The Best Book I Read Before Visiting Dealey Plaza

The Death of a President, November 20 – November 25, 1963 by William Manchester

A remarkable book – remarkable! – that almost wasn’t published, due to the Kennedy family’s concerns about what the book would contain. (Manchester tells that whole tale in his book Controversy and Other Essays in Journalism, 1950-1975. Controversy, indeed.) The Death of a President amazes me on many levels. The writing is so clear, it’s as though you are there on the trip to Texas in November 1963 and during the terrible days that followed. Manchester sets scenes simply yet completely, and he mercilessly evokes the emotions of the time. I’ll never forget his description of Bobby Kennedy and Robert McNamara selecting the president’s burial site at Arlington National Cemetery – and McNamara toiling to outline the burial plot in the rain. When I realized that Manchester published the book in 1966, it nearly knocked my socks off. It’s not a small book, it’s beautifully crafted, and he wrote it in mere months (…which nearly led to a breakdown. Also outlined in the Controversy book, which is darn near required reading after finishing The Death of a President, to get the story behind the story.) Manchester supports the lone gunman theory, which may be… controversial. One final thing I loved about the book (which is a small thing, but I adore it): In the front of the book, he lists all the Secret Service code names for people and places that were in use in November 1963. And he uses three of the code names to title the sections of the book: Lancer (JFK), Charcoal (temporary residence of the president), and Castle (the White House). Manchester was the perfect person to have written about these events. I wasn’t even born yet when JFK was assassinated, but this book makes me mourn.

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