ABSTRACT

The death defined the life. The bullets fired in Dealey Plaza not only took President John F. Kennedy’s life, they also wrapped themselves magically around his memory. Even individuals who cannot name a single achievement of Kennedy’s time in office may nevertheless know the gruesome details of his death, via the Zapruder film footage. They may even ponder, were there shots from the “grassy knoll”? The gap between the popular rating of JFK as one of the greatest American presidents and the common historical judgment that he was good, but only potentially great, is bridged best by the still disputed and shocking facts of his death. No one reading this book will need to be told how Kennedy’s life ended. The assassination was a national trauma seen upon a global

stage, and the depth of public grief and scale of public interest remain crucial to understanding the significance of the Kennedy presidency. They incline his biographers to follow narrative paths that lead to tragedy, eulogy, and the complex process of debunking (complex not least because it can launch its own myths, even as it overturns others). In the pages that follow, there is sufficient praise for the president John F. Kennedy seemed to be becoming to justify the sense of loss that his murder prompted. There is also due acknowledgement of his failings and errors. The many conspiracy theories that identify his murderers as (among other things) domestic conservative radicals, organized crime, political rivals, anti-Castro Cubans, Castro’s agents, the Soviet Union, or vengeful agents of the murdered South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem, testify to the reality that the man so lauded in death was widely loathed in life.