November 22 marks the anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination; but despite the passage of 54 years, his death remains one of the greatest mysteries. Wild theories still circulate throughout the internet. Various accounts come to the big and small screens, offering different interpretations of what happened before, during, and after.
This year, however, seemed promising. With the recent release of documents pertaining to the assassination, it appeared that answers might actually be in sight. But while the files (which were not released in full) did reveal some juicy tidbits, they also fanned the flames of conspiracy and doubt. Again, it seems the only thing we can say with certainty is that nothing is absolutely certain.
The following books about JFK shed light on the man at the center of America's greatest mystery. It's true that we may never have definitive answers, but each one closes the gap between truth and fiction, providing varied perspectives that allow readers to form their own opinions.
For Peter Dale Scott, the American government is a complex web of corruption, where the most powerful players are rarely held accountable for their actions. He’s dubbed this entity as “the deep state”—and there’s no better example of their manipulations than JFK’s assassination. Drawing from his investigations into the American tragedies and intelligence agencies, Scott purports that members of this “deep state” were the puppeteers behind the events of November 23, 1963. The CIA and FBI may not have pulled the trigger, but according to Scott, they are no less culpable in Kennedy’s death.
Not in Your Lifetime
After years of waiting, classified documents into Kennedy’s assassination were finally released this year. But why were they kept a secret in the first place? Who were they protecting, and why are the American people still without definitive answers? These questions are the crux of Summer's acclaimed book, which provides a balanced analysis of the events surrounding JFK's assassination. Given Trump's hesitancy about sharing the remaining unreleased files, Not in Your Lifetime feels especially relevant.
John F. Kennedy and PT-109
Taking a step back from his death, the author of Guadalcanal Diary focuses on one of Kennedy’s greatest acts of heroism. While patrolling the Blackett Strait in 1943, Kennedy's Navy motor torpedo boat was attacked by a Japanese destroyer. Though PT-109 was left in pieces and its crewmembers left for dead, Kennedy fought tirelessly to save the lives of his men. His bravery would later earn him a Purple Heart and a Marine Corps Medal, setting him down the path towards leading the very country he fought for.
"Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye"
Kennedy was the political darling of the American people, though few could say they knew him intimately. But Kenneth P. O’Donnell and David F. Powers—Kennedy’s top political aide and special assistant, respectively—were two such confidants. "Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye" is a collection of their shared memories, which describe what it was like to spend time with the Kennedys during JFK's presidency. Together, they've created a humanizing portrait that strips away the myth from the friend, the father, the brother, and the man.
In his New York Times-bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist, Gerald Posner tries to find the truth, parsing fact from conspiracy to discover the real story behind what we think we know. He tackles the most commonly debated theories surrounding the assassination—from the government’s collusion with the mafia to the presence of a second shooter—in an attempt to lay the doubts to rest, once and for all.
Conversations with Kennedy
As a war veteran, idealist, and a rising leader during the 50s, Benjamin C. Bradlee has a lot in common with JFK. These similarities fostered a lasting bond that would begin during the 1950s, but whose reverberations would last beyond Kennedy’s death in 1963. His book, Conversations with Kennedy, explores the president's professional and personal lives through the prism of their special friendship. Bradlee's analysis of Kennedy’s political beliefs, strategies, and accomplishments are accompanied by more intimate anecdotes: weekend parties, private dialogues, and Kennedy’s impact on Bradlee’s own life.
The Kennedy Imprisonment
Garry Wills takes a more cynical of view of the Kennedy dynasty, stating that their successes created a new era of politics—one where appearance, convenience, and fame took center stage. Wills supports his argument by studying the catalysts of the family's rise to power and fall from grace, including JFK’s PT-09 heroics, rumored extramarital affairs, and handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The result is a book that's more honest than damning, as it explains how the Kennedys influenced future leaders and America's perception of power.
Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis
Here, Robert F. Kennedy chronicles a watershed moment in his brother’s political career: the Cuban Missile Crisis. Following the installation of missiles in Cuba, the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in an ongoing standoff that almost culminated in nuclear war. With precise detail and particular attention to JFK’s own thoughts and actions, Robert Kennedy provides a snapshot of the thirteen days where America's fate lay in the balance, and the future seemed more uncertain than ever.
Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy
After her husband’s death, Jacqueline Kennedy dedicated herself to preserving his legacy. In fact, much of the “Camelot” lore can be attributed to the First Lady who, though intensely private, eventually shed light on these mythologized years in a series of interviews. Months after JFK’s funeral, she sat down with historian Arthur Schlesinger to offer her own thoughts on her husband’s presidency, decisions, friends, and enemies. Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy is the definitive collection of these transcripts, which were finally released in 2011 and became the basis for the film Jackie.