Also by this author: Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever
Published by Henry Holt & Company on October 2, 2012
Genres/Lists: Non-Fiction, Political, True Crime
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
While making the trip from North Carolina to Colorado, I listened to a few audiobooks. One of them was Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, who also wrote Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever (see my short review here). I started it in Asheville, NC and listened straight through Tennessee, Kentucky and into Illinois, which was most of my entire day’s drive. Because I read Killing Lincoln (as opposed to listening to it), I was unfamiliar with O’Reilly as a narrator but he does a great job. I admit I enjoyed listening to him as a narrator much more than I enjoy watching him on television!
The book itself is a great read. The Kennedy’s are an incredibly interesting family and the assassination of John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald was recent enough that it is still fresh in the minds of many people still alive today. Like Killing Lincoln, the chapters navigate the lives of both the assassin and the president. The added bonus to this book was that a lot of care was taken to include the life of the president’s wife, Jackie, who is a fascinating figure in her own right. It holds nothing back in its assessment of JFK’s philandering ways and his relationship with Marilyn Monroe. With a heavier emphasis on the personal life of JFK, rather than his political, I got a glimpse of what it must be like to have the pressures of the Kennedy family name. I was previously unaware of the magnitude that nepotism played in the Kennedy administration and finished the book with a pretty grim view of Bobby Kennedy. His treatment of then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson was atrocious and exemplified the type of behavior a stereotypical and pompous rich kid displays in teen movies. Here are some of the interesting facts that I learned (click more):
- JFK was a speed reader and could read 1200 words per minute
- The incredible similarities between Lincoln and Kennedy
- Lyndon Johnson removed the compulsory age of retirement for the FBI director and allowed J. Edgar Hoover to stay in office until he died
- Lee Harvey Oswald defected to the Soviet Union for a few years
- The fallout between JFK and Frank Sinatra
- That JFK and Oswald died in trauma rooms next to each other (although at different times)
- Jackie quit her first job as a book editor because they released a fictional book in which Ted Kennedy was president and an assassination plot was made against him.
The authors also took great care in chronicling the Kennedy administration’s reaction to, and involvement with, the Civil Rights Movement. No matter how many times I hear or read about it, the details about the movement never fail to turn my stomach. The stories of Emmett Till, Thich Quang Duc and the Children’s Crusade will stay with me throughout my lifetime and I am grateful that the authors chose to tell their stories to a new generation in their book because they are stories that should not be forgotten.
On the lighter side of the book were great side stories that weren’t necessarily relevant but nonetheless fascinating. A prime example is that a good bit of time was spent detailing the steps it takes to transport the Mona Lisa, which is insanely secure and specific. I also loved the Oleg Cassini references, but that is because my wedding dress was one of his designs. Others include a practical joke played on a childhood friend by JFK and famed actress Greta Garbo, that Carolina Kennedy was the inspiration for Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline and that Jackie spent more money on clothes each year than the president’s annual salary (or that she always had an aide nearby with a lit cigarette so that she could take a puff when she felt the need to).
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot is a book that every history buff or political junkie should read. The authors weave the facts together in such a way that it reads (or sounds, in this case) like a story when, in fact, it is all true. It acknowledges the conspiracy theories without getting political, reminds people that Texas Governor John Connally was also wounded in the shooting, and tells a new generation about the tumultuous times that were the 50’s and 60’s. The result is a 3-D picture of the public and private lives of both the Kennedy’s(and the Oswald’s) that should be read and shared.