Death Of A President (William Manchester)

47843This old and rather musty smelling book takes the reader on a painstaking – and possibly stomach churning – journey encompassing six days in the autumn of 1963 (November 20-25). With an incredible amount of facts and rarely revealed tidbits of information concerning the shocking murder of JFK popping up on nearly every page.

Manchester’s seemingly-inexhaustible pipeline to even the tiniest particles of information connected with President Kennedy’s last living days, and the shooting itself, is impressive to say the least. The hardcover First Edition of “The Death Of A President” was published in 1967 and spans 710 pages, each one filled to the brim with a portion of one of the most fascinating and sad stories of the 20th century. It’s worth noting that this book was published around the time there was considerable dissatisfaction and questions being raised about the findings of the Warren Commission. Manchester truly gives short shrift to Lyndon Johnson and the transition that took place. Max Holland’s ‘The Kennedy Assassination Tapes’ – a compilation of the taped discussions between Johnson and others in the days and years after Nov. 22, tell a very different story than what Manchester would have us believe.

Unlike the flood of more recent books looking back, the author provides an arresting account “from the eye of the storm.” For the younger generation, for whom Kennedy’s assassination is an historic fact rather than a horrible memory, “The Death of a President” invokes the feelings of the time–the promise of the Kennedy presidency, the unrealness of his untimely death, and the chaos that ensued before order was restored. Manchester begins by describing the political in-fighting within the Texas Democratic party that prompted the Kennedy-Johnson trip in the first place. Some of the funniest moments in the book (yes, despite the subject, it does evoke a smile now and then) are the efforts that Kennedy aides made to get a reluctant Senator Yarborough to ride with LBJ in the motorcades.


The many seemingly inconsequential decisions that ultimately led to the slow-moving motorcade through Dealey Plaza makes the reader wish they had called off the whole visit. As the book nears the fateful hour, the reader is left with a sense that there’s still a chance to avoid this tragedy. The hours and days immediately after the assassination are equally fascinating. Jackie’s wait at Parkland Hospital and her trip home on Air Force One are told with heart-breaking detail. (Lest this aspect seem overly invasive, the reader should note that the book was written with her blessing and cooperation.) The story of how the memorable funeral and Arlington burial came about is intriguing. The tensions between the Kennedy and Johnson aides provide a good lesson in how not to act after a tragedy.

If you’re only interested in the conspiracy theories, however, this is not the book for you. Manchester wholeheartedly backs the lone gunman hypothesis, and his descriptions of Lee Harvey Oswald’s movements at this time are hard to swallow in light of the details that have emerged in the decades since the assassination. Since most of the book focuses on the Kennedy family, the Kennedy and Johnson aides, and other political figures, however, this one drawback does not significantly detract from the book. My opinion is that the national crisis and Manchester’s friendship with the Kennedy family influenced his history. The entire Kennedy family has been mysteriously quiet on this subject. I have my own theory as to why and I don’t believe this official account, as detailed as it is.



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