Wednesday, January 5, 2011

JFK: A Certain Type of Book

Any major world event will, in time, attract the interest of historians and other professional analysts. We expect this. We expect them to sift through the record, official and unofficial, and tell us what it all means.

The assassination of JFK is a case in point. It is unique, though, in that it has always attracted a disproportionate number of non-professionals. It has been the non-professionals who, historically, have found serious flaws in the government's lone nut thesis, and argued against it. And it has been the professionals, the historians and journalists, who by and large have endorsed it.

Estimates vary on how many books have been published on the assassination. They range from many hundreds into the thousands. I doubt very much there is an accurate tally. There may have been at one time, but with the advent of print-on-demand and other means of self-publication, a tidal wave (dare I call it a title wave?) has engulfed us.

Most of these books, and certainly the best, have been written by the non-professionals.

From time to time I see lists of what various writers consider the best books on the subject, usually in the form of a "top ten" list. I have crafted one of my own. Like all such lists, it is highly subjective. Any one entry is likely to provoke sharp disagreement.

I present my list below. But first, I've also assembled a list of really bad books about the JFK assassination. They may or may not be the worst. In fact, several of them are quite literate, and thus might be convincing to those unfamiliar with all of the evidence. This is a great danger to the truth. Uninitiated readers enter the landscape at their peril.

My simple standard for placing a title on the list of bad books is whether it endorses the indefensible finding of the Warren Commission – that a single gunman killed JFK without any help from anyone. But an author's integrity must be stirred into the mix. Since I believe the fact of conspiracy is obvious, arguing against it implies dishonesty.

In any case, here are some really bad books about the JFK assassination. I present them in no particular order.
  1. Case Closed, by Gerald Posner
  2. Reclaiming History, by Vincent Bugliosi
  3. Mrs. Paine's Garage, by Thomas Mallon
  4. Eyewitness to History, by Howard Brennan (with J. Edward Cherryholmes)
  5. Death of a President, by William Manchester
  6. The Day Kennedy was Shot, by Jim Bishop
  7. The Truth About the Assassination, by Charles Roberts
  8. The Scavengers and Critics, by Richard Lewis and Lawrence Schiller
  9. Final Disclosure, by David Belin
  10. Conspiracy of One, by Jim Moore
  11. With Malice, by Dale Myers
  12. The Warren Report
Some really good books about the JFK assassination:
  1. Accessories After the Fact, by Sylvia Meagher
  2. JFK and the Unspeakable, by James W. Douglass
  3. Conspiracy, by Anthony Summers
  4. The Last Investigation, by Gaeton Fonzi
  5. Rush to Judgment, by Mark Lane
  6. On the Trail of the Assassins, by Jim Garrison
  7. A Citizen's Dissent, by Mark Lane
  8. Let Justice Be Done, by William Davy
  9. The Bastard Bullet, by Raymond Marcus
  10. Spy Saga, by Philip Melanson

My lists are rather arbitrary, and I'm probably overlooking a few titles I would include if I gave it serious thought. But if I haven't read a given book, I haven't included it. I don't consider either list the very worst or the very best. Such is the nature of a subjective list.

Also, there are pro-conspiracy books that, in my opinion, are not of much value (if any). But that's another list for another time.

[Some of the titles on these lists of books, good and bad, are worth additional commentary. See, for example, my review "Rewriting History," in the December 2010 section of this blog. I'll have some comments on some of the other titles in the not-too-distant future.]


  1. I 've only read Jim Bishop's book from your list. It was extremely annoying to read what 2 dead men were thinking when they were alone. I've read part of the one volume Associated Press Warren Report. I believe it is worth reading. Despite the slant presented by the commission, you can spell a rat especially the Paines' information and testimony. I suggest Sam Anson's They Shot the President. It was a pleasure to read. John Newman's Oswald and the CIA offers valuable information on reading intelligence reports but it is rather technical. Much lighter is Dick Russell On the trail of the JFK Assassins.

  2. The correct title is They' ve Killed the President by Robert Sam Anson. There is a delightful interview with John on the Mary Ferrell Foundation website under the Audio button, in the Unredacted section about his book.