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Category Archives: Books

In A Different Instant…

Consider deadlock on civil rights in 1964, followed by no further U.S. involvement in Vietnam after 1965. Suppose the vice president had been forced from office well before the next election, triggering the selection of his replacement.  And think about the first lady’s calculated next move after eight years in the White House.

If Kennedy LivedExactly fifty years since the assassination of President Kennedy, today marks not only a fitting remembrance of what was, but also a fascinating exploration of what might have been.  Aiding in this rich intellectual journey, author Jeff Greenfield has done it again, presenting us with his newest and well-timed work of alternate history, “If Kennedy Lived.”

It all comes down to one meteorological circumstance which ultimately changes everything, from split-second reactions to long-term policy decisions and every ironic turn of fate along the way. All the while, readers are invited via Mr. Greenfield’s plausible scenarios to ponder one alternative evolution of 1960s history, including the momentum of the growing counterculture and the administration’s tactics to quell certain scandal.  The ironies abound, including chuckle-inducing quotes from private citizen Richard Nixon and a young Al Gore, Jr., among numerous other key players who either emerge or disappear as alternate developments dictate.

Fifty years ago today the world changed in an instant.  Imagine, at least for this quick yet captivating read, if that instant had produced a different result, well beyond the immediate events of November 22, 1963.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Books, Famous People, Presidential

 

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Yes, But… What If?

For better or not-so-better, any moment in political history occurs just once, without a retake, yielding an indelible result.  Still, it’s often fascinating to consider alternate outcomes– both immediate and long-term– especially with the help of a deeply insightful book on the subject.

Suppose President-elect John F. Kennedy had been killed before his inauguration, as truly came close to happening one December morning.  Say the gunman in the Ambassador Hotel on that June night had been tackled before hitting his target, allowing Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign to proceed.  And even without an act of violence or death, consider how words alone could have gotten President Gerald Ford elected in his own right– and from there, who would have succeeded him.

Historians, academicians and philosophers often like to ponder the age-old question, “What if?” And for the rest of us who like to ask it as well, reporter/author Jeff Greenfield presents a captivating 400 pages to feed such an appetite, adding to numerous works of alternate history while showcasing an extensive and unique cast of characters.  As fact launches into fiction, we the readers are invited to contemplate, through good and bad, how history might have been written.  The entire “if, then” logic structure rings loudly, hypothetically enough.  Let’s just say the film in my last post clearly would not have been made!

“Then Everything Changed” proves a fascinating and reflective read for anyone who appreciates how it really was, while craving a glimpse into how it could have occurred.  “It” is far more than merely who holds office; the everyday media and social divergences are intertwined.   I’m thrilled to have picked up this two-year-old book, in the end leaving me satisfied that some pieces of history happened as they did– while wishing others might have turned out differently.  Ironically enough, some very memorable events that defined our reality still took place in Mr. Greenfield’s alternative scenario, just at different times among other players.  Such compelling instances simply strike nerves with all the more impact on the reality vs. fantasy balance.  And of course, in scenarios both real and imagined, Bugs Bunny always does beat Daffy Duck.

Ultimately, from tragedy, loss and failure to peace, victory and opportunity, with all that might have happened and the rest that never did, “Then Everything Changed” concludes with a final paragraph demonstrating the mark of a thoughtful and well-balanced author.  That is, I laughed out loud.  I bet you will too!

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Books, Famous People, History, Politics, Presidential, Reviews

 

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“Oh, Mr. Hill…”

A Recommended Read

A Recommended Read

Through his humble and straightforward narrative style, I can hear her breathy voice calling his name, be it in amusement, annoyance, or a unique combination of the two.  The deeply personal recounting of so many private yet fascinating moments yields a refreshing portrait of a woman subjected to so many portraits– in this case one without drama, sensation or agenda. Clint Hill takes us, his readers, on a one-on-one historical journey that only he can tell.  And though “that day” came more than a decade before my birth, his frank and detailed words drew me in close enough to feel as if I were right there alongside him on November 22, 1963.

