A look at a night that fused politics, art, science, and socialites in the White House.
On April 29, 1962, President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, hosted a dinner that would be remembered as a rare occurrence when many of the era’s great minds were together at the White House. In this historical account, Esposito, who has served in three presidential administrations, unpacks the many conversations, first encounters, and moments of tension, and he explains the high stakes of the event. Starting with a brief description of the political climate at the time, the author explains that the book is intended to be a “snapshot” of “some of the most impressive qualities of this nation: research and thinking at the highest levels, often accomplished by people fleeing from tyranny and turmoil in other countries.” Looking back on a time when those in power capitalized on the possibilities and impact of the intellect only agitates our disbelief for today’s state of affairs, but Esposito’s work is a fascinating entry point to the cultural and academic environments of the 1960s. The list of luminaries is impressive: writers James Baldwin, Robert Frost, Katherine Anne Porter, William Styron, and Pearl S. Buck; scientists Linus Pauling and Glenn T. Seaborg; “peacemakers” Ralph Bunche and Lester Pearson; and others, including Mary Welsh Hemingway. Esposito tells engaging stories of conversations that the president had with Hemingway and the clashing opinions gathered around a table at a time of political upheaval. Ultimately, Esposito presents a book that makes us wonder what the world could have been and that allows us to dream, at least for 200 pages. “Alfred Nobel could not have imagined many of the achievements of the men and women chosen for his awards,” writes the author, “but he certainly would have been impressed by the gathering that President Kennedy assembled on a warm spring night in April 1962.”
An exciting glimpse into a long-gone era of politics and cultural activity.