some people to understand given that the events of 9/11 claimed the lives of almost 3,000 innocent people, but I believe it to be true. In some important ways the world was very different 50 years ago; and the killing of President Kennedy marked both the death of America’s leader as well as the leader of the free world.
I have been reading about the life, times, and tragic death of President Kennedy since my childhood. Shortly after his death, when I was in elementary school, I would read and look at the pictures in Life and Time magazines that addressed the assassination. My father had a strong sense of history and he saved all the major newspapers and magazines that discussed the assassination. My interest in the Kennedy years motivated me to visit his presidential library in Boston as well as his grave in Arlington National Cemetery. I’ve also visited Dealey Plaza (where the president was killed) and the Sixth Floor Museum (from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots) in downtown Dallas. And, of course, I’ve read dozens and dozens of books about President Kennedy’s life and death.
Five Most Interesting Books on the JFK Assassination
In my early days I read and studied about the president’s death because, like many people, I was interested in discovering who killed him. In other words, it was a whodunit? But about 30 years ago I came to the firm conclusion that the Warren Commission was correct in its conclusions that Oswald was the lone assassin of President Kennedy.
Since then, I’ve become more interested in the people who were deeply impacted by the president’s death and how it affected America. That transition of interest is reflected in my choices of the five most interesting books on this pivotal moment in history. (The numbering reflects only the successive order in which the books were published.)
1. Lee: A Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald by His Brother by Robert Oswald with Myrick and Barbara Land (first published in 1967)
Robert Oswald, Lee’s older brother, strikes me as a very honest and courageous person in how he has faced the enormity of what his brother did. This book reveals genuine insight into the person and behaviors of Lee Harvey Oswald from someone who knew him very well.
2. The Death of a President by William Manchester, (first published in 1967)
The historian William Manchester was asked to write this book by Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy. Chief Justice Earl Warren even allowed Manchester to observe the Warren Commission investigation first hand. But Manchester also carried out his own study and ended up exceeding the commission in both the number and extent of people interviewed. His book provides almost a minute-by-minute dramatic narrative of the Kennedy assassination and the major events that took place in the few days following. Manchester arguably knew more about the Kennedy assassination than anyone in history.
3. Kennedy and Lincoln: Medical and Ballistic Comparisons of Their Assassinations by John K. Lattimer (first published in 1980)
Dr. John Lattimer lived an extraordinary life. He served as an Army medical doctor during World War II and treated wounded soldiers at D-Day. He was also Hermann Göring’s physician during the Nuremberg Trials. After the war, Lattimer became a ballistics expert and thus he was extremely well qualified to discuss the medical and ballistic issues relevant to both the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations.
4. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK by Gerald Posner (1993)
The great strength of Gerald Posner’s book is his detailed and insightful discussion of the life and motives of Oswald. Posner also carefully refutes all of the major conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination. This book was a major support of the Warren Commission findings that Oswald was the lone assassin.
5. Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi (2007)
This 1,600-page book, which addresses virtually every area of the JFK assassination, was written by the famous trial attorney who prosecuted the Manson family. Vincent Bugliosi meticulously outlines 53 pieces of evidence that point to Oswald’s guilt. He also effectively undercuts all the major conspiracy theories. The title of the book is quite appropriate for Bugliosi who powerfully shows that the historic Warren Commission findings were accurate and that the warrantless conspiracy theories have taken the verdict of history hostage for too long.