For all that’s been written about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy over the past half century, only the U.S. Secret Service Agent assigned to her detail holds the otherwise unrecorded memories to write as he does.  And Mr. Hill writes well in “Mrs. Kennedy and Me,” despite a few cases of grammatical usage that his proofreader apparently missed.  She returns to life throughout these pages as calculating yet reasonable, demanding yet understanding, mischievous yet respectful– and the descriptors can easily go on.  As her voice speaks through the pages, above all else I imagine her picking up a copy from beyond, glancing at it with a stunned yet captivated expression, and in disbelief that yet another entire book has been written about her, immediately calling out, “Oh, Mr. Hill…”

 

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Script-free & Unedited

She never sat down with Barbara Walters and spilled her guts.  There was no public airing of her dirty laundry.  To her great credit, she maintained dignity and privacy throughout her life, granting no interviews.  As such, never did she create the typical high-profile media event akin to so many others– one that’s scheduled, promoted, sensationalized, over-analyzed and ultimately replayed time and again.  She simply did not share herself with us in the way we might have expected and enjoyed.

The closest she ever came– and the most we’ll ever get– exists in the form of her audio recordings of 1964, made public for the first time just this past fall, as I then enthusiastically reported.  Just months after the indelible event of November 22, 1963 that changed her life, the country and the world, the recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy spoke on tape with historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., providing a rare yet quite extensive glimpse into her feelings, outlooks and recollections of not only her time in the White House– among everyone and everything that came with it– but also of the rigorous path to getting there, along with the seemingly countless figures by whom she was constantly surrounded.

I’m pleased to say I’ve now had the pleasure of hearing this insightful audio collection in its entirety, and not a moment too soon.  Five months ago my words were based solely on the small pieces of these recordings that the media reported.  As with most material of particular interest, however, it’s far better to listen, learn and judge for ourselves.  This I’ve done, leaving me satisfied, informed and rewarded.

Much ground is covered, with numerous names, dates and places to recall and keep track of while listening to Mrs. Kennedy speak.  Fortunately the book which accompanies the CD recordings presents her words verbatim, while within the pages annotates the individual or circumstance being discussed.  This makes for a series of fascinating and thorough history lessons.

Granted, some topics of conversation prove more interesting than others.  This is a never-before-heard Jackie, wonderfully raw and unedited.  With this come her often-fragmented thoughts, her mid-sentence changes of course, and her occasional long-windedness.  Still, it’s precisely these elements that make these recordings so compelling.  After all, at no other time have we heard her in this manner.  Unlike her 1962 White House Tour, or her 1964 thank you to the nation, we’re treated to the real Jacqueline Kennedy, free of script, rehearsal or cue.

For anyone who appreciates the many varied players and events of the Kennedy administration– and of course admires Jackie herself– this audio collection is not to be passed up.  My copy will remain with me for years to come, and maybe even find its way into my lending library!

And that’s my… oh, need I bother?

 

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More Than a Shrug

It looks like a compelling new film is upon us.  Watch the trailer and see for yourself.  Regardless of how this movie turns out, and despite the wide range of opinions of the story and its author, I’m very pleased that such a famous and controversial novel has been adapted to the big screen.

This means I have seven weeks, should I suddenly decide I’m so inclined, to finish the book that was gifted to me more than a year ago.  Suffice to say, the read is complex and slow, requiring consistent concentration and ongoing mental puzzle piecing.  After getting about a fourth of the way through the book several months ago, I’m sorry to say I did not stay with it.  However, I did say to myself at the time, more than once:  “What would the movie look like?”

As such, the film has already sold me, and I’m looking forward to the experience.  After all, I read and remember enough of the story to be “on board” with the plot, though at this point the end remains a mystery to me.  In any event, it will be fascinating to see how these brought-to-view characters not only unfold before our eyes, but where and how they end up.

By the time I’m walking out of the theater, I’ll expect to have finally answered the “big” question, whether via print or visual.  In any case, this upcoming film certainly looks worthwhile, deserving of more than a shrug.

And that’s my opinion.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in And That's My Opinion, Books, Media

 

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