The author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963 (2003) returns with descriptions and assessments of the fallen president’s principal advisers.
Dallek (The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945–1953, 2010, etc.) begins with some quick chapters about JFK’s pre-presidential life before commencing his voyage. The president’s brother Robert, the attorney general, emerges as the key adviser, reappearing continually in the narrative, especially during the most crucial issues—the missile crisis of 1962 and the civil rights agenda (which, as Dallek notes, took a back seat to foreign affairs). The author introduces each adviser with a description of his (yes, all were men) background and notes that the new president put into his Cabinet—and into his non-Cabinet advisory groups—Republicans and others who annoyed the left wing of his own party. The author shows us the roles that each played and the reputation that he had among the others and with the president. Arthur Schlesinger, for example, was more at the fringes than popular understanding would have it; the Joint Chiefs of Staff were continually at war with the White House on potential actions in Cuba, Laos, Vietnam and elsewhere. (Unsurprisingly, they favored military action.) Deputy National Security Adviser Walt Rostow emerges as the most hawkish of the bunch, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, the least decisive and/or consistent. Dallek examines each of JFK’s crises in detail, focusing on what the advisers were (or were not) telling him, and he notes several times that their failure to reach consensus was a serious problem. The author spares no one. He chides JFK for his womanizing, LBJ for his ego and McNamara for his credulousness. Here is perhaps the only account of the 1963 March on Washington that does not mention King’s speech.
More than a little admiring of Arthur, but there’s cleareyed criticism of his Round Table.