JFK’s Last Hundred Days
Biographer Thurston Clarke makes a compelling case that JFK came into his own in the 100 days before Lee Harvey Oswald murdered him in Dallas.
November marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. That means an avalanche of books, documentaries, and articles can be expected in the months ahead, dissecting everything from the Zapruder film to the Warren Commission and beyond to the what-ifs of Kennedy’s Camelot.Skip to next paragraph
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But all of the upcoming retrospectives will be hard-pressed to match the haunting work of Thurston Clarke. Author of a well-received history of Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 campaign, which, like his older brother’s presidency, ended in assassination, Clarke makes a compelling case that President Kennedy came into his own in the 100 days before Lee Harvey Oswald murdered him in Dallas.
What makes the book work so well is its smart use of detail and fine balance of critique and praise. Clarke has an obvious affinity for JFK, but maintains an even-handed perspective.
JFK’s Last Hundred Days tells the story the title promises, beginning with the premature birth and, two days later, death of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy in Boston. The loss shattered the president and his wife, Jackie, but also brought them together.
As he does so often in this book, Clarke supports, with anecdotal evidence and reminiscences from friends and family, his belief that the serial philanderer-in-chief finally became a devoted husband in the last few months of his life.
But he refuses to spare JFK for his reckless ways, foibles, and miscalculations. Clarke writes of JFK’s trips, decisions, and appearances during the days between August and Nov. 22, 1963, using a meeting with an influential senator or the president’s crippled father to convey where Kennedy had been and where he was headed.
Kennedy went from a bumbling young president overwhelmed by the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba and an extremely cautious approach in the White House to a decisive advocate for Civil Rights and a commander-in-chief privately bent on removing all military advisers from Vietnam and never allowing ground troops into Southeast Asia.
Equally impressive, he hit his stride with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, signing a nuclear test-ban treaty and building a rapport both leaders believed could reverse the Cold War.
Still, Clarke manages to avoid getting bogged down in too much diplomatic chatter, cables, and correspondence. In 400 pages, he packs a lot of information into a digestible form, combining the personal and the political to great effect.