DEATH OF A PRESIDENT by William Manchester


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Certainly no book has ever been published under quite these circumstances. The issues it involves (has history been served? was privacy invaded? were contractual obligations broken?) have already been widely debated. The disputed passages have in part been globally disseminated. And the contents of the book are well known to begin with. Or are they? How many people know that on November 21st Senator Humphrey gave a speech on mental health in Washington in which he said that the act of an unstable person could strike down a great leader? Or that the next morning in Fort Worth President Kennedy quipped that the night before would have been a hell of a night to kill a president? This aggregate of detail, some of it significant, some of it irrelevant (i.e., Eunice Shriver always wears black when pregnant because it is slimming) both intensifies and extends the immediate experience. Mr. Manchester's tremendous research collects and collates who did, said, thought, felt what and where during the November 20th to November 25th timespan. This has the inveterate appeal of private revelations about public people. Then too there's that Establishment word charisma which Kennedy apotheosized. Manchester, one of his acolytes, subdued none of that quality in his over-adulatory Portrait of a President (1962). Here he transfers it to Jacqueline Kennedy, a spotless profile in courage. By comparison, by indirection and sometimes by innuendo the Johnsons come off badly. Dallas and Governor Connally come off worse. Mr. Manchester obviously found the transition from Kennedy to Johnson as trying as did many others of the faithful. The controversial fanfaronade over this book will continue. Historians will question the limber speculations (Oswald was activated by the climate of violence in Dallas, or was it Marina's rejection at 9 P.M. the night before?). But no one should underestimate its impact, however much you may resent it, the unbearable scenes (driver Greer crying, on Mrs. Kennedy's shoulder in Parkland Hospital) right down through the last motorcade to Arlington. Somehow, with no more than reportorial skills at his command, Mr. Manchester matches the dislocation and identification which almost everyone experienced during the tragic events of that long weekend. Inescapably.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1967
ISBN: 0883659565
Page count: 736pp
Publisher: Harper & Row
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1967


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