IF KENNEDY LIVED by Jeff Greenfield


The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History
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What would have happened if Lee Harvey Oswald had been off by a hair on Nov. 22, 1963?

For one thing, Greenfield (Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan, 2011, etc.) hazards in this counterfactual history, the 1960s might not have been the ’60s—at least not the ’60s of the Weather Underground, since some of the things the movement fought against might not have happened. The author supposes that Kennedy survived Oswald’s bullets, though not unscathed—no thanks to “carelessness, negligence, and ineptitude on the part of the CIA and the FBI that bordered on the criminal”—and that in his second term, he made efforts to correct a couple of courses that were clearly astray. The first was Vietnam, a quagmire in the making that Kennedy manages, in Greenfield’s vision, to extricate himself from. Vietnam falls, doing him some political damage but much less than would be inflicted on Lyndon Johnson. As for LBJ, the author observes that JFK’s successor “saw political threats and opportunities through an intensely personal prism,” while JFK was more detached and analytical. Greenfield supposes that something like the civil rights reforms that LBJ saw through would have come about but with a different tone. The noncounterfactuals that would have been brought to bear on JFK’s second term are of particular interest, particularly the calving off of the South from the Democratic Party. Greenfield also does good service in demythologizing JFK to suggest that, had he indeed lived, his second term might have been marked by scandal and controversy, a Camelot undone by the president’s own proclivities as much as by the events of the time. Yet, as Greenfield suggests as well, JFK might also have dismantled the Cold War—even if, nightmare of nightmares, Ronald Reagan might have become president in 1968.

Well researched and thought through—an interesting, plausible exercise in pop history that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-16696-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2013


